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Ep #8: How Food Changes Your Brain with Charlie Evans

Raising Healthy Kid Brains with Amy Nielson | How Food Changes Your Brain with Charlie Evans

Do you feel like sugar hijacks your child’s brain? Do you want to learn about what you can do to keep big spikes in blood sugar from affecting their memory and their learning? Join me on this week’s podcast for a conversation all about sugar and nutrition with my guest, Charlie Evans.

Charlie Evans is a nutrition expert who prioritizes helping people build a healthy relationship with food. She owns Cevans Fitness, a coaching company, has a bachelor’s of Health and Human Performance, and is a former professional ballerina. Charlie also offers group coaching for women who want to transform their bodies by addressing nutrition.

On this week’s episode, Charlie and I talk about how blood sugar spikes impact the hippocampus, strategies around macronutrients, and tips for making sure your kiddos are listening to their body’s needs when it comes to food. We had a great conversation, and I think you’ll learn some great new ways to make sure your kids get the nutrition they need.

We are a brand new podcast, which means we are harder to find than the perfect LEGO in a big box full of LEGO, and we need your help so that we can reach more parents and teachers with the information we’re sharing about their children’s brains. How can you help? You can follow this podcast wherever you listen to podcasts, and leave us a rating and review. To help us launch our podcast, we created a very special gift for you and your kiddo! Your ratings and reviews will unlock part of this gift over the next few weeks—to find out more, visit our podcast launch page right here!

What You’ll Learn:


    • Why food isn’t good or bad.

    • How sugar hijacks the brain and how to tell if your child is experiencing food-related behavioral changes.

    • What macronutrients are and how to get them into your child’s diet.

    • Why eating sugar and carbohydrates at the end of your meal is better for you.

    • How to support your child in understanding their body’s needs around food.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Featured on the Show:


    • To help us launch our podcast, we created a very special gift for you and your kiddo! Click here to find out more.

Full Episode Transcript:

Does sugar hijack your child’s brain? And if that’s true is there something we can do to keep those big spikes in blood sugar from affecting their memory, their learning? Today I’m speaking with Charlie Evans, she is a nutrition expert who helps people build a healthy relationship with food. She has a bachelor’s of health and human performance, is a former professional ballerina. And she owns a company called Cevans Fitness.

In our conversation, Charlie talks about how blood sugar spikes affect the hippocampus, an important part of your brain. And a strategy that she has around macronutrients to help decrease those spikes. She has some great tips for you and we’ll get started with that conversation right after this.

Welcome to the Raising Healthy Kid Brains podcast where moms and teachers come to learn all about kids’ brains, how they work, how they learn, how they grow and simple tips and tricks for raising the most resilient, kind, smart, compassionate kids we can. All while having lots of grace and compassion for ourselves because you know what? We all really need and deserve that too. I am your host, Amy Nielson. Let’s get ready to start the show.

Amy: Charlie, welcome to the show. We’re so glad to have you on.

Charlie: Thank you, Amy, I’m so happy to be here.

Amy: So I am excited to talk to you about food today and specifically about sugar and the brain, and just some tips that you have. Let’s start talking about food first and you told me that food is not good or bad. Can you tell me a little bit about that and how we should be viewing food when we’re talking to ourselves and to our children?

Charlie: Yeah, absolutely. So I feel like often as we’re growing up we look at food as good food or bad food. We create these emotional bonds to certain things. It can lead to all sorts of different issues with food. So what I want to unwind for people is that food is fuel. And there are yummy, sweet foods that can be fuel and there are super healthy food that are fuel, but that we just take the emotion out of it. And that we are looking at it from the perspective of how is this nourishing my body.

Amy: I love that. And you said something in our conversation that we had previously and you said food is not an emotion. And I loved that, I thought that was so good. So kind of taking the emotion out of food and just looking at it as fuel. You said there was a thing that you got from Elmo.

Charlie: I did, yeah. I was watching Sesame Street with my kids, I had two little kids at the time. And they were watching and Elmo was talking about all these foods. And he was distinguishing between sometimes food and all the time food. And I love that concept because for so long in my experience with food I was looking at it like if I eat a bad food then I’m bad, and I felt guilt, and shame, and remorse. But the concept of it just being a sometimes food and an all the time food, it just released so much stress.

So an example of a sometimes food would be cookies or a birthday cake. And an all the time food would be apples and peanut butter, chicken and things like that that are closer to their natural state opposed to refined sugars that take a lot of ingredients to create.

Amy: Yeah, I love that. Okay, so you brought up sugar, let’s talk about sugar. And you had mentioned that when you’re noticing a child that’s having a concerning behavior, what is the first question that you ask yourself? What are those first things you ask yourself?

Charlie: Yeah. So I look at it like what is the last thing that this child has eaten? And then I’ll look at what is their sleep like. And then how are they hydrated? Are they getting enough water? But I think food is one of the key indicators of behavior for children because not only does it start to metabolize and digest once it hits your mouth but within five to 30 minutes it can create a whole rapid behavior change in a child just because of the nature of sugar, how it metabolizes so quickly and it impacts the brain so rapidly, yeah.

Amy: So you said to me, you said that sugar hijacks the brain . And I was kind of curious about that. What are some ways that sugar hijacks the brain?

Charlie: Yeah. So what that would look like is the blood sugar spikes that it impacts our dopamine receptors in our brain which is our pleasure center. And so immediately we have this, ooh, that feels good. And then we want more and more of it. What happens is that sugar just starts to build up in the body and it causes inflammation. And that inflammation impacts the part of the brain called the hippocampus that affects learning, memory and stress.

And in a child because their bodies are so small, even just the smallest amount can start to trigger these changes in behavior in children. And so my mom always would talk about how sugar impacted her kids. She had my oldest brother who was allergic to sugar and he would go nuts for hours and hours because of sugar. And so I noticed a similar thing with my first child as well. And being able to distinguish what foods are triggering our children and certain behaviors we can really course correct and really impact the kid in a positive way if we’re focusing on what type of foods we’re giving them.

Amy: That is so interesting. So if we’re, for example, sending kids to school or working on trying to help them learn or worrying about their stress levels, then sugar, blood sugar spikes have a major impact on that?

Charlie: Absolutely, yeah. And unfortunately the western diet is cheerios, and milk, and orange juice, and toast which is all carbohydrates. And those are going to metabolize really quickly, they’ll spike the blood sugar and then drop it really low. So around 9:30, 10 o’clock, they’re not able to regulate their emotions on their own. And so you’ll start to see kids have major behaviors. And this happened to my own children so this is why I really started to focus on this, especially for kids but also for myself because it was so much a trial and error in my own body distinguishing all this.

Amy: Okay. So you said that to kind of help with this you kind of need three macronutrients in a meal. Can you talk about what those are?

Charlie: Yeah, absolutely. So the three main macronutrients are protein, fat and carbohydrates. And each of them has very specific roles inside of our body with building and repairing tissues, from giving us energy, from lubricating our brain and our organs. With each of those, we want all of them so there’s no bad, like I said before, no bad macronutrients. However, there is an order, that if we eat these foods in a particular order it will help decrease our spike in blood sugar.

So what I love to do is start with the hard thing first and then have your reward at the end. Although I don’t like to think of food as a reward but have your fun food at the end. So I say eat your vegetables first, those provide all of your vitamins and minerals that basically line the stomach. They help slow the metabolism of sugars down as well because of the fiber in the food. So you start with your vegetables first, then your protein, then your fat, and then have your carbohydrates at the end. And carbohydrates include fruit too.

So I think a lot of times people are like, “But I’m so healthy, I eat so much fruit, I eat so many fruits.” Which is great, yes, those have excellent things inside of them. However if we eat them at the end of the meal we can decrease our chances of our blood sugar spiking by 30%. So I think that’s really powerful to know. We don’t have to eliminate really anything from our diet. If we eat in a particular order it will make us feel so much better.

Amy: This is so fascinating and I think we talked about this, I know someone who was recently just doing a test on this and had an actual blood sugar monitor. I think it was 20 or 30 minutes before eating pizza or ice-cream or something with a lot of sugar. They had some broccoli with some olive oil and then just kind of had that first. And then gave it a little bit and then went and ate this and watched the change on an actual monitor of their blood sugar. And it almost didn’t even change, it was amazing the difference between eating that first and eating it after eating some fiber and some fats. I thought that was fascinating.

Charlie: Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. And it’s so crazy because I had been practicing these things on myself for years and years. And just now all this research and confirmation of all the things that I’ve been practicing for years on myself are starting to have all of this scientific backing, which I love that part too.

Amy: That’s so good. So after school snacks too, we talked about that. What would you, if your kids are coming home, I know my kids are always starving when they get home from school, they want a snack before they get started on piano, or homework, or whatever. What do you kind of recommend for that, do you recommend snack, no snacks, what do you think?

Charlie: Absolutely. I think it’s super important to listen to our body and have our kids be able to learn to listen to their bodies as well. Some kids, they just don’t ever really feel hungry, so you want to encourage them to eat. I like to say things like. “This will help your brain, it will help you think more clearly as you’re doing your homework or doing your reading after school.” But then the kids that are hungry, that’s important to let them be able to feel that they’re hungry, express it and take an action on it so that they can satisfy that hunger.

Now, what will help satisfy that hunger and provide the nutrients that they need is going to be those proteins, fats and then carbohydrate snacks. So I like to do turkey, lunchmeat for the kids, or I’ll make chicken in kind of a chicken nugget style for them and pair it with cashews or almonds, sometimes olives and avocados. Those are really great healthy fats as well. And then if they are going to have fruit snacks, have that at the end. Don’t start, come home and grab the bag of fruit snacks first.

Amy: That’s so good. This makes me think about, I was talking to my son recently and he had had a friend that was kind of, I felt, a little bit shaming him over his hunger. So he is going through a huge growth spurt right now and he’s hungry all the time. And so this friend just kept talking about how hungry he was and, “You’re always so hungry.” And it was a little hard to listen to. And so we had a conversation afterwards and I was talking to him and I said, “Hey, your body is growing and it needs, when you’re trying to build a LEGO tower, what do you need?”

And we talked about, you need LEGO. You need LEGO to build your LEGO tower. And if you don’t have LEGO, how tall can you build your tower? You can’t build your tower without actual LEGO. And so I said, “Your body’s like that too. You’re trying to grow your body, you need food.” But we don’t want to just only use the same kind of LEGO, we want LEGO of different colors and we want different shapes and all these things.” And so we talked about that. And so now I just ask him, “Have you had your different kinds of LEGO? You’re hungry, awesome, what colors or what kinds of LEGO have you had?”

And so we kind of have this conversation so he’s not worrying about eating too much or being too hungry and just kind of focusing on getting those different macronutrients. But I love having them in order. Do you have something that you have as a reference for kids where they can kind of look at it and see what might be a carbohydrate, or a fat, or a protein? Because they’re maybe not going to know what those things mean right at the beginning until they get used to this.

Charlie: Yeah, absolutely. I’m so glad that you brought that up. And I think it’s really empowering us as parents to teach our kids what food is and how it is impacting their body. So at my house I have I guess a half a poster board size written out proteins, fats, carbohydrates. And then I list different types of proteins and different types of fats and different types of carbohydrates. And so when my kids come to me and they’re like, “Mom, I’m hungry.” “Take a look, which one of these do you want in each three of these categories?”

And then it lets them start to identify what those foods are. And then they get to pick and choose what they’re nourishing their body with. And I think, yeah, that that is really powerful for the kids to do that. So I love the idea that you shared with your son about the LEGO tower because that’s exactly right. If we’re hungry, it’s for a reason, our body is depleted. It’s telling us something. And so take action, eat those macronutrients that are going to fuel and supply your body with what it needs.

Amy: I love it and I love this chart idea because I feel like it gives kids so much power, and autonomy, and information. And they get to go choose but it’s giving them tips on what that is. So we are actually, Charlie was kind enough to share her list with us. And so we’re building a little cheat sheet for you that you can print out and we’ll have the link for that down in the show notes where you can find that and print that out if you would like. So that you can put that somewhere in your home for your children.

Charlie: Awesome, good. I’m so happy that you can share that.

Amy: Literally so great. Charlie, this has been such a helpful conversation. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing this info. And I forgot to mention this at the beginning but when Charlie and I met we were talking about big families. And I just didn’t think that anyone could beat me out for having the biggest family. So there’s 12 kids in my family and Charlie was like, “I have a big family.” And I’m like, “Okay, how big though really?” And Charlie, tell us how many kids are in your family?

Charlie: There are 18 children. So, I’m one of 18, yeah, it’s incredible.

Amy: Which is just amazing. So you were telling me that there were – was there 11 that were born to your parents and then they adopted seven, is that right?

Charlie: Yeah, that’s correct.

Amy: That is so fun, oh my goodness, I love that so much.

Charlie: Yeah, thank you. It’s awesome, it’s so awesome.

Amy: It’s just amazing, okay. So that was just a fun little tidbit that we connected on and I just thought was so fun. Charlie, tell us where people can find you if they want to find more information about you or work with you. What’s the best place for people to find you?

Charlie: Yeah, the best place for me right now is Instagram. You can send me a DM on there or you can email me. I think we’ll put that in the show notes. But I’m currently working with women with their nutrition and fitness journey, helping them to just reclaim power with their identity with food and their relationship with food. And what I love working with women is that it impacts their children too. And children learn best by example. And so learning to really have a healthy relationship with your body and with food is just so powerful, so yeah.

Amy: I love it so much. Okay, and we will definitely include that in the show notes for everyone. And thank you so much for coming on and chatting with us about this today, I just so appreciate it.

Charlie: You’re welcome, thank you so much, Amy.

Thank you so much for spending some time with me today and listening to this episode of the Raising Healthy Kid Brains podcast. We are a brand new podcast which means we are harder to find than the perfect LEGO in a big box full of LEGO. And we need your help so that we can reach more moms, and parents, and teachers with this information about their children’s brains. So how can you help? You can follow this podcast wherever you listen to podcasts and leave us a rating and a review. That would mean the absolute world to us.

And hey, we want to make it fun because at Planning Playtime we are all about fun. We made a very special gift for you and your kiddo. And your follows, ratings and reviews are going to unlock different parts of that gift over the next few weeks. It’s going to be so much fun so after you follow, rate and review the podcast, head over to\podcastlaunch to find out where we are and how much of that gift you can go and get for your child right now. Thanks a million and I will see you on the next episode of the Raising Healthy Kid Brains podcast.


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