Sugar high myth

With Halloween fast approaching and the grocery stores lining their aisles with super-sized boxes of candy, I thought this might be a good season to address a widely held belief about sugar and its effect on the hyperactivity and behaviour of children.

No doubt, we have all heard the very popular notion that sugar causes kids to be ‘buzzed’, ‘high’ or simply hyper.

Maybe it will surprise you to learn that this is actually not true. Even though everyone says it, studies have shown conclusively that there is no causal relationship between consumption of sugar and hyperactive behaviour in children.

It’s not news really – in the scientific literature it has been well published for more than a decade that there is no relational link between ingesting sugary treats and negative or hyper behaviour.

A 2009 review of 12 double-blind, placebo-controlled studies of sugar challenges failed to provide any evidence of the causal relationship between sugar and behaviour in children both with and without pre-existing ADD/ADHD.

Other studies examined diet-oriented treatment on children with behaviour problems and also found that this treatment does not appear to be appropriate and that eliminating sugar did not improve behaviour.

You might be thinking that you know your child is more hyper after all the treats at Halloween or at the end of a cake and pop-filled birthday party. It is more likely that the hyper or wired behaviour after such experiences is due to the excitement of the event itself rather than the food consumed as part of it.

To be sure, there are some good reasons to limit sugar intake in our children. Our current obesity epidemic is probably the most pressing one. It is important to encourage a healthy, active lifestyle, balanced diet and to avoid regular consumption of large quantities of junk food. Of course it is best to fill our bodies with healthy food.

That being said, allowing your children to enjoy some treats from time to time at parties and holidays is not going to cause them to develop attention deficit disorder and will not in itself cause them to behave badly.

Kids who are over-stimulated from an exciting activity, tired from staying up late or wound up from being surrounded by other excited children may exhibit some situational hyperactivity and may take a while to calm down afterward – just like adults. Moderation is a good standard to go by when it comes to treats and it teaches children they can live a healthy life making good choices every day and enjoying occasional treats and desserts without developing unhealthy relationships to foods - either of denial or excess.


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