Halloween, Sugar and ADHD Kids
Does all the Halloween candy really trigger ADHD kids to have meltdowns?
Halloween is just around the corner…which means all that extra sugar that kids aren’t accustomed to. If your kids are anything like mine, they really look forward to trick-or-treating…going out with their group of friends, with a parent discreetly behind them. It is always one of the high points of the fall season.
Once my kids got home, they couldn’t wait to show off the amount of candy they got. I knew from past experience that too much sugar didn’t agree with my kids. They would either have a stomach ache or get irritable. I always figured it was the sugar causing it, and it was, but not in the way I thought.
One of my ADHD kids would always get particularly affected by all the Halloween candy. We had previously found that beyond sugar, he was affected by the red dye in jello and other foods. So we were already monitoring his regular diet and then learned to watch even more carefully with all the Halloween treats. I was particularly surprised when I found the results of studies related to sugar and ADHD.
What Studies Say About Sugar and ADHD
Study after study from the 1970’s to 2014 states that sugar does not cause hyperactivity. In fact, studies show that small amounts of sugar can actually have a healthy place in a child’s diet. A small amount, like a ¼ to ½ teaspoon in an ounce of water has been known to soothe a fussy baby. The key here is the amount of sugar. The reason for the irritability and stomach aches was not sugar per se, but the quantity of sugar they ingested. ADHD kids and kids in general often eat (or drink) too much sugar, especially on Halloween. (Too much of anything typically isn’t good for you!)
Chemically, What Does Sugar Do?
We need to look at what happens to the body when you eat sweets. When sugar from sweets enters the bloodstream and reaches the brain, it temporarily increases the levels of several neuro-chemicals. These neuro-chemicals, such as serotonin, actually calm the body in normal levels. However, when your body takes in too much sugar, the blood-sugar rises quickly, creates a corresponding large amount of insulin to manage the large amounts of sugar consumed. The insulin moves the sugar from of the blood into the body’s cells. Blood-sugar then drops, and you can end up feeling shaky or irritable, and may even get a tummy ache.
Advice for a Calmer Halloween for ADHD Kids
So what we need to do is watch how much candy (sugar) our ADHD kids eat – the intake – to keep blood-sugar levels more consistent. Do this by controlling portion size, drinking water instead of fruit juices, and eating protein (cheese beans, meat, or nuts) and fiber (vegetables and whole grains) along with sweets. These actions help regulate sugar absorption, leveling the rise and fall of blood sugar levels.
Remember, though, that sugar-rich foods are typically full of empty calories that tend to displace the foods that are high in nutrition. Even though studies show that sugar does not directly cause hyperactivity, a high sugar intake does not feed the body nutritiously.
Halloween ADHD Kids Action Steps
The quick solution to maintaining blood sugar levels and preventing the shaky feelings and irritable behavior:
- Control sugar portion size
- Drink water
- Eat protein (cheese, meat, or nuts)
- Eat fiber (vegetables and whole grains)
- You might even take some cheese sticks and or nuts with you to much on during the trick-or-treating…to prevent some of the affect of all that sugar!
For post Halloween activities…how to use those treats for a learning experience…read this post.