Are those iced oatmeal cookies you let your kiddos eat right after school to blame for them bouncing off the walls for the rest of the afternoon? For years people have associated increased sugar intake with an increase in hyperactivity in children. Sugary snacks have been limited in pre-schools and villainized by many as the reason children are so darn “busy.” But is sugar really to blame? This question has been asked for years and the overwhelming answer has been no.
In 1973, Dr. Ben Feingold recommended eliminating dyes and artificial flavors from children’s diets to improve their behavior. At some point, sugar got lumped into this recommendation since it was seen as an additive that might also influence behavior. In 1982, the National Institutes of Health said that a link between sugar and hyperactivity had never been scientifically proven. Then in 1995 a meta-analysis conducted by Mark L. Wolraich and colleagues investigated the effect of sugar and artificial sugars on children aged three to ten and hyperactivity. The conclusion was that sugar in the diet does not affect behavior.
Let’s take a look at sugar and how it works in the body. Sugar can be consumed as a simple sugar or a component of complex carbohydrates. For sugar to be beneficial, it has to be broken down into simpler sugars for absorption. Our bodies run on glucose; so if we are monitoring someone’s blood sugar, we are specifically checking for glucose.
Starches or carbohydrates also contain sugars, but they don’t always taste sweet so we may not think of them as sugars. Bread, pasta, carrots, sweet potatoes, and all other plant foods contain sugars that have been linked together and require the body to break them down to be used for energy. The more sugars that are linked together, the longer it takes to break them down. These sugars give us more sustained energy while simple sugars give us a quick burst of energy.
The research available shows no connection between sugar and hyperactivity, so you are off the hook. How sweet is that?