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Is high-fructose corn syrup making your kid hyper?

By Nicci Micco, June 17, 2009 - 11:36am

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I have friends with young kids who swear that sugary foods and drinks send their kids bouncing off walls. Before I become a mom, I generally assumed that their observations about sugar and behavior were more fiction than fact. (Kids are active. Don’t they all bounce off walls, regardless of what they eat?)

But now my son Julian is 13 months old. Despite my best efforts to feed him only nutritious foods, it’s likely that, to some degree, he’ll eventually be exposed to foods full of added sugars, some in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). So now I really want to know the truth.

In this third installment of a 5-part series, we investigate whether sugars, and HFCS specifically, can make kids hyperactive. Here’s what we found when we went straight to the experts:

Dozens of studies over the past few decades have looked at the effects of sugars on kids’ behavior. None have been able to show that sugar of any kind causes or aggravates behavior problems, including Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). (Is there any diet that could help with ADHD?)

The idea that HFCS affects kids differently than table sugar hasn’t been studied but it’s not likely, says Keith Ayoob, R.D., a pediatric nutritionist in New York City: “[The sweeteners’] chemical compositions are virtually the same.”

Even though there isn’t any published scientific research to show that sugary foods cause kids to act out, some scientists believe that there still may be a link. In studies that have concluded sugar does not affect behavior, the kids had consumed only 13 to 15 teaspoons of sugar—just a tad more than what’s in 12 ounces of soda. Today, some kids may consume three times that.

Behavior problems aside, there are plenty of good reasons to minimize foods containing HFCS and added sugars in kids’ diets. These foods provide calories (often lots of them) but little in the way of vitamins, minerals and other healthy nutrients. They may displace other, healthier foods. Frontloading a child’s diet with wholesome, healthy meals will help edge out “empty-calorie” foods like sodas and sugary snacks.

Check back next week for Part 4 of our HFCS series: Can you blame your stomach troubles on HFCS?

And, in case you missed it:
Part 1: Is high-fructose corn syrup making you fat?
Part 2: Is high-fructose corn syrup making you hungrier?
Part 4: Is high-fructose corn syrup causing your tummy troubles?
Part 5: The real truth: high-fructose corn syrup is not the same as corn syrup

How do you think high-fructose corn syrup affects your kids? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Nicci Micco, Health Blog, Healthy kids, Nutrition

Nicci Micco
Nicci Micco is co-author of EatingWell 500-Calorie Dinners. She has a master's degree in nutrition and food sciences, with a focus in weight management.

Nicci asks: How do you think high-fructose corn syrup affects your kids?

Tell us what you think:

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