Over the past two weeks I have had the opportunity to speak to year 11 and 12 at my kids local school. I was given 15 minutes with each class to try and engage them in the fascinating topic of nutrition and focus. That topic could be enough to put any child at 8.40 am asleep mid sentence. So I had to be succinct and focus on one topic that would resonate with the kids. The topic that I chose was SUGAR.
So for a blog this month, I thought that I would summarize what I discussed and perhaps you could chat with your child about how important it is to eat the least refined foods to maintain focus and concentration at school.
Let me explore a bad day. You have started breakfast on the wrong foot, eating over 17 teaspoons of sugar by having so called healthy foods. Honey crusted granola, strawberry yoghurt and a huge glass of orange juice. You feel fab, your energy levels are at a high, then during first lesson you struggle to keep your eyes open, your beginning to tune out and get a little restless. The hunger pains start happening and you just want to leave the classroom and get something to eat and it won't be anything healthy either...just something quick. Have you felt like that before? This spiral of eating will have you going on a blood sugar roller coaster ride all day, just because of breakfast.
The World Health Organisation recommends that we should eat no more that 6 teaspoons of added sugar for health. To keep within these recommendations it is important to minimise our intake of any refined foods. As I see it, any foods that have been processed have been stripped of fibre. This is significant as the amount of fibre within foods directly correlates with the length of time sugars are absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream. Think white bread, muffins, cakes, chocolates etc etc They are broken down very quickly in the gut and absorbed in the bloodstream at a rapid rate which causes the blood sugar to rise significantly. This is the beginning of the blood sugar roller coaster ride. We feel okay for a short while then our blood sugars come crashing down and we start getting hunger pains and so begins the unfocused, restless, tiring day.
The sugar roller coaster ride. Green line indicates a well balanced diet, and the red line is when our blood sugar spirals out of control from eating refined, processed foods
So what makes a good food choice?
Firstly, there are some packaged foods that are a good food choice. It is about reading labels and comparing brands. The same cracker can differ in ingredients significantly between brands, so don’t rely on price point always read the labels. I like to use the example of chips. I am not saying that chips are good for you, but if you are going to eat them, then pick the ones with the least amount of ingredients. Avoid those bags of sensationally tasting savoury mac and cheese chips with 101 ingredients and choose a plain salted version, or even salt and vinegar or chilli chips.
Biscuits are another tempter. There are always biscuits around and if it is that time of day where you can't resist go for the plainest ones. How easy is it to consume a whole packet of Tim Tams as compared to Milk Coffee biscuits. Choose the one with the least ingredients…..does that make sense?
Breakfast cereals are a big one as well. Avoid every one of them except weetbix and plain untoasted muesli made with rolled oats which both have the least amount of added sugar. Apple juice concentrate is a popular ingredient used in cereals, it is still a sugar and will put you on that roller coaster ride. Golden rule is to always check ingredient labels. If sugar is in the first three ingredients, or there are words or numbers that you have no clue what they are then choose something different.
Did you know there are 40 + names for sugar on ingredient labels.
Here they are.
Take this sugar quiz and see how many teaspoons of sugar are in foods that many of us eat everyday.
What should I be eating then…
Think unprocessed foods. When your palate is used to the sugary taste then it may be hard to get used to the texture and flavour of whole foods. But, it will be worth it. Good foods make you feel fantastic!
Choose seasonal, colourful vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, rolled oats, quinoa, buckwheat, locally caught fish, pasture fed meats and poultry, legumes, full fat dairy, olive oil, nuts and seeds are all part of a healthy nourishing diet. Having these foods everyday will support your brain and body during the gruelling HSC years.
Here are my 5 top tips:
Don’t get hooked on sugar. Keep your intake from refined foods to a minimum and if you are eating processed foods go for the plainer options. Focus on eating whole foods and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables to keep you healthy and strong throughout your HSC years.
I am Krys Lojek, a nutritionist located in Balgowlah. I love helping people from all walks of life to guide them in the correct food choices to support health and healthy aging.
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Krys Lojek, Nutritionist