A study involving 17,500 people is the first to look into effects of childhood diet on adult violence. It found people who ate sweets daily at the age of 10 were significantly more likely to have been convicted of a violent crime by the age of 34.
Some researchers suggested they had not learned to delay gratification, but other experts said already "difficult" children might be given more sweets. It is also possible that the sweets lead to addiction to certain additives, and that these may contribute towards adult aggression.
This British study involved 17,500 people, and is the first to look at what impact your child’s diet may have on their proclivity for violence as an adult. They concluded that 10-year-olds who ate sweets daily were significantly more likely to have a violence conviction by age 34.
Can Sugar Incite Violent Behavior?
The data showed that 69 percent of the participants who were violent at the age of 34 had eaten sweets and chocolate nearly every day during childhood, compared to 42 percent of those who were non-violent.
But how does sugar lead to violent behavior?
They still don’t know. The authors seemed to take a psychological approach rather than a biochemical one, suggesting it could be because they had not learned to delay gratification, or that already “difficult” children might be given more sweets by their parents.
In a rebuttal, Julian Hunt, the British Food and Drink Federation (FDF) director of communications, was quoted as saying:
"This is either utter nonsense or a very bad April Fool's Day joke. Anti-social behavior stems from deep-rooted social and environmental factors, such as poor parenting and a deprived upbringing, and is not linked to whether or not you ate sweeties as a kid.”
Another more plausible theory put forth is the possibility that candy can make you addicted to certain additives, which may contribute to aggressive behavior.
This could be closer to the truth, as many additives, preservatives and food colorants can cause behavioral changes.
That is also one of the reasons why many companies add salt and caffeine to soda. Salt causes you to become thirsty and caffeine is a diuretic that causes you to urinate more so when you drink soda it can make actually increase your desire for more soda.
Another theory not discussed in this article is that sugar in and of itself can have a very detrimental impact on your mood, which I believe is probably closest to the truth.
Sugar and Your Mood
Although psychological factors, such as inability to delay gratification, may play a part, it seems far more logical to look at how sugar impacts mental health and behavior.
For example, a 2004 study in the British Journal of Psychiatry looked at dietary habits and mental health, and found that a higher dietary intake of refined sugar and dairy products predicted a worse 2-year outcome of schizophrenia. In addition, a low dietary intake of fish and seafood predicated high prevalence of depression.
The authors also point out the link between depression and physical illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes, stating that they share epidemiological features.
And what do diabetes and heart disease have in common?
Both are caused by and/or worsened by high intake of sugary foods.
It is a proven fact that sugar increases your insulin levels, which can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, premature aging, and many more negative side effects.
Sugar can also cause a rapid rise of adrenaline, which leads to hyperactivity, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating.
There’s no doubt in my mind that sugar can have a very detrimental impact on your mental health, which could potentially lead to destructive behavior.
Reduced-Sugar Diet Shown to Decrease Anti-Social Behavior and Stabilize Emotions
According to Dr. Russell Blaylock, high sugar content and starchy carbohydrates lead to excessive insulin release, which in turn leads to falling blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia causes your brain to secrete glutamate in levels that can cause agitation, depression, anger, anxiety, panic attacks and an increase in suicide risk.
Two studies that confirm this theory go back several years.
A 1985 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that reducing sugar intake had a positive impact on emotions:
“… Subjects reported many symptoms and/or presented a distressed profile during baseline assessment. However, following a 2-wk dietary change symptoms declined, and the MMPI or POMS profiles reflected a more stable and less distressed individual.
Results suggest that a dietary change can remediate the emotional distress exhibited by some individuals...”
The dietary change consisted of a high protein, low carbohydrate diet void of sucrose and caffeine.
The other, the Los Angeles Probation Department Diet-Behavior Program: Am Empirical Analysis of Six Institutional Settings, was published in 1983.
This study included a before and after comparison of 1,382 juveniles who were detained in three juvenile halls, and a before-after comparison of 289 juveniles who were confined in three juvenile camps.
The dietary modifications were designed to lower the daily consumption of sugar in all six settings to see if it had an impact on behavior.
In the three juvenile halls, a 44 percent reduction in the incidence of antisocial behavior was found during the subsequent 3 months.
And the 289 juveniles in the probation camps showed a 25 percent reduction in the incidence of antisocial behavior during the 9 months after the implementation of the revised diet.
The authors concluded:
“Although it is clear that the diet change caused the improvement in behavior, it remains to be determined if the relationship between sugar and antisocial behavior is causative.”
Are Your Children Eating Too Much Sugar?
So, does this mean you should never allow your kids to eat sugar?
Certainly not. While it clearly tends to decrease health, sugar in moderation is likely not going to cause any significant damage.
But what is moderation?
Well, something on the order of five pounds a year. This is considerably less than the amount the average American consumes which is closer to 175 pounds per year.
I also believe sugar is better than the alternatives, which include artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup. Unfortunately, these are included in most sodas, juices, sweet drinks, and processed foods, so eliminating as many of those as possible from your child’s diet may be far more important than cutting out the sugar.