Bloating, discomfort, gas, headache, brain fog, regret...sound familiar? We talk about them all the time, but what’s the source of it? Most of the time, it’s tied to what you and your family are eating.
That’s because the ingredients in many junk foods can overwhelm the body and lead to some pretty troubling after-effects. The result? A “junk food hangover.”
We are all susceptible to junk food hangovers, but children are some of the most vulnerable… especially when high-sugar cereals, candies, and more are marketed right to them. Do you really want your kids feeling cruddy just because of what they ate?
To get to the bottom of this, let’s dig deeper into junk food hangovers, what causes them, and how we can help prevent them from happening in our children (and ourselves!).
What is a Junk Food Hangover?
A junk food hangover is the result of overloading your body with more than it can healthily process with insulin highs and lows. Extreme amounts of sugar, unhealthy fats, salt, and carbs might taste good at the moment, but can leave you wishing you had indulged with a little more caution. It’s also addicting. That means that once you start the cycle, your body continues to crave it.
The following symptoms are common when you eat excess sugar, gluten and processed foods. You can feel the effects immediately and they can continue for up to a day or more unless you break the sugar-craving cycle:
- Brain fog
- Stomach pain
- Aches and pains
Children are also impacted by the quality of foods you give them - especially if their diet consists of a lot of processed foods and sugar. Here are a few common symptoms that tend to pop up with kids as a result:
- Mood swings or tantrums
- Disturbance in sleep patterns
- Trouble focusing
- Irregular bowel movements
- Susceptibility to colds and allergies
Junk food hangovers tend to pass with time, water, and a few helpful nutrients. But, if indulging in junk food becomes a regular habit, it can lead to more chronic issues like a weakened immune system and poor gut health.
What are the Causes of a Junk Food Hangover?
Most junk food is made with high amounts of sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, processed and refined carbs, and other ingredients. Let’s learn more about why they cause symptoms similar to a hangover, and how it affects our bodies.
Salt and Fat: Satisfying Foes
Junk food often has a very high salt content - even sweets. Too much salt in the body can lead to bloating, water retention, and headaches. Salt dehydrates the body which can lead to lethargy, and general sluggishness.
Unhealthy fats are also a major culprit in the junk food hangover. Many junk foods contain high amounts of unhealthy fats, which sabotage the gut microbiota (the good bacteria in our digestive system). Fat also slows the digestive process, which is a good thing when it’s a healthy, nutrient-rich food you’ve eaten that is full of good fats (like avocados). But when your diet is full of sugary, highly-processed foods, it leads to blood sugar spikes, bloating, stomach issues and even heartburn.
Sugar: Not So Sweet
We’ve all felt the high of a sugar rush, and if your child has a sweet tooth, you’ve likely seen the effects in them, too. In high amounts (such as with cookies, cakes, candies, and sodas) sugar causes a high, then a crash. As blood sugar rises, the body pumps out insulin in an attempt to process all the new sugars. Soon, the insulin concentration is too high and the body (and brain) crashes.
While a sugar crash is short-lived, the true “hangover” from sugar comes disguised as brain fog, fatigue, poor gut health, and a diminished immune response. Regular sugar crashes steal energy from the brain, causing a “brain fog” that makes us feel forgetful, confused, light-headed, and irritable.
Sugar is also extremely inflammatory. This inflammation affects the body in many different ways but is particularly harmful when it comes to the gut and immune system. Excess sugar causes increased “gut permeability,” which means that bacteria, toxins, and undigested food can leak into the bloodstream and perpetuate inflammation.
Thankfully, this inflammation is linked to processed and refined sugars. Studies show that natural sugars present in fruits do not cause these issues.
Processed Carbs and Gluten: Immunity Crushers
Like refined sugars, processed carbs and gluten can alter your gut health, and therefore your immune and mental health.
Research shows that carbs and gluten can trigger the immune system, leading to increased inflammation. As this inflammation reaches other areas of the body, we experience body aches, pains, and a general feeling of discomfort. This inflammation also weakens the immune system as it continuously fights to reduce the inflammation and restore balance.
Overdoing It: A Harmful Habit
While what we eat is the core cause of a junk food hangover, how we eat is also a factor. When we suffer from a true junk food hangover, it’s not simply because we’ve eaten junk food, but because we’ve eaten too much of it.
Junk food is addictive. Food scientists work hard to develop products with the right balance of salt, sugar, fat, and moreish crunch that we just can’t resist. We end up eating far more than we expect and often don’t stop until we are over-full. Kids, who don’t yet know how to judge their satiety, easily overindulge in tempting junk foods to the point of discomfort. The junk food hangover causes you and your kids to solve the issue by eating more sugar and then you get another junk food hangover and the cycle continues.
Tips to Avoid Junk Food Hangovers for the Whole Family
If your family struggles with the occasional junk food hangover, you likely have a medicine cabinet stocked with heartburn and indigestion medications. But there are better ways to treat junk food hangovers that also work to help prevent them from happening in the future.
#1: Aim for Balance and Plan Ahead with Grab-and-Go Snacks
Avoiding a junk food hangover is relatively simple - ditch the junk food! But let’s face it, banishing junk food completely is easier said than done. We don’t always have control over what our kids eat, sometimes a quick snack is our only option, and other times we simply want to give our kids (or ourselves) a treat.
In these cases, the best solution is to look for a happy medium. If you or your children do happen to indulge in junk food, balance it out with something healthy. Remember, the less processed foods, sugar and gluten you and your kids eat the less you will crave these foods.
Having a staple grocery list full of healthy foods is a great way to stay prepared for things that come up last minute. This helps you avoid mindless snacking and, more importantly, getting to the point where you feel ravenous and eating anything that sounds good nearby.
Here is a list our Aceva team uses for their families if you’re looking for some ideas:
- Peak Protein with unsweetened nut milk, ½ cup fruit, and avocado
- Low sugar granola with yogurt
- Nut mix with fresh organic fruit
- Apples and unsweetened almond butter
- Hard boiled eggs
- Hard cheeses for example parmesan cheese with gluten free crackers
- Guacamole packets with plantain chips
- Nitrate free lunch meet and low carb or gluten free wraps
- RX bars
- Energy bites
- Pizza egg frittatas (made in advance) with pepperoni on top ( kids love to grab these)
#2: Boost Your Digestive Strength with Natural Enzymes
Natural enzymes can help you both recover from junk food hangovers and prevent them. Our digestive system relies on certain enzymes to break down food and extract the healthy nutrients. It also needs enzymes to process some of the not-so-healthy things that find their way into the gut.
To keep your digestive system resilient to the occasional overindulgence, supplement your diet with a few high-enzyme foods like pineapple, papaya, mangoes, bananas, avocados, kiwi, miso, kefir, natural sauerkraut, and ginger.
As an added benefit, natural enzymes help to establish excellent gut health, which in turn strengthens the immune and nervous systems.
#3: Stay Hydrated
Water is another great way to combat a junk food hangover. Fresh, clean water allows our bodies to flush out the excess salt from junk food and rehydrate the body. It is interesting because the area of your brain that controls cravings is the same area of the brain that controls dehydration. That means you can be dehydrated and your body mistakenly reaches for a Snicker bar when it really wanted a glass of water. You can break the cycle by drinking enough water before the cravings set in.
Not all kids are eager to drink water, but a little creativity can go a long way. Make fruit-infused water (pineapple and kiwi make a delicious, enzyme-rich choice), a glass of Aceva’s Absolute Greens (which gives them their daily dose of fruits and veggies), or offer snacks with a high water content like watermelon or cucumbers.
#4: Prevent System Overload
As we mentioned before, it’s not always possible to avoid junk food. But, we can still use prevention to our advantage. The key to keeping our bodies strong in the face of junk food is a foundation of health.
The right daily vitamin not only helps your child’s body grow and develop, it can also help their bodies fight the negative effects of the occasional junk food indulgence. Aceva’s Kids Everyday Basics lays a strong foundation for a healthy system with a complete multivitamin and delicious Absolute Greens drink powder. Sometimes kids crave sugar because they are tired or nutrient-depleted. Be proactive.
The Kids Immune Boost bundle offers that extra support needed to heal and restore your child’s immune system and protect against the negative effects of junk food. And you can add in Peak Protein to up their daily protein intake.
You Really are What You Eat…and So are Your Kids
Anyone who’s experienced the misery of a junk food hangover can agree, you are what you eat! While this is an important lesson for all of us, it’s especially important for our growing children as they develop their own relationships and habits around food.
But, as adults, as parents, as kids, it’s okay to slip up sometimes. Living a healthy, balanced life doesn’t mean avoiding temptation at all times - it means supporting your body’s core health so it can rebound easily from an occasional treat. Give your body the balance, support, and preparation it deserves with a daily boost from Aceva.