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ADHD and Sugar: How Sugar Affects Your ADHD Child’s Behavior

Is there a link between ADHD and sugar? We have the research. And learn how to manage ADHD and sugar consumption on HealthyPlace.

The ADHD and sugar link has been one of the most highly debated in terms of research surrounding nutrition and mental/behavioral health. For years, many believed those with ADHD would experience worsening symptoms as higher levels of sugar were consumed.  While several studies endorse this hypothesis, further research on ADHD and sugar is needed to confirm this theory.

ADHD and Sugar

The brain needs a certain amount of sugar to function adequately. Brain functions including the retention of information and memory are fueled by sugar. Essentially, sugar is the main fuel source of the brain. Yet consuming too much sugar can have a negative effect on mental, physical, and behavioral health. And when it comes to people with ADHD and sugar, there is evidence suggesting an increased negative impact. Of course, each person is affected differently, but for some people with ADHD, too much sugar can lead to increased hyperactivity, problems with attention and focus, and fluctuating moods (Diets for ADHD Hyperactive Child and Inattentive Type). Additionally, sugar effects dopamine levels, which can cause fluctuating hormone levels. Thus, the connection between symptoms of ADHD and sugar consumption should not be dismissed.

Sugar and ADHD Symptoms

One study from Yale University looked at sugar and ADHD symptoms in children and concluded that with increased sugar intake, hyperactive children’s destructive behaviors and restlessness increased. While there are several other studies that indicate increased symptoms of ADHD with increased sugar consumption, there are others that find no relationship.  One of the most well known of these studies was conducted in 1985 by Dr. Mark Wolrach. He looked at 16 boys with ADHD over 3 days and had half drink a sugary beverage while the other half received a “placebo” drink.  The results revealed no difference in the boys’ behavioral or cognitive function. So, while there seems to be no clear cut answer to the debate over ADHD and sugar, if you are thinking sugar might be affecting you or your child, there are ways to cut back.

Decreasing Sugar Consumption

Managing sugar intake seems simple enough in terms of just avoiding foods with high sugar contents. Yet it is not always this straightforward.

  • Look at Ingredient Labels

You may already be checking the amount of sugar in certain items you buy.  Nonetheless, it is likely you aren’t checking for sugars in things that you would not assume contain sugar in the first place. But beware – it may surprise you to find sugar is added to a number of foods you did not consider, such as pasta sauce and whole-wheat bread.  This is why it is so important to check everything you put in your shopping basket.

  • Know What to Look For:

Identifying which foods have sugar in them can be difficult because sugar isn’t always listed as sugar. Food manufacturers tend to use different names to “hide” sugar in your food including:

Fructose
Dextrose
Corn syrup
Corn sweetener
High-fructose corn syrup,
Crystalline fructose
Malt syrup
Corn syrup solids

  • Be Aware of Cravings

From time to time, many people (whether they are aware of it or not) tend use food to cope with stress, overwhelming emotions, and difficult times.  And for some of those people, sugar is their go-to. Begin to turn your attention towards your cravings.  The more awareness you have, the more you can manage those cravings. If your child has ADHD and sugar is his or her “go-to” for comfort, try providing education on healthier options.

  • Choose Spices Over Sugar

Many people enjoy adding sugar to food and/or drinks for extra flavor. Yet there are so many other options to enhance the taste of what you put in your mouth. Explore new spices, herbs, or citruses as alternative options to help manage your ADHD and sugar consumption.

article references

APA Reference
Jarrold, J. (2018, May 17). ADHD and Sugar: How Sugar Affects Your ADHD Child’s Behavior, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, May 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/adhd/food-and-adhd/adhd-and-sugar-how-sugar-affects-your-adhd-childs-behavior

Last Updated: 2019, May 7

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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