How Sugar Affects Your Child’s Behaviour

Added sugar can hide in many foods and drinks, even ones that we would think are healthy. Sweetened fruit drinks, candy, cakes and biscuits as well as sweetened dairy products are the main sources of added sugar.

Some savoury breads, pastas and even condiments such as tomato sauce contain a significant amount of refined sugar.

To complicate the issue, spotting sugar on food labels can be tricky. Sugar in processed foods can hide under a number of obscure names, for example: corn syrup, agave nectar, dextrose, fructose, glucose and sucrose, to name just a few. See this link for more names for sugar.

Most parents are well aware that too much sugar can lead to health problems such as tooth decay, hyperactivity, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Yet many parents are unaware that too much sugar can negatively affect their behaviour in surprising ways:

Sugar Decreases Attention Span
When children consume refined sugar and then attempt a challenging task like a maths problem, the brain’s hypothalamus causes a release of cortisol. This substance, which is also known as the stress hormone, causes children to struggle to sit quietly, pay attention to their lessons and retain the information they’re taught.

Excess Sugar Impairs Memory
In the short term, sugar consumption impairs memory temporarily. However, studies have shown that overindulging in sugar at an early age may have long-lasting effects on memory.

In research conducted at the University of Southern California, adult and adolescent rats were fed beverages with sugar levels similar to those found in ordinary soft drinks. After a month, while the adults showed normal brain function, the adolescent rats showed evidence of reduced memory and learning capacity and presented with inflamed hippocampi, the part of the brain that is crucial for forming memories and organizing and storing memories.

Refined Sugar Causes Hyperactivity in Children


Eating refined sugar creates a sudden spike in blood sugar levels. Once the blood sugar levels begin to fall, there is a sudden release of adrenaline, which is what causes hyperactivity in children. This adrenaline surge peaks about four hours after eating.

What To Do?
Limiting your child’s sugar intake will help them to achieve their academic potential. The American Heart Association recommends that children have no more than four teaspoons of sugar a day. Refined or processed sugar in foods such as cookies, sweets and some breads and pastas have numerous negative effects on behaviour in children.

Avoid processed foods that contain refined sugar by substituting with whole-grain foods such as oatmeal, brown rice and whole-grain bread and pasta. These are slow-release foods that prevent a rapid increase in blood sugar levels.

Sources: Healthfully; Dr. Green; Verywell Family

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