Best Diet, Food, Nutrition for ADHD hyperactivity behavior attention sugar
ADHD, Nutrition

The ADHD Diet: Sugar

Hello, lovelies. Today I kick off a new series: The ADHD Diet. Thank you for joining me.

This series is my favorite set of posts on the blog.  I have extensively reviewed the research done on each of these areas. There is so much I have learned throughout my research. 

I am excited to share all that I have discovered with all of you. So let’s get the ball rolling.

We will kick this party off today with an item that is often misunderstood: SUGAR

Sugar Causes Hyperactivity – A Myth or Reality?

Did you know that consumption of sugar does NOT cause hyperactivity? Yes, you read that right.

Let me repeat it – sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children.

If you are finding it difficult to believe, relax. It is perfectly normal. You are not alone. And I am not weird.

It took me some time to convince myself, too. I wanted to be sure of the facts. I wanted to read the reports to know the details. (By the way, I am listing these below, even though I may not know the ‘propah’ way to do so.)

Sugar in diet affect ADHD Behavior

Does Sugar Cause Hyperactivity In Children?

It is a misconception that sugar causes your child to be hyperactive. Many studies have disproved this belief.

Before we see the studies about hyperactivity, let me add that studies have also shown that sugar does not contribute to inattention, reduction in cognitive performance and other behavior-related problems in children (whether they have ADHD or not).

A meta-analysis of 16 studies1 showed that sugar does not affect the behavior or cognitive performance of children.

What is a meta-analysis, you ask? A meta-analysis – in layman’s terms – is an analysis that combines the results of many studies. The advantage is that not only are we able to look at larger numbers of data points, we have an analysis which includes a variety of populations and study types.

In other words, a meta-analysis associates the results from multiple studies – making it a kind of a super turbo powered study of studies.

Numerous studies (including the one by Mark L. Wolraich and his team – which itself is a study of 16 studies) have clearly disproved the myth that sugar causes behavioral problems among children.

Why Do People Believe That Sugar Causes These Problems?

The belief that sugar is the cause of spurts of hyperactivity (remember the term sugar-rush?) is pretty commonplace worldwide. Scientists believe that this myth is maintained by confirmation bias and social reinforcement.2

What is confirmation bias?

Confirmation bias is the tendency to look for, and find, cases that confirm pre-existing opinions and biases while ignoring disconfirming evidence.

Let us look at an example. When children seem to be really active at a birthday party where lots of cake and candy has been consumed, it is presumed that they are having a ‘sugar rush’. Never mind that there is loud energetic music playing and the kid is happy to be in the presence of his friends, the presence of gifts or the fact that a kid was jumping around at the party even before the candy or cake was consumed.

What is social reinforcement?

Agreement obtained from others such as teachers, other parents serve as social reinforcement of the belief. It is highly likely that at the above party, other parents may express agreement with your belief, serving to further reinforce your belief.

The Quantity of Sugar Consumed

Children did not show any adverse behavior or decrease in their cognitive performance even when they were given large amounts of sugar. A double-blind controlled trial of nearly 50 pre-school and school going children conducted over a 9 week period confirmed this.

P.S. A double-blind study is a very useful tool in scientific study to prevent bias from creeping in.

What makes this study even more interesting is that roughly half of the children selected were those whose mothers thought that their kids were sensitive to sugar consumption. However, the results did not show any noticeable change in their behavior or cognition after they consumed high amounts of sucrose (table sugar) or aspartame (an artificial sugar).

So, relax you people. Sugar does not worsen the behavior associated with ADHD amongst your kids.

You Need Not Limit Your Sugar Intake?

Nope, that is not quite the correct takeaway from this post. Here is what you should be doing:

#1 Other good reasons to limit your sugar intake:

Tooth decay, diabetes, obesity and a propensity to other medical conditions are all good reasons to control the amount of sugar being consumed by your kids.

#2 Restricting children may be counterproductive:

You may have all good intentions to restrict sugar from your children’s diet. However, kids who are restricted from something (or completely denied it), have been found to consume copious amounts of the restricted item when they have access to it.

#3 Sugar is a source of empty calories:

Having foods which are high in sugar may provide children with the energy they need to function. Consequently, they do not eat nutritious food, thus denying their bodies of the essential nutrition required for growth, performance, and health.

#4 Items high in sugar may also be high in artificial food colors and additives:

These include candy, cola, soda. While I will be doing a detailed analysis of food additives in a later post, what is important to note is that there still are many food dyes which have not been banned by the FDA. The EU requires foods containing certain synthetic food colors (which are permitted in the US) to carry a warning that the consumption of these products may have an adverse effect on children.

So sugar (even high amounts) is not a cause of hyperactivity associated with ADHD. There are other reasons why you may want to control the amount of sugar your child has. This does not mean you totally stop sugar consumption.

So long as your kid is having a balanced nutritious diet, it is okay to let him have candy, sweets or cupcakes. And even if he does gorge on these once in a while, let him.

Next week, in part 2, I will be looking at the colorful world of artificial food colors. Join me!

Before you read this article, did you believe that sugar causes children to become hyperactive?
Does this post cause you to rethink your belief? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

(1)Wolraich ML, Wilson DB, White JW. The Effect of Sugar on Behavior or Cognition in Children A Meta-analysisJAMA. 1995;274(20):1617–1621. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03530200053037

(2)Flora, Stephen & Polenick, Courtney. (2013). Effects of Sugar Consumption on Human Behavior and Performance. The Psychological record. 63. 513-524. 10.11133/j.tpr.2013.63.3.008.

9 thoughts on “The ADHD Diet: Sugar”

  1. as an indonesian myself, rice has always been on our menu, and i could confirm that sugar doesn’t cause hyperactivity. if anything, with the sugar ingredients on the rice, we’ll always get sleepy and lazy after meals time. 😐


  2. I totally agree on this and believe that it’s a myth that sugar causes hyperactivity among our children. Infact if it’s taken in a right proportion it will never harm, all we need to do is to limit the sugar intake from the start. The more we will tell our kids not to consume sugar, the more they will try to.


  3. I have always wondered that. My children don’t seem to be any more hyper after eating sugar than before. This article was very interesting! Can’t wait to read the next.


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