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By Faaizah Asmal Laher (Clinical Dietician)

Many moms I have consulted with this week, are already trying to get their heads around having kids at home for yet, another long break – the upcoming summer holidays, but they do not want to go into full on unhealthy- indulgent eating ‘just like lockdown’!! And their worries are not unfounded. We have found many adults and kids, go from healthy weights and physical activity levels, to gaining unwanted kilograms, and active kids who had become inactive- being home and learning infront of a screen! While the inactivity is hard to overcome if you live in a small space, healthy eating is easy to do, if you have the right help! 

So whether you are taking a short road trip, flying to a beach destination, or staying home. All these ideas are great for a mental break, and to rekindle that family bond over the holidays! Holidays are often scarred by kids going through tantrums, eating through the pantry, and leaving parents feeling as if they seem to be preparing 8 meals a day, just to keep those little tummy’s full and happy! 

Blood sugar levels are often forgotten about and is the key, to keeping kids happy, centred and healthy! No, we will not be doing finger prick tests to measure blood sugar levels, but blood sugar is easy to monitor with just looking at mood! 

LETS LOOK AT THE SCIENCE BEHIND BLOOD SUGAR AND MOOD:

Adequate blood-sugar levels are required to fuel both body and brain. The body is constantly engaged in a complex balancing act in which it tries to regulate its internal environment. Think of a busy intersection when the robots are not working- Total havoc!! Part of this process involves ensuring a relatively stable level of sugar in the bloodstream. However, in children this mechanism can go a little crazy when too many refined foods feature in the diet, leading to many highs, and many lows of blood sugar. In the short term, blood-sugar swings may manifest as mood swings, concentration issues, lethargy, fatigue and food cravings. In the long term, this imbalance may predispose to a range of health issues, including weight gain and diabetes.

One of the vital hormones involved in the regulation of blood sugar is insulin. Insulin is released in response to increase in blood-sugar levels after the consumption of carbohydrate (sugar or starch). The main job of insulin is to bring blood-sugar levels down, and encourage the body to convert extra sugar to fat, thereby preventing excesses of blood sugar that can be damaging to the body. 

THE EFFECTS OF LOW BLOOD SUGAR

When blood-sugar levels drop, this can cause energy to slowly come to a stop. Constantly fluctuating blood-sugar levels often cause fluctuating mood, and this can manifest as mood swings, irritability or temper tantrums (and everything in between). Another common symptom of low blood sugar is food cravings. When a child’s blood-sugar levels gets really low, it’s natural for the body to crave foods that will replenish sugar quickly into the bloodstream. A child that ‘needs’ sweet foods such as biscuits, chocolate or highly sugared drinks from time to time is normally struggling with a blood-sugar issue. Consuming too many sugary foods or not taking enough food at the right intervals can lead to drastic changes in blood sugar levels and disturb the insulin release process. 

Brain tissues function with the help of glucose and skipping meals leads to fall in blood sugars due to the absence of food to digest and absorb. On the other hand excessive sugars and high carb diet lead to sudden spikes in glucose and energy levels, accompanied by immediate sugar crash. Irritability, bad temper, depressed, lose concentration, sleepiness, and crying easily are some common manifestations of such behavior. 

If a child is fond of sugar candy or carb rich food, these symptoms occur 30 minutes post- the hyperactivity, yelling, noise making and aggressiveness.

Blood glucose levels are raised most significantly with carbohydrate foods, foods made from refined grains, breads, noodles and pastas, baked goods and pastries, sugar and sugary foods, but these carbohydrates also include grains in their whole state, starchy vegetables, fruits, etc. Yes, some of these carbohydrate foods can absolutely be a part of a healthy and well-balanced diet, it’s all about how much of these foods you eat at once and in what combination – this is what we need to be most aware of when it concerns blood sugar imbalances.

IF YOU’RE CONCERNED ABOUT YOUR FAMILY’S BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS AND NEED ADVICE, WHY NOT BOOK A VIRTUAL CONSULT WITH ECI’S CLINICAL DIETICIAN! https://www.ecistore.co.za/booking/

HOLIDAY EATING:

Don’t let irritable children and moody, ‘hangry’ teenagers spoil this much needed December holiday! Here are some tips and tricks, to get you started off right! You also don’t need to let your family’s unhealthy habits and the holiday spirit, allow you to leave your healthy eating behind! 

Healthy, balanced eating has a wide variety of benefits, the one being supporting your immune system. A healthy immune system has never been this important! So let’s get you started on a few healthy, easy tips to get you home healthy and feeling great!! 

ALWAYS START THE DAY OFF RIGHT! 

Make sure to start each day with a high fibre high protein breakfast! Skip the croissant and muffin baked table on the buffet (you will include a sweet dessert later in the day!) and ask the egg chef to prepare you your favourite omelette or scrambled eggs with all of your favourite vegetable ingredients! If you are going self catering this holiday, even easier! Little bags of your favourite whole grain cereal, nuts, seeds like flax, chia or hemp seeds. Your favourite no sugar peanut butter or your favourite protein powder to add to yogurt or oats. Try to ensure fruits and veggies are part of each meal and block out time after breakfast every day for some physical activity – a walk or bicycle run before the day gets too hot! 

Going on a long car journey? Start off the journey with a filling breakfast before leaving. This can be an easy, baked-ahead egg muffins, or a quick yoghurt snack before leaving. Don’t leave on an empty stomach! 

Examples: 

  • Overnight oats with yoghurt and berries
  • Scrambled eggs with mushrooms, spinach and toast 
  • Strawberry smoothie with yoghurt, berries, honey and banana. 
  • Back ahead egg omelettes with toast and pastrami.

RESIST THE URGE TO SPLURGE 

Resist the urge to go out for too many high calorie energy dense meals. Keep some time after checking in to do a small shop at the local food store or market. Stocking up on fruit, easy to eat vegetables (carrot sticks/ baby cucumbers/ Rosa tomatoes) will serve as easy to eat and carry snacks. This will make sure everytime you or the kids are hungry, you don’t need to reach into your wallet!  Taking your healthy lifestyle with you means, enjoy foods without overindulging. Try not to have desserts everyday–keep it more meaningful with 1-2 x or split with family members. Carrying your own sandwiches and snacks on trips in the car will save you the effort of buying junk at the halfway stop. Instead, throw out a blanket on the grass, and make a little picnic with food you have brought along. Allow the kids to stretch their legs with a few runs around your little picnic spot. 

Easy items that you can carry in the car: 

  • Peanut butter and jam sandwiches
  • Chicken mayo rolls
  • Pizza spirals
  • Popcorn 
  • Whole grain crackers and cheese sticks
  • Cucumber sticks, baby tomatoes, carrot sticks 
  • Easy to eat fruit e.g: apple slices, grapes, bananas, apricots
  • Pretzels 
  • Pastrami and cheese sandwiches

BE PARTICULAR 

When eating out, be particular on your order. Instead of choosing grilled fish with lemon butter sauce and rice, ask for grilled fish with lemon butter sauce on the SIDE and rice. 

Choose baked potato instead of fries. 

Swop chips for salad or rice. 

Swop sugary drinks for sugar free drinks or sparkling water. 

DITCH THE DEPRIVATION 

Limit the portion size, but include that item you really love, then sit down, be mindful and enjoy your treat. Taste every little flavour edition, and allow your tongue to discriminate between sweet, salty, crunchy and smooth aspects of your treat! Kids love to be treated and use the afternoons to treat them to a portion of their favourite ice cream or treat. Don’t include sweet treats too close to bedtime, as the sugar will keep them up! 

WALK IT OFF 

Being on holiday with young kids means endless hot days with energy-filled bundles of joy! Go out for walks or hire bikes. Race from street pole to street pole, or run little races, or play beach games in the sun. Set aside quiet time during the hottest times of the day, where kids can enjoy board games, reading, cooking, TV time or even a nap. Then get out again in the late part of the afternoons, for a cooling off swim or another walk. 

MAKE WATER YOUR BEST FRIEND 

Sugary drinks can easily tip the blood sugar scales the wrong way around. Keep lots of cool water on hand, and making sure to hydrate this hot summer is very important! Try fruit infused waters, with cucumber, berries, lemon slices, mint, ginger etc. The list is limitless! For road trips, freeze waterbottles ahead of time, then they will slowly thaw as you get on your journey. 

TAKE OUT MEALS 

Keep take out meals to a minimum, and choose wisely. Make sure to start off the meal with a salad or vegetable starter to share on the table, then a main meal to follow. Explore different types of foods, the way they are cooked and also different places to eat, will all expose kids to a variety of foods and flavours. 

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