Guest Blogs

ADHD and Artificial Sweeteners

Do you believe artificial sweeteners cause hyperactivity in your child with ADHD?

In my last blog post, I offered a whole list of precipitating factors that might explain the extra-challenging ADHD behavior Natalie has been wreaking on our household of late. Now I have a new theory. Could an artificial sweetener be the culprit?

Don and I both love the Nu-Val food rating system that the Hy-Vee grocery store chain implemented recently. We use it to guide almost all of our product choices at our local Hy-Vee. Here’s how it works: nearly every food product in the store is assigned a nutritional rating, or NuVal, between 1 and 100, with 100 being the best. The ratings are posted on the shelf label, right next to each item’s price. Ratings are based on stuff like the food’s fat, fiber, and sugar content, as well as various nutrients the food provides.

It’s a great tool for people wanting to eat a healthy “normal” diet, but it’s so/so if you’re trying to provide your child with an ADHD-friendly diet. While it does factor in some stuff our kids need, such as Omega 3s, it doesn’t subtract points for food kids with ADHD should avoid-specifically, artificial colors, especially red #40, and artificial sweeteners.

Normally, the Nu-Val rating rules when I’m choosing groceries; but I have to be careful. While I’ve learned to squint at the ingredient list of every potentially suspect product, my husband Don is still learning what to look out for. When he does the grocery shopping, he doesn’t always remember the areas where Nu-Val and Natalie’s needs part ways.

Don came home from the grocery store recently with artificially sweetened applesauce.

“That’s a no-no,” I said.

“But the Nu-Val score was a lot higher,” he countered.

That doesn’t matter, in this case. I asked him to buy the natural, unsweetened kind-just apples and water-next time. On his next grocery run, he bought artificially sweetened frozen fruit bars.

“Don’t you remember?” I prompted. “Artificial sweeteners might be bad for Natalie?”

“But the Nu-Val score was much higher!” he argued.

After what happened during the last few days, I’m pretty sure he’ll remember next time. Natalie loved the sugar-free frozen fruit bars. She ate 3 of them at a time, several nights running. Was it a coincidence that she was also so hyperactive for a few days that it was if she was un-medicated?

“Did you give Natalie her medicine?” I asked Don on Sunday morning. He assured me that he had.

A little while later, I asked again, “Are you sure you gave the right medicine? One Ritalin LA, the capsule, and one Risperdal, the little orange-ish tablet?” He was sure. If she took her medication correctly then what the heck was going on with her behavior, I wondered, for the hundredth time.

Last night, when Nat went to the freezer and took out a frozen fruit bar, it hit me. Could it be that the artificial sweetener in those bars is causing this? After all, Nat has been eating a ton of them. I booted up my computer, and typed the words “artificial sweetener hyperactivity” into Google. Boy, did I get hits. My brief skimming of the info on several websites revealed that the evidence against artificial sweeteners is more anecdotal than proven science. But if there’s the slightest chance that the recent turn-for-the-worse in Nat’s behavior could be related to her fruit bar binge, then I’ll dedicate my life to making sure artificial sweetener never passes through her lips again. I threw the last remaining bar into the garbage.

Do you believe artificial sweeteners cause hyperactivity in your child with ADHD?

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