Horn adds that while sugar may not be the direct cause of a kid’s sugar high, it might play a part in the crash that often follows. Refined treats such as ice cream and candy lead to a bigger, faster drop in blood sugar than other foods do, and this decline can result in mood or behavior issues. Still, Horn advises parents “to look at other things that are happening” around kids “that may also be contributing to hyperactivity” — for example, that rousing game of whack-the-pinata, a skipped nap, an abnormally late bedtime, etc.
In addition, some experts have speculated that other ingredients in candy and sugary snacks, such as food dyes, artificial preservatives and other additives, may also play a role in hyperactivity, especially for certain children. Published research shows “some hints that there are some small, specific subgroups of kids who are particularly sensitive to sugar or food additives,” says King, noting that food allergies or intolerances may play a role.
If your son or daughter falls into this category, there’s no harm in trying a sugar- or additive-free diet, counsels Horn. “If you feel like it makes a difference, please, by all means try it, because kids get way too much sugar, for the most part,” she says, noting that while sugar may not directly cause hyperactivity, it obviously isn’t good for you, playing a role in increased risk of cavities and other oral health issues, as well as weight gain and obesity.
If you’re not ready to ditch sweets entirely but still can’t shake the feeling that it drives your children berserk, simply try looking at that next party-induced meltdown in a different way, suggests Horn. “If you have a very balanced diet for your kid, where they’re not getting sugar all the time and they do see sweets and candy as a treat, then it makes sense that they will be excited to get them on a special occasion — just like kids get excited when they get a new toy — and that’s not a bad thing,” she explains.
“To me, when sugar is something your kid is really excited about, it indicates that maybe you’re doing something right rather than [that] something went wrong. Parents should see that as ‘You know what, it’s great that my kid is excited about this,’ and value and appreciate the treat.”