Like many other "Hallmark Holidays", Valentine's Day is centered around consuming chocolate kisses and conversation hearts - making sugar overload a problem. For parents of children on the spectrum and others with various mitochondrial disorders and metobolic issues, conventional candy is actually toxic and is a BIG no-no.
As I mentioned in my 'Step Away From the Candy' post back in October, so many of the ingredients found in these sweets have been linked to health problems, such as tumors, attention deficits, hyperactivity, behavior and neurological problems.
The most harmful ingredients we come across are GMO's (genetically modified organisms), including high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and other sugar variants. In addition high amounts of pesticides, specifically arsenic - a known toxin - have been found in these treats.
Another common culprit? Dyes and artificial coloring. According to the Center of Science in Public Interest, Citrus Red 2, Red3, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2 and Green 3 are toxic to the nervous system.
So, what actually happens when sugar wreaks havoc on the brain?
- It Impairs Memory & Learning Skills A 2012 study conducted by researchers at UCLA, found that a diet high in fructose hinders learning and memory by literally slowing down the brain - damaging synaptic activity in the brain and impairing communication amongst brain cells.
- It May Cause or Contribute to Depression & Anxiety Sudden peaks and drops in blood sugar levels can cause you to experience symptoms like irritability, mood swings, brain fog and fatigue. Sugar-rich foods can also mess with the neurotransmitters that help keep our moods stable. Constantly over-activating these serotonin pathways can deplete our limited supplies of the neurotransmitter, which can contribute to symptoms of depression.
- It Creates a Vicious Cycle of Intense Cravings Neuroscientist Jordan Gaines Lewis explains, when a person consumes sugar, it activates the tongue's taste receptors. Signals are sent to the brain, lighting up reward pathways and causing a surge of feel-good hormones, like dopamine, to be released. While stimulating this reward system with a treat from time to time is probably harmless, over-activating this reward system kickstarts a series of unfortunate events - loss of control, craving, and increased tolerance to sugar.
- It's a Risk Factor For Age-Related Cognitive Decline & Dementia A growing body of research suggests that a sugar-heavy diet could increase risk for developing Alzheimer's disease. It has been found that insulin resistance and blood glucose levels - which are hallmarks of diabetes -are linked with a greater risk for developing neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's.
While there are many GFCF-friendly options for your children to enjoy, I recommend that we all shift the focus off of candy on Valentine's Day. Let's take this opportunity to help our kids celebrate their relationships instead. This year, let's ditch the box of candy and teach our children to show their love with acts of kindness, cards and notes of gratitude - resulting in a very happy (and MUCH healthier) Valentine's Day for everyone.