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Should kids with ADHD avoid eating sugar?

By Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH

Question: My child has ADHD, and a lot of people tell me we should avoid sugar. All my family and friends blame my child’s hyperactivity on sugar. Does sugar make ADHD symptoms worse?

Answer:

It’s good to be aware of what your child eats. But years of medical research have shown that eating sugar doesn’t cause ADHD or make kids more hyperactive.

In one study, kids ate either sugar or a non-sugar substitute. Then, without knowing what the kids had eaten, adults rated how active the kids were. Kids who hadn’t eaten sugar were rated just as active as kids who had. Many studies have reached the same result.

Why do so many people think sugar makes kids hyperactive? One reason might be that kids tend to eat sugary foods when they’re already worked up. Think about cake at a party or candy and sweets at a holiday celebration. It may look like sugar is making kids hyper, but the kids might just be excited.

Does that mean it’s OK for kids to eat as much sugar as they want? Not at all. Too much sugar isn’t healthy — it causes tooth decay and adds to the risk of diabetes and obesity. Kids need a balanced diet with proteins, grains, fruits, and vegetables.

If you’re worried about ADHD and diet , take notes on what your child eats. If you notice a trend in how your child behaves after eating certain foods, bring this up with your doctor. A few kids with ADHD may be sensitive to food dyes and other food additives.

There’s no research that shows food dyes or additives cause ADHD . But a small number of kids may have fewer ADHD symptoms if they avoid these ingredients. It can be hard to stick to an additive-free diet, but there’s no harm in trying.

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