Taking care of a sick kid can feel exhausting. And heartbreaking. And really, really hard — especially if they’re too young to properly explain what is bothering them. With often contradicting advice on fevers and even cough medicine, it’s hard to know how to get your kid healthy again. (That fear of failing your sick kiddo is universal, promise.) But one thing you don’t need to stress about when your kid is sick? How much sugar they’re getting.
Well, within reason, of course. In one of the latest viral videos from Meghan Martin (aka @Beachgem10), the famous TikTok doc has a pressing message for parents of sick kids: Sugar is fuel.
“For sick kids, especially toddlers, if they are not eating food and just drinking, they need a beverage that has sugar in it, or else their sugar is going to drop out,” explains Dr. Martin. “If we’re fasting and not eating, we have these glycogen stores in our liver that we can use to rapidly get glucose and keep our blood sugar fairly steady. However, young kids, toddlers, and infants really don’t have this, or their stores are very small.”
Martin’s video came in response to a mom whose child’s pediatrician had recommended a sugar-free flavored water for hydration. And, if you’ve spoken with a doctor who knows your child’s medical history and recommends the same, by all means, follow your doctor’s advice. But if you’re looking for a second opinion, Martin has some specific advice surrounding — yep, you guessed it — sugar.
“For kids that are not eating, Pedialyte or an electrolyte beverage that has sugar in it is important to help them maintain their blood sugar because their bodies cannot sustain a fasting state for long,” she explains.
While many families don’t do dessert and have strong feelings about sugar at any age, many doctors make a strong case for sugary foods when a child is ill. After all, letting your kid have a popsicle you might otherwise ban is still better than a kid who won’t eat anything when sick. Right? Riiiiiiight?
Diet culture has really demonized sugar. But sugar is such an important fuel for our bodies and our brains,” says Martin. “Now we do have this emergency system that we can use called ‘ketones.’ We can use [those] to fuel the brain if we don’t have sugar. But ketones make the blood very acidic, and that can cause other problems. So, it is important if you have a sick kiddo that you make sure that they’re getting some sugar, whether it is food or through the electrolyte beverage that they’re drinking.”
Foods to Feed Sick Kids
Pretty much anything they’ll eat! Granted, you may have grown up hearing you should always “feed a fever, starve a cold.” However, that’s just a medical myth — according to iCare ER & Urgent Care, “The truth is that when you’re sick, your body needs adequate nutrition and hydration to fight off the illness, no matter whether you have a cold or a fever.” In fact, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a range of food and beverages, from diluted fruit juice and broths to Vitamin-C-packed fruits (lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, berries) and simple starches such as rice and noodles.
So, if your child is sick and not really eating but shows interest in something you wouldn’t typically give them, now is probably the time to bend the rules. Don’t be surprised if you hear your doctor say something along the lines of “ice cream, Kool-Aid, whatever.”
As Martin shared, ensuring your kiddo gets sugar and electrolytes is vital. Sure, in excess, those things can make a kid more sick. But if you’re currently worried because they’re not eating, you likely don’t have to worry about them overeating anything right now — including sugar.