Breaking it Down with Dr. Monk

Walking the line right between Natural and RX is our sweet spot, but when it comes to taking your health into your own hands, we think the more you know, the better. That’s why we asked pediatric specialist & Sugarbreak advisor, Dr. Kyle Monk, MD to help break it down when it comes to why obesity and, specifically, childhood diabetes are such prevalent issues today. She discusses the role sugar plays in our lives, why preventative & proactive treatment is so important, and what you can start doing today for optimal health & longevity. 

Diabetes & Kids: We ask Sugarbreak Pediatric Advisor Dr. Kyle Monk Some Questions

As a board-certified pediatric specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills, California, Dr. Kyle Monk is an amazing resource at Sugarbreak. Her philosophy is to start kids early, believing that healthy habits created early in life can foster better health for the future. Here, we talk with Dr. Monk about kids, diabetes, prevention, and more. 

  • What are your general thoughts and findings regarding childhood diabetes and the effects of sugar on children?

Each year, the incidence of diabetes is increasing in American youth; this can be devastating physically, emotionally, and psychologically for the children and their families. With an earlier age of onset, children are at risk for developing diabetes associated complications even younger, [something that can impact] their overall quality of life and lifespan. While there is a strong genetic predisposition to developing diabetes, one cannot underestimate the effect diet has on developing the disease.

  • What are some effective measures you would advise parents to take in order to aid in regulating their child’s sugar intake?

I think it is important for parents to limit access to sugary snacks and beverages. If they are not in the household, then there is limited temptation to eat them. Out of sight, out of mind.

  • How do you best prepare a child who was recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes?

A new diagnosis of type 1 diabetes can be quite devastating for a child. Not only can it be a life threatening diagnosis, but it can impact their emotional health, as well. All children with a new diagnosis of type 1 diabetes should be referred to a diabetes care team. The team should not only have medical support to best tailor an insulin regimen for the patient, but a nutritionist to educate the family on appropriate foods, and a social support team to identify barriers to medical compliance. A new diagnosis may require a child to administer injections multiple times a day and night; it may also require multiple doctor's appointments, all of which may take them away from the life and schedule they were used to. It can be stressful during adolescent years to feel different from your peers while dealing with a lifelong diagnosis. It is extremely important that these children have the emotional support they need.

  • Along with testing a child’s blood glucose levels, what are other signs you look for in determining their risk of diabetes?

Obesity and sedentary lifestyles are huge risk factors for developing diabetes. Family history plays an important part in your risk for developing diabetes, as well. Signs of insulin resistance include darkening of the skin around the neck and in the armpits, called acanthosis nigricans. Other signs of diabetes can be excessive thirst or increased urination, fatigue, and even weight loss.

  • What are some immediate and long-term results of high sugar intake? For children, how does this correlate with their physical and mental development?

When sugar enters the bloodstream, the pancreas produces insulin so that your body can use the sugar as energy, storing the excess sugars in the tissues as fat. Immediately,  blood sugar will spike, but since sugary foods are processed quickly, soon after you have the feeling of being hungry again. Sugary foods can make you feel a crash in energy: Fatigued, irritable and can make it hard to focus. 

Long term, the excess sugars that are not used for energy are stored in the liver and different tissues as fat. Overtime, these excess fats can lead to heart disease, liver disease, obesity, and diabetes.

  • When it comes to diet and avoiding hidden sugar contained in many common foods, what are ingredients you advise parents to look for when grocery shopping?

I generally advise parents to stay away from processed foods. They usually have a lot of added sugars and sodium. A lot of packaging can be misleading and say "natural" or "low fat" as a way to appear healthier, which is why it is important to read labels.  The manufacturers may substitute sugars for the fat in these products. I advise people to look at the added sugar content. Some labels will list sugars in different forms to appear that there are not too many sugars, but keep your eye on the lookout for: Sucrose, glucose, fructose and high fructose corn syrup.  Generally, whole foods or fruits will have naturally occurring sugars as well, however, they typically will provide other nutritional benefits, such as protein and fiber which can keep you fuller for longer, and help you resist the excess snacking.

  • How do you begin building a healthy, balanced diet for children diagnosed with diabetes? 

For any child with diabetes, it is important that they work with a great nutritionist to learn how to read food labels and how many carbohydrates are associated with each meal. It may take a while to understand how each person's glycemic index will respond to a particular carbohydrate, so the diet will often need adjustments along with changing the insulin regimen in order to keep their blood sugar at steady levels. Meal planning is quite helpful, so you can prepare the foods in healthy ways and better anticipate blood sugar changes throughout the day. This helps to keep children and their families compliant with counting the carbohydrates in each meal, but also helps to prevent the unnecessary snacking.

  • As it is hard to regulate a child’s diet with food products targeted for kids that are usually high in sugar and low in nutritional value? What are some ways you can encourage a child to be motivated to build healthy eating habits?

I can't stress the importance of modeling good eating habits enough. Everyone in the family should be eating a similar meal. Include children in the grocery shopping and the meal prep so they can learn to choose healthy foods as well as have fun while cooking them. If you do want to treat your child to a special treat, the healthiest alternative would be to make it yourself. Processed foods, while convenient, contain many unhealthy ingredients.

Obesity has been a topic of conversation for a while and for good reason—it’s a real issue with real consequences. Fortunately, childhood obesity and childhood diabetes are manageable, which can also help prevent other diseases. As always, be sure to consult with your doctor before making any significant lifestyle changes. When you’re ready, we’ll be here to help support you along the way.   

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