Ok after all the serious discussion and meta-analysis and breaking out the graphs of the last post, it’s time for some fun! (Warning: my definition of fun almost guaranteed not to match your definition of fun.) Time for some mythbusting tangentially related to food and braaaaaaains!
Myth: Sugar makes you hyperactive (especially if you’re a kid).
Perhaps my favourite medical myth ever! It’s more like a pandemic than a myth, because it is just everywhere. So let me say it clearly: sugar does not cause hyperactivity. No ifs or buts. It doesn’t. End of story. Twelve well-conducted trials have found no relationship between sugar and hyperactivity. It doesn’t depend on the amount of sugar. It doesn’t depend on whether the kid has ADHD. It doesn’t matter if the sugar is processed and refined or natural. It doesn’t matter if it’s sweets or chocolate or fruit. There is no link.
“But but but,” you say, clearly ignoring my stipulation of no buts. “But my kid goes crazy after having something sugary. Every time! It’s a clear-cut case of cause-and-effect!” Ahh, my anecdote-spewing friend. You must remember the sheer power of the brain to see the things it wants to see or expects to see.
Scientists conducted a particularly cute little study to look at this. Parents and their kids participated in this one. In one condition, kids were given a placebo pill with no active ingredient and their parents were told this. In another condition, kids were given a pill containing a big dose of sugar and their parents were told this. Each kid would then have a bit of a play and his or her parent was asked to rate their kid’s behaviour. Parents whose child had received the big dose of sugar reported that their child was off the walls with hyperactivity, definitely more energetic than usual, more frenetic, way more active, more crazy. Too bad that in a charming little twist of the kind we have come to expect of psychology experiments like this, all the children had been given placebo. The only thing that varied was whether parents thought their kid had had sugar or not.
And before you say “Oh no, that doesn’t apply to me! My kid really does go hyper on sugar!”, please just stop and don’t say it. Because it does apply to you. Unless you’ve conducted your own strictly controlled trial where your kid was randomly given either a pill full of sugar or an inactive placebo on multiple occasions (in a way that hid the identity of the pill from the kid as well) and a panel of independent raters who had no knowledge of whether your kid had had sugar or placebo evaluated the kid’s behaviour and when the codes were broken, your kid consistently scored higher for hyperactivity symptoms in the sugar condition to a statistically significant extent. Did you do that? Huh? Huh? No, I didn’t think so.
I rest my case.
(But if you did do all that, well done you on your double-blind randomised placebo-controlled study and your weird kid.)
Vreeman, R.C. & Carroll, A.E. (2008) Festive medical myths. British Medical Journal, 337:a2760. (Seriously, I love this paper. Read the whole thing here.)
Hoover, D.W. & Milich, R. (1994). Effects of sugar ingestion expectancies on mother-child interactions. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 22(4), 501-515.
Recipe for chocolate chai madeleines (which contain 3/4 of a cup of sugar) after the cut.
Chocolate chai madeleines
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 cup plain flour
2 tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
100g dark chocolate, melted
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Grease the holes of a madeleine pan with butter.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat. Once it is completely liquid, leave it to stand for 2 minutes. Pour the clear liquid off the top into a jug, leaving the thick white sediment behind in the saucepan. Discard the sediment.
Beat eggs and sugar together until thick and pale. Sift in the flour and cocoa, then fold it into the mixture along with the clear liquid butter. Gently stir in the spices.
Put about 1 tablespoon of the mixture into each madeleine mould. Bake for 6 minutes. Allow to cool. Dip the end in melted chocolate then allow the chocolate to cool and set. Eeeeeaaaat.