Is it true that sugar causes hyperactivity in children?

There is no doubt that diet can affect human behavior, however, the relationship between sugar consumption and hyperactivity is far from clear. For now, most studies find no evidence directly linking sugar to an increased risk of hyperactivity in children. While further studies may still be needed to completely dispel the doubt, there are other possible reasons why parents observe their children to be more active at certain times.

The idea that sugar can stimulate activity in children and increase the risk of hyperactivity began to catch on in the early 1970s and gained increasing traction in the following decade1. In 1973, Benjamin F. Feingold, MD, published his famous Feingold Diet and several books on childhood hyperactivity and its relationship to certain substances in food.

Feingold recommended avoiding salicylates, artificial flavors and colors, butylhydroxyanisole (BHA, additive E-320), butylhydroxytoluene (BHT, additive E-321), and food additives in general. Although he never specifically mentioned sugar, refined sugar as an additive fell under the same umbrella. The Feingold Diet became very popular, and still is today, although its effectiveness has not been proven.

Another 1978 study linked Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) with reactive hypoglycemia (low blood glucose when consuming sugar due to excessive insulin secretion). This association reinforced the idea that sugar stimulates activity in children and can make them hyperactive.

Since then, many studies have been conducted that refute this belief, but it still persists among society. While it is true that sugar, especially refined sugar that passes quickly into the bloodstream, has effects on the brain that can affect behavior3, it cannot be said that there is a relationship with hyperactivity. However, there are many other reasons why you should reduce your sugar intake and avoid refined ones, for example, tooth decay or obesity.

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