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The Effects of Refined Sugar on a Toddler's Behavior

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell, studioD

If you're convinced that the mouth-watering chocolate chip cookie you just gave your toddler for being a "good boy" left him bouncing off the walls, you're not alone. Many parents and health organizations are sure there's a connection between sugar consumption and a child's behavior, yet research doesn't necessarily support these beliefs. Processed, or refined, sugars like table sugar or that found in packaged snacks, candy and soda can be harmful should your little one overindulge, warns the website AskDrSears.com.


It's easy to blame refined sugar on your toddler's propensity to be highly mobile and excited if not borderline agitated about his world. A 2 year old is naturally more active and doesn't have the attention span of a 10 year old, points out MedlinePlus, a website published by the National Institutes of Health. That said, refined sugars may indeed impact your tot's activity level. Since refined sugars enter the bloodstream with lightening speed, they promptly cause instability in blood glucose levels, which triggers an adrenaline rush. This process leads to a rise in activity and a subsequent fall or crash, which leads to sluggishness or decreased activity.


The fact that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder often have an unquenchable sweet tooth has contributed to the idea that sugar consumption can lead to hyperactivity, explains HealthyChildren.org, a website published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. A analysis of several studies failed to find a strong link between refined sugar consumption and behavior in children, according to WebMD. The review noted, however, that sugar might have a minimal impact the behavior of some kids.

Be On The Safe Side

Young children in particular seem to be more sugar sensitive than older children and can become more rambunctious. It's best to allow your toddler refined sugary snacks in moderation, advises the AAP. Talk to your health care provider if your toddler can't sit still when other kids his age can, or if he is unable to control impulsive behavior. Testing your tot for ADHD may be recommended. Toddlers with ADHD may be bursting with energy, buzz from one activity to the next and refuse to be restrained in a stroller or shopping cart, points out WebMD (See Reference 2.)


Another good reason to limit your tot's sugar intake is that high-sugar foods generally contain fewer vitamins and minerals than more nutritious fare like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Refined sugar items also tend to be high in calories, which can lead to obesity. Add plenty of fiber to your toddler's diet to keep adrenaline levels on a even keel. Oatmeal, shredded wheat, whole-grain breads, bananas, grapes, peaches and other fresh fruits are rich in fiber. Even if refined sugar has little or no effect your toddler's activity level, it's the leading cause of tooth decay and should be limited for the sake of your tyke's oral health.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

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