Eliminating sugar is an effective treatment for kids with ADHD.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Sugar makes kids irritable and hyperactive.
WHAT WE KNOW
It is true that foods containing sugar, a carbohydrate, will provide energy to the body. This is true of any food that contains carbohydrate, including fruits and vegetables. The belief that sugar makes kids hyper increased when a diet approach for treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was introduced. In this approach, refined sugar as well as most artificial flavors and colors are eliminated from the diet. However, there is no evidence that eating foods that have sugar causes kids to be hyper, or that the dietary approach is effective for treating most children with ADHD.
HOW DO WE KNOW THIS?
A number of studies have been done and have not shown that sugar makes kids hyper. In one study, researchers gave sugared foods to one group of kids, and foods with artificial sweeteners to the other group. The parents and researchers did not know what each child was eating. The kids were followed for irritability and hyperactivity, and no difference was observed between the 2 groups. Another well-done study followed children diagnosed with ADHD. One group was given a diet that had refined sugar and additives, and one was given a diet completely free of such substances. Food was supplied by the researchers, and the participants did not know which diet they were getting. Overall, there were no differences between the behavior of children on the ‘artificial’ diet and those on the all-natural, no-sugar diet, although the researchers estimated that about 1 out of 100 children might be more ‘out of control’ on the artificial diet.
So why do parents think their kids have a sugar high after eating sweets? Often, eating sugary foods is associated with a special occasion, such as a holiday or a party. Or, they are given at times such as after school when a child may be playing. Are the kids hyper from the sugar? No, they are hyper because they are excited! Also, if a parent is convinced that sugar makes her child hyper, she might be more likely to misinterpret the child’s behavior. Further, some sweets like chocolate, cola beverages and some other sodas contain caffeine that children could be reacting to.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Sweets have their place in the diet – as treats. They should be limited because they are a source of extra calories without the benefit of nutritional value. Fruits and 100% fruit juice are ideal substitutes for sweets – fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. They all count. They have excellent nutritional value, and they are delicious!