Sugar Crash and Burn

We’ve all heard that sugar will make kids hyper, but is that true? Check out a few myths and facts to help slow your household's sugar rush.

By Angela E. Thomas


Sugar makes one hyperactive. Myth! “Sugar does not make you hyperactive. This myth is based on one study that was conducted in the 1970s with one child. Scientists have tried to replicate it, but they’ve not been able to do so,” said Kate Hudson, registered dietician at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. 

“Hyperactivity is most probably a combination of factors. For instance, a child attending a birthday party is wired because he’s at a party, which is exciting. Yes, he’s eating lots of sugar but it’s an environmental hyperactivity. Parents observe this and think it’s due to sugar,” Hudson said. 

Ok, so how much sugar is too much? Brace yourself. “The American Heart Association recommends that we consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day,” Hudson said. 

It’s important that we distinguish the difference. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t eat fruit and vegetables and other items in which sugar naturally occurs. Added sugar is the major culprit; for instance, many fruit juices contain added sugar. 

So, how do we find added sugar—six teaspoons isn’t a lot of sugar. New Food and Drug Administration rules dictate that labels must note “added sugars in grams and as percent Daily Value” by Jan. 1, 2020.* 

“Some companies have already updated their labels. When reading the old format, look at the ingredient list,” Hudson said. “You’re looking for any ingredient that ends with sugar—dextrose, glucose, sucrose or maltose—which are various names for sugar or anything that includes high-fructose corn sugar, molasses, honey or corn sweeteners.”

“Other hidden sources of sugar include: fruit juice; canned fruit, which is often in syrup versus water; condiments, such as barbecue sauce, salad dressing and ketchup; granola bars, which often have so much sugar they might as well be candy bars; and cereals and grains.”

Whoa! So, if sugar doesn’t make us hyper, why should we be concerned about our sugar intake? The effects of too much sugar include obesity, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. 

“We must take a lifestyle approach. If your child is full because he’s eaten too much sugar, he will not desire to eat vegetables and fruit. Why would he want to eat an apple or broccoli when he’s full of sugar?” Hudson added. 

How do we find balance? Hudson suggests keeping a food diary. “It’s OK to have dessert sometimes—sugar doesn’t have to be eliminated altogether. Sometimes, we eat without awareness. So, I often recommend that patients write down everything they eat or at least the sugary items they consume, such as sodas, chocolate milk and fruit juices. This is a good place to start. It will help you identify your sugar consumption and things to cut back on. I then suggest baby steps. Cut your sugar intake by half, then in half again, tapering down.”

Most of our sugar intake, Hudson said, comes from sugary drinks and snacks and desserts. So focusing on these two categories and cutting back will make a big impact. 

Do you need to seek professional help? 

When should we seek help from a dietician?
“When you need extra help. Many parents have good information; they just need assistance to get the ball rolling. A professional can also help establish accountability. Additionally, if a child has become obese or is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or hypertension, you may want to seek assistance.” 

What if a child has autism, has ADD or ADHD and consumes a limited number of foods, should we watch their diets more?
Hudson said this depends on the child. “Often if a child has autism, he will have complex dietary issues—he may only want to eat crunchy food. This may involve more intentional effort than with other children. So, you may need help.” 

“Parents should be on guard for items that cause spikes in blood sugar. Coffee-shop drinks have a lot of calories and are very sweet. We can become so predisposed to sugar that we need extra sugar to actually ‘feel’ something is sweet,” Hudson said. “Kids don’t think ahead to the future. As parents, it’s our responsibility to be intentional. Ideally, we should think of dessert as a treat and not something we have after each meal or after each dinner.”

She recommends that parents encourage the consumption of fruit and vegetables and cut back on sugar, sugary beverages and the like, and bring new things into their families’ diets. This will help you balance your diet overall.

Lastly, what about sugar substitutes, and where can I get help?

“Research has demonstrated that any substitute used at a normal amount is safe for consumption. No one substitute is better than another.” 

Hudson recommends parents log on to two websites for further information: the American Heart Association’s website——and the Academy of Nutrient and Dietetics—