Although many parents will attest that their children experience a sugar rush or a sugar high when they consume sugary foods and drinks, experts remain mixed as to whether or not this phenomenon exists. Most experts don't deny that many kids behave more energetically after a party where they consumed plenty of cake and punch, but this might be due to the excitement of the event rather than because of a chemical reaction to sugar.
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What is a Sugar Rush?
Dr. David Ludwig, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children's Hospital Boston, tells the Los Angeles Times that a sugar rush is a very real phenomenon. According to Ludwig, a sugar rush occurs when ingestion of a high-glycemic carbohydrate causes children’s blood sugar levels to rise quickly and then fall. This fast rise provides an energy boost to children, followed rapidly by a slump in energy levels. Kids experiencing this sugar rush might experience increased energy and difficulty focusing.
The American Dietetic Association maintains that no scientific evidence proves that a sugar rush exists or that it causes hyperactivity in children. According to registered dietitian Keith-Thomas Ayoob, the mythical link between sugar and hyperactivity started in the 1970s when one doctor removed sugar from a child’s diet and the child’s behavior improved. Instead of blaming sugar for hyperactivity or extra energy, the ADA suggests checking to see if your child's environment might be overstimulating him. Kids often find parties and holidays such as Christmas, Halloween and Easter extremely exciting, which can lead to more energetic behavior even if they do not eat any sugary food or drinks.
Pediatrician William Sears, the author of “The Family Nutrition Book,” theorizes that certain kids might be more “sugar-sensitive” than others. The behavior, learning ability and attention span of sugar-sensitive adults and children tend to deteriorate when they eat large amounts of junk sugars. Sears’ theory might explain why children in the same family often react differently when exposed to the same types and amounts of sugary foods and drinks, with some kids becoming hyper while others show little reaction.
Whether or not sugar highs and sugar rushes exist, limiting children’s exposure to sugar is a smart move, according to the American Dietetic Association. Sugar can sap children’s appetites for healthier food, such as fruits and vegetables. It can also contribute to tooth decay. Offer your children a banana and low-fat chocolate milk in lieu of cookies. Or put fresh berries over ice cream instead of chocolate sauce.