Sugar and the Brain

‘Tis the season for sweets and treats. After all, what would the holidays be without the cookies, the pies, and other special holiday goodies?  But for our children dealing with developmental and language delays, ADHD, autism, or other neurological concerns, those treats may be doing more than making fond memories of the holidays.  In fact, they may be holding them back in improving with their neurological issues.

The fact is, food sets the foundation for health.  Whether we are concerned with learning, behavior, or other neurological issues, the right foods give our bodies and brains nutrients they need to function and to properly develop.  The wrong foods, however, will leave us and our children deficient and depleted.

As Dr. Richard E. Layton writes…

Biomedical interventions can help not only children with autism, but those with expressive and/or receptive language disorders, associated sensory integration (SI) issues, and allergies/hypersensitivities. Through the assessment of diet, environmental pollutants, SI, possible allergy testing and immunotherapy, it is possible to treat developmental delays through a biomedical approach…  Parents could begin by evaluating their child’s diet and noting reactions and improvements.

And, of all the nutritional factors that may weaken that foundation for neurodevelopment, sugar is one of the worst. Sugar and processed treats contain no vitamins or nutrients. In fact, sugar is an anti-nutrient because it strips key nutrients from healthy cells in order to be processed out of the body.

Key nutrients lost with sugar consumption include…

  • B Vitamins: Specifically, Thiamine (B1) is needed to produce energy.  When levels are balanced we feel composure, clear headed, and a sense of stamina.  Also important for liver detoxification where foreign substances are initially broken down for excretion.
  • Calcium: Needed for strong bones as well as for the role it plays in blood clotting, nerve conduction, muscle contraction, cell membrane function, energy, and immune function.  It also regulates the speed, intensity, and clarity of every message that passes between neurons in the brain.
  • Magnesium: Helps to stabilize histamine levels and to relax our muscles.  Aides with energy production, sleep, anxiety, and depression.

According to Dr. Joel Wallach in his book Rare Earth: Forbidden Cures, Sugar loads increase the normal rate of mineral loss in sweat and urine by 300% for twelve hours past consumption.  This means that if you routinely eat sugar there is no amount of supplementation or dietary support that will allow you to keep up with your mineral losses.

However, this doesn’t mean, that as we weave our way through the holiday season, we need to avoid all sugar and subsequently all treats.

By making desserts and treats using some low glycemic (meaning, they won’t spike blood sugar) and nutrient rich alternative sweeteners, we can have sweets that are as nourishing as they are delicious.

Here are a few of my favorite go to sweeteners that you can find in your local market and online…

  • Stevia: 300 times sweeter than sugar, low glycemic (no blood sugar spike), it comes in either a tincture or powder.  To some it may have a slightly bitter, licoricey aftertaste.  But we find with the NuNaturals brand this is not the case.
  • Coconut Nectar & Crystals: Low glycemic and unprocessed, a good source of vitamins C and B.  The crystals can be substituted for cane sugar 1:1
  • Dates: Packed with fiber to slow the absorption of its sugar, they are full of antioxidants and minerals such as iron and potassium.

To get you started, look below for one of my family’s favorite holiday cookie recipes.  Packed with tahini and sesame seeds that are rich in magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc, and using nutrient rich coconut nectar, they’ll satisfy any sweet tooth without leaving you or your family depleted.

Jamie Siwinski, MA, CHHC

Sesame Cookies

1 ¼ cups almond or cashew flour
¼ teaspoon celtic sea salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
⅓ cup coconut nectar
⅓ cup tahini (raw or roasted, though roasted will give more flavor)
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ cup sesame seeds (hulled or unhulled)

In a large bowl, combine almond flour, salt and baking soda.  In a smaller bowl, blend together coconut nectar, tahini, oil and vanilla.  Blend the dry ingredients into the wet.  Form the dough into 1 inch balls and roll in the sesame seeds. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and flatten.

Bake at 350° for 8-10 minutes until lightly brown.  Cool on baking sheet and serve.

Makes 14 cookies

Adapted from:

About Guest Blogger Jamie Siwinski…

Jamie Siwinski, MA, CHHC is a certified holistic health coach who helps families and individuals rebuild their foundation of health by bolstering digestion and immunity, eradicating anxiety and depression, regulating mood, and improving learning and other neurological concerns by taking an integrative approach to health and wellness.  Using a functional model, he helps his clients connect the dots between their symptoms and get to the root of what’s causing their health issues.  He guides them away from the diet and factors that deplete them with practical strategies that leave them feeling fortified.

Learn more and download my FREE sugar detox handout at

Layton, Richard. “Developmental Delay: Biomedical interventions”. Advance. Vol. 16 Issue 2 Page 11.

Wallach, Joel D., and Ma. Lan. Rare earths: forbidden cures. Bonita, CA: Double Happiness Pub., 1994. Print.