Other Thoughts

Why I Put My Child on a No-Sugar, Lower Starch Diet

May 18, 2015 by Brandy Vencel

You’re familiar with my youngest child, right? He’s darn cute, with that twinkle in his eye. And he’s lucky, because his cuteness helps everyone to tolerate his antics. I’ve described him when he’s in rare form before, and I’ve gotten emails from some of you who identify with this a bit too much. What I haven’t yet told you is that two weeks ago, I got totally fed up.

Why I Put My Child on a No-Sugar Lower Starch Diet

I just couldn’t take it anymore, and in a flash I remembered some things I’d done before.

We’re no stranger to strict diets. We used GFCF diets to turn around Tourette’s, Asperger’s, and inattentive-ADD symptoms starting back in 2008 when it was super hard to do because no one knew what it was and ingredients were hard to come by. And, of course, the paleo diet hadn’t really taken off yet, so I didn’t really understand that it was possible to cut grains out altogether. That was the era when I spent far too much time making stuff that looked like bread, but never tasted like it.

And then there was the time in 2012 that we went on the GAPS diet. I had thought it would clear up some problems in my oldest child. He ended up showing no change, but his sister, who had struggled with reading for a long time (looking back, I think it was more of a memory issue than anything) could read within three weeks of starting the diet and showed improvement in every academic area.

Why it didn’t dawn on me earlier to try a dietary approach, considering our history, is beyond me, but suffice it to say that it didn’t.

The week before, I mentioned to my husband that I thought I noticed a pattern. One morning, our son was given half a pastry with breakfast, and the rest of the day he was intolerable, in trouble, and unable to do his kindergarten lessons. A different day, he seemed totally fine until we went to the park and I gave him a granola bar with chocolate chips in it. After that, he was crazy. Even the dog didn’t want to play with him.

Poor guy.

Strict diets are difficult for a family, I know, but being married to a holistic nutritionist means that we eat pretty clean already. We’re not purists, and so our children eat sugar from time to time. But the way that we eat — with me cooking everything from scratch — means that cutting certain ingredients isn’t really that big of a deal.

Plus, I was totally frustrated. I had had it, if you know what I mean. I knew that there was a sweet little boy inside there somewhere, and I wanted him back.

No-Sugar? Low Starch?

So let’s define what I mean by “no-sugar” and “low starch.” No sugar means that he’s not eating anything with added sugar. I don’t just mean the white stuff. No syrup or honey, either. Starch easily turns to sugar in your blood. So he’s eating less of it. For example, when we had sandwiches the other day, he only got one piece of bread, rather than two. He can’t fill up on potatoes. That sort of thing.

I do plan to eventually try him on syrup and honey. A friend of mine says that her child is only sensitive to sugars from sugar cane, and not from other sources (such as maple), so I’m open to trying it.

This Really Works

It’s been over two weeks now, and all I can say is that it’s working. In fact, that’s why I’m blogging about it. Because maybe one of you has had it with a child, too. And maybe the solution could be this simple. I don’t pretend this will solve all problems for all children, but it’s made a remarkable change in mine. In other words, if you’re at the end of your rope, something like this might be worth trying.

We often forget that our children are embodied souls. We get annoyed at their lack of self-control or what have you, and we fail to remember that sometimes there are physical causes — or at least physical components — to these issues. I have far less patience when I am hungry and/or tired. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that, in the same way, my little guy has the ability to control himself when he’s completely abstinent from sugar. Even a tiny bit of it causes him to lose it.

On Wednesday, Q-Age-Eight needed to make a clinic visit because of an infected bug bite. When O-Age-Six came wandering into the room from the waiting area, I got nervous. He never behaves in these situations, at least not without threats and scoldings, and I wanted to be able to focus on Daughter Q. But he just sat in a chair and watched. For all thirty minutes, laser treatments and all! I almost forgot he was there.

I couldn’t believe it. He has never, ever done this before.

When we were leaving, the doctor offered him some Manna Bears, and I said he could have some. I couldn’t remember how much sugar was in them, but I was thinking it wasn’t much.

Oh. my. word.

The result was horrible!

When we returned home, I had school lessons to do with the girls, and yet I kept having to go outside to scold him. Why did you turn the water on? You know you aren’t to turn on the water without asking. Why are you banging that metal thing against the house? Did you seriously just take the stucco off the wall? Why did you take that thing of Dad’s outside when it isn’t yours? How did you break it?

That was just the first 15 minutes.

It was then that I realized how remarkable a difference cutting the sugar and carbs was making for him. He had gone from sitting and watching peacefully in a chair, to acting like a little monster with no self-control.

He’s still him, of course. He still plays tricks on people and fights too much. But he’s calmer, and he has more self-control. He can even be reasoned with.

I’m thrilled to have my sweet little boy back, so much so that this diet is going to continue indefinitely.

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33 Comments

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  • Reply Margi Hsie July 1, 2017 at 9:18 am

    I am interested in trying this with my middle son who struggles with self-control. As I am in the planning stages for the upcoming school year, it strikes me that this lifestyle change could be a key ingredient to success for him. Do you have any favorite books or cookbooks on the topic?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 1, 2017 at 2:08 pm

      Oh, yes!! The biggest problem for us has not been daily meals, but special things — birthdays, holidays, celebrations, etc. I recently bought a collection of recipes that has SO many sweets that are sugar-free (and also mostly gluten free, which is nice since we have a GF daughter as well). She has sections for drinks (most taste like milkshakes), desserts, ice cream, and more and she uses more natural sweeteners like stevia and xylitol. Anyhow, it’s called Necessary Food and I cannot sing its praises highly enough! I have spent a lot of money over the past few years on sugar-free cookbooks, and now this is the only one I use. ♥

  • Reply Catie March 15, 2016 at 11:35 am

    I read this article when you first wrote it and I think about it all the time! (And the one you wrote about your daughter) I’ve been talking to my husband about taking one of my children off of sugar and gluten entirely because I have a feeling I would get the same result you did. It seems really overwhelming though! We eat pretty healthy, but no gluten?! I know people do it all the time, but cooking isn’t my thing, so it seems overwhelming. :/ But I know it would be worth it.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 16, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      It’s really hard, for sure! What I often suggest to people is to plan out thoroughly for a trial — somewhere between 3-6 weeks would be best. Try and plan *everything* — all the meals, the snacks, everything. Err on the side of Too Much Food Planned. Then, follow your own directions. This separates the planning stress from the execution stress. By the end of a trial of that duration, most people will know one way or another if the changes are going to make an improvement — I mean, the child might not be 100% better, but some sort of change will probably have happened during that time for most kids. So then you can decide based on that evidence whether it is worth it to continue.

      It *is* totally overwhelming. I remember that feeling the first time I took children off of wheat. But it *does* get better — eventually a New Normal is established. 🙂

  • Reply Marilyn December 29, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    Thanks for that great article. I’m telling the absolute truth when I say, I’ve been saying this since I was 16. I’m 57 now. My brother, who is now 50, was diagnosed as hyperactive in the good old days…he was around 5 at the time. The doctor prescribed Ritlan and every now and then changed the dosage. He was the youngest of five. He was either climbing the walls with energy, sweet and loving as he was, or he was a zombie without any personality. At the age of 16 I met a graduate student who was doing her thesis on hyperactivity in children. She explained that her research showed diet, no sugar, no over processed starches, would help my brother and my parents frustrations. My parents scoffed at the idea of having to change my brothers diet. I guess I can understand. It’s hard to convince someone that something so simple can help, not to mention it was something doctors were not recommending. Theirs no money in diet changes. To end this story, my brother never got better. In fact, he battles addictive behaviors to this day.

    Fast forward 15 years. I took what I learned from the grad student and applied it to my own life and struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and anger issues. These problems had consumed my life for years. I read a diet called the PMS diet…no sugar, no white flour, etc, and absolutely no MSG or Sodium Nitrate. I followed the diet and am alive today, 25 years later, to tell the story. To this day I still do not ever eat MSG or Sodium Nitrate. My story of how I applied this life change is long and very interesting. I am only giving you the bare essentials here. Diet is so much more than losing weight. For many it is life changing and is the difference between life and death

  • Reply Jessi May 19, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    My son reacts worst to high fructose corn syrup and we noticed it when he was still really young. It was then that I started reducing his sugar intake altogether. But he does still get honey and pure maple syrup because they don’t seem to have any affect on him at all, yay! It’s heartbreaking to know what these things are doing to kids and then go to the grocery store and see parents with their carts FILLED with “food” containing processed sugar and other junk. I wish more parents would take the time to research and learn the truth about the toll it’s taking on our kids!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 19, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      I agree. So many kids are being medicated when some simple dietary changes could be safely tried first.

  • Reply Ivy Mae May 19, 2015 at 7:24 am

    “In rare form…” Boy, does that describe my son! We’re in the midst of a 2-week trial run with no sugar because I’ve noticed that he gets absolutely frantic after candy or ice cream. He can barely control himself. I really hope this helps him. Also, I’ve noticed that the combination of sugar and food coloring (which he hardly ever has except at birthday parties) drives him insane. At least, these are my suspicions. I’m hoping that this trial will provide enough proof for my husband and my parents to back me up on the no-sugar thing. Thanks for posting about this!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 19, 2015 at 11:24 am

      You’re welcome! And I hope your trial run shows truth to you as well as your husband and other relatives. 🙂

    • Reply Melissa D December 30, 2015 at 1:45 pm

      My kids turn into Hulk-Angry strangers when they have food dye — even just a tiny bit. All-day tears and drama and tantrums for the girls, head-butting and nutty physical aggression from the boy. Literally jumping in and out and in and out and in and out of bed at bedtime with glazed crazy eyes even 12 hours after ingestion. It’s insane.

      Birthdays and holidays aren’t the easiest for them to navigate (they’re 10, 8 & 6) but now they really see what happens when there’s a slip in diet, and are able to refuse anything with food coloring politely. It’s changed everything for us!

  • Reply Becca May 18, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    I’m so thankful that I read your blog this afternoon! I couldn’t put my finger on what we’ve been doing differently and why our youngest’s mood seems to be way off. She’s been getting way too much sugar and bread/white starches lately. DING! I was praying for help to figure this out right before I checked my e-mail and linked to your day’s blog post. THANKS! I’m going to pay close attention to what she eats the rest of this week to notice triggers and follow through on making changes.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 18, 2015 at 7:38 pm

      Oh, I’m so glad you found this helpful! Good for you for your determination to make changes. 🙂

  • Reply Colleen May 18, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    My family won’t eat beans, sweet potatoes, lettuce or spinach. What other options are there for fillers?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 18, 2015 at 3:34 pm

      Having them snack on carrots might help. Sometimes we just have out a plate of veggies with a sour cream based dip, and that works well, and the sour cream adds fat, which also helps.

      I really think that one key is to work with your child and figure out what he’s actually reacting to, if anything. Because if he’s fine eating it, there is no need to cut it. 🙂

  • Reply Tricia Fowler May 18, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    We have been on a GAPS style diet for almost 2 years. I have 7 kids so I know how hard it is to fill children up without bread, potatoes, rice etc. Even though the kids are on the diet in varying degrees, a couple of blessings from the Lord have gotten us through: bone broth and lots of natural fats (butter, non processed lard, cold-pressed olive oil). I add these to everything. Kids really adapt when both parents are eating what they are eating. We have found that fermented salsa and guacamole are almost as coveted as the junk we used to eat. It also takes time.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 18, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      I agree with you about eating what they are eating. While our son is definitely eating differently from his siblings, I have actually been on a no-sugar diet for a number of months, so he’s eating more like ME than ever, and I think that is a comfort to him. 🙂

      Guacamole is heavenly! I can’t wait for avocado season. I keep watching the avocado tree at my parents’ house and anticipating it all… 🙂

  • Reply Amanda May 18, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Oh, power greens have been our big source of good carbs. For adults abd willing children. The doctor says that in nature the poison (sugar) comes with a cure (fiber).

    There was also a guy who talked about how everyone has a different tolerance for grain. For some it is very little such as native Americans. Also as grain increased jaws became smaller thus causing dental problems. Most of my kids have underbites so I find this really interesting.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 18, 2015 at 3:30 pm

      The jaw size thing is interesting, yes. I’m not sure what I think about grain use because when people cut grain products, they are often cutting other things in the process, like bromated flour, synthetic B vitamins added to flours, and so on. So I always wonder if it is really the grain, or all the other junk… It’s all so fascinating to me!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 19, 2015 at 11:23 am

      I forgot to ask the first time, Amanda…is power greens a thing you make or a thing you buy? Can you pass on the info, please? 🙂

      • Reply Amanda May 19, 2015 at 2:54 pm

        Sorry! It’s “a medley of healthy greens”, including “any or all of: organic baby spinach, mizuna, chard, and kale”. Ours is Central Market Organics brand, which is part of HEB, our Texas grocery store. There’s probably a similar mix of greens sold by other orhanic companies or store brands. It’s pre washed so we pay extra but we use it. When I buy kale it sits in my fridge..

        Not everyone loves it but I’m thinking of putting in smoothies…

  • Reply Amanda May 18, 2015 at 10:00 am

    Another reason: https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2009/06/8187/obesity-and-metabolic-syndrome-driven-fructose-sugar-diet

    My husband is currently Low carb no sugar for weight loss but it’s effected all of us. My twins have similar behaviors to your youngest, so I think I’m going to really work on changing this part of their diet. Filling up on fat and protein helps to keep them from needing constant snacks. We aren’t dairy free though. So that’s probably easier for us.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 18, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      Fat and protein! Yes! I’ve noticed the extra protein helps control his sugar cravings…

  • Reply HC... May 18, 2015 at 8:19 am

    Hi Brandy,

    I never attempt these dietary changes because I really don’t know WHAT I’d feed anyone anymore!! I’m a very reluctant cook, so I get stumped on a normal day with no restrictions.

    So……for instance, if you reduce the number of pieces of bread that you offer for sandwich, then do you just give them more filling? What choices do you offer for breakfast? Egg and………..bread again?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 18, 2015 at 8:23 am

      I am basically serving smoothies with every breakfast. He loves these, I use berries mostly (they are lower in sugar), and then there is a ton of yogurt in it. He does have some bread at times, just not as much as he used to. Basically, with bread I’m giving him about half of what he used to have, and making sure there is no sugar in the ingredients. Real sourdough is lower glycemic impact, for example. And yes, he is definitely eating more filling. One thing I’ve recently realized is how much faster my children get full if I make sure they have a significant about of roughage — lettuces, spinach, that sort of thing. So I’m been encouraging him to put some on his sandwiches. So far, he has pulled it out and eaten it separately, but it does seem to help. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 18, 2015 at 8:25 am

      ps. I totally understand that feeling of not knowing what I’d feed anyone! For me, the key is to as quickly as possible try to figure out what he’s really reacting to, and only limit those things, rather than making assumptions about everything containing sugar and starch. So, for example, I figured out a few days in that he totally doesn’t react to apples and pears, so he can snack on those without issue. In the comment above, I mentioned baked sweet potato fries — there are a lot of good recipes online for those, and they are a big hit with him, and totally filling…plus they are nutritious! 🙂

  • Reply Tawny Garrett May 18, 2015 at 7:40 am

    My youngest son, age 8, sounds so much like yours. I had set aside the next two weeks to pray and seek God for wisdom. Some days he is so hard to like. What does this change in diet look like at breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Breads, potatoes, etc. seem to be the fillers that keep little boys going, so I was wondering what you give instead of those?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 18, 2015 at 8:19 am

      That has been the hardest part, yes! For breakfast today, he had 2 eggs and a big smoothie that had a yogurt base with fruit — because the fruit isn’t bothering him at all. At dinner, my solution has been to offer a lot of salad, because that seems to be filling. Another thing I do is make oven-baked sweet potato fries. He loves them and can fill up on them, but they have a lower glycemic impact than white potatoes. He’s also done fine on beans, so I make a lot of chili. 🙂 For me, the key so far has been to really figure out what he reacts to and what he doesn’t — everything he doesn’t react to is like money in the bank because it is something I can feed him. 🙂

      • Reply Laura BTB May 19, 2015 at 11:43 am

        {these examples are very helpful} great post!! can totally relate!! I’ve finally cut out sodas for myself and am working on having him back to myself for the summer. He ‘goes’ to school and we homeschool others. I’m planning on trying to do the intervention over this summer.

        • Reply Sarah June 3, 2016 at 1:10 pm

          Hi, it was great to read this post, thank for writing it! I’m planning on doing something with my oldest son in the summer- I think I’ll have a good 4 week span when it’ll be possible. So I understand about the sugar, syrups etc. That’s relatively easy to identify. And you obviously mentioned white flour and potatoes, and I’m assuming no pasta. Is that right? My question is what about rice, oats and whole grain flours. Would you consider it wise to cut the whole lot out at first and then add things back in gradually? We already eat paleo muffins as snacks that are ground almond and banana based because I just can’t not bake and I’ve been preferring almost no sugar for a while. I’m thinking I’ll leave fruit in because if not it’d make those muffins and also the green smoothies that we have for breakfast abit difficult! Mmmm, what really is my question here?! I’m wondering what form of starch is the biggest offender in terms of affecting blood sugar, what should I be trying most to limit? Does eating whole grain bread have a difference effect to white bread? How bad are white potatoes in terms of blood sugar? (Unfortunately none of my children like sweet potato). How about rice? I’m thinking I need to be reasonable and not try and cut out too much and then after a few days completely fall flat on it because it was too much change in one go. So after cutting sugar out completely what would be the next most important things to cut out? Sorry my question is getting long winded as I’m typing as I think! Thanks for any help you’re able to offer. Sarah x

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