As parents, we have all heard the age-old belief that sugar causes hyperactivity in children. It seems like common knowledge that sugary treats at a birthday party can turn a group of kids into a bouncing, uncontrollable frenzy. But is there any truth to this claim?

The belief that sugar causes hyperactivity can be traced back to the Feingold Diet, a highly restrictive diet developed in the 1970s by American paediatric allergist Benjamin Feingold. This diet eliminates artificial colors, sweeteners, preservatives, and even some naturally occurring compounds like salicylates. Despite Feingold’s claims of success in treating hyperactivity with this diet, subsequent research has shown that less than 2 percent of children actually respond to these restrictions.

Numerous placebo-controlled studies have been conducted to investigate the link between sugar and hyperactivity in children. The results consistently show that sugar consumption does not have a significant impact on behavior or attention span. Even in children diagnosed with ADHD, there is no strong evidence to support the idea that sugar makes them hyperactive.

While sugar may not directly cause hyperactivity, it can still play a role in children’s behavior through the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released in response to a reward, such as a sweet treat. This surge of dopamine can lead to increased activity, although it is much less than the effect of psychostimulant drugs.

Rather than demonizing sugar, it is important to focus on promoting healthy eating habits and fostering a positive relationship with food in children. The World Health Organization recommends limiting free sugar consumption to less than 10 percent of energy intake for both children and adults. By treating sugary foods as occasional treats and using non-sugar rewards for positive behavior, we can help children develop a balanced approach to nutrition.

While the belief that sugar causes hyperactivity in children has persisted for decades, scientific evidence does not support this claim. Instead of blaming sugar for behavioral issues, it is essential to focus on teaching children about balanced nutrition and moderation. By taking a holistic approach to diet and behavior, we can help children develop healthy habits that will benefit them for a lifetime.


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