Sugar Rushes & Hyperactivity From Food Dye – Which is Myth & Which is Fact?
“Sugar rush” is such a widely accepted concept that no one really questions if it is true. Parents are constantly talking about the sugar rushes their kids get. But is it really a sugar rush that is causing their kids to bounce of the walls?
Similarly, food coloring is well known for causing hyperactivity. Is this a myth or a fact?
I will give you my insight about the research available on both, the official stance that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) takes on sugar rushes, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) statements on food dyes causing hyperactivity.
Imagine you’re a kid at a birthday party. There is tons of screaming kids running around, there is presents, dessert, people talking in a baby-voice to you, games to play, etc. Is the dessert really the cause of you feeling hyper? Or is it the excitement from everything that is happening? You’re probably just excited! There is so much stuff happening, how could you not be excited?
The point here is that a child’s excitement about their environment is most likely what is causing hyperactivity, not the sugar. The times in which a child is allowed a treat are typically special occasions. Additionally, treats are often used as a reward. It makes sense how they can get excited and hyped up when they have a treat – they are used to receiving treats for special occasions or when they are celebrated! It is almost like a “Pavlov’s dogs” trained response for them.
So what about the rise and fall of blood sugars? When blood sugar rises after eating carbohydrates, it is common for one to feel energized, not necessarily hyperactive. In the case of a large intake of sugar with no balance of complimentary fats and proteins, the blood sugar soon after plummets. This can cause some fatigue, which can be regarded as a “crash”. However, there is a difference between receiving energy and getting hyperactive. Do not mistake this as the same experience.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics does not endorse that sugar causes hyperactivity, also known as the “sugar rush”. They err on the side of caution when considering this as a cause in hyperactivity. They report that there is not enough research to support this idea.
The idea of a sugar rush? MYTH!
Hyperactivity from Food Dyes
For over 40 years, it has been suggested that artificial colors cause hyperactivity in children. A study done by Feingold in 1975 began the movement of many parents excluding artificial colors in their kid’s diets in an attempt to control hyperactivity, especially those with ADHD.
So is it true? According to The Southampton Study done in 2007, it very well could be. Researchers studied children at the age of 3 and children who were 8/9 years old. They gave both age groups 2 drink concoctions with extensive quantities of common food colorings such as yellow no. 6 (seen in M&M’s, orange soda, hot chocolate mix, etc) and red no. 40 (found in licorice, cereal, gelatin, red velvet cakes, etc). Both groups also received a control drink—fruit juice with no food colorings added. Both the participants and the researchers were blind to which drinks had the food coloring, making this a double blind, randomized controlled trial (the gold standard of all research studies). The children’s behaviors and activity levels were observed by both the researchers and the children’s parents.
Researchers and parents found significant levels of increased hyperactivity among the children when they consumed the drinks with food colorings added. Meaning, in this case, yes food coloring does cause hyperactivity.
Despite food coloring as possibly causing hyperactivity, it is still generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA. Meaning, it is edible by humans without threats of illness or death. However, the FDA does also state that if you are concerned about a food dye sensitivity in your child (or you), it is best to consult your physician. Luckily, if you are concerned about food dyes, there are more natural options for food colorings such as beets, turmeric, spinach, matcha, cabbage, and many others.
Food additives causing hyperactivity? PROBABLY TRUE!
In summary, food coloring may cause children to bounce off the walls, but sugar does not, at least not in the way people think it does.
As always, everything in moderation. Until next time!
Feingold, B. F. (1975). Hyperkinesis and learning disabilities linked to artificial food flavors and colors. The American Journal of Nursing, 75(5), 797–803. https://doi-org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.2307/3423460
Fitch, C., Keim, K. S. (2012) Position of the academy of nutrition and dietetics: Use of nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics , Volume 112 (5) , 739-758. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2012.03.009
McCann, D., Barrett, A., Cooper, A., Crumpler, D., Dalen, L., Grimshaw, K., . . . Stevenson, J. (2007). Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet, 370(9598), 1560– 1567. Doi: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(07)61306-3/fulltext
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2003) Color additives: Regulatory process historical perspectives. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/ForIndustry/ColorAdditives/RegulatoryProcessHistoricalPerspectives/defaul t.htm
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2007). How safe are color additives? Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm048951.htm
Michelle Yates, RD, LMNT, is a clinical dietitian at CHI Health Lakeside Hospital, specializing in the Medical/Surgical unit & the Oncology unit. She doubles as a dance instructor as well as a master’s student for Health Psychology. Her passions are to help others break free from any negative ideas of food they carry, along with opening their eyes to the joys of “everything in moderation”.