The sugar high: fact or fiction

Beth Hawkins has a lot of reasons that she doesn't want her 11-month-old son eating sweets, not least among them the notorious "sugar buzz" that makes children act silly and grownups go loopy.

So Hawkins, a resident of the Five Points neighborhood of Raleigh, N.C. and a Ph.D. candidate in zoology at N.C. State University, is keeping the holiday goodies to a minimum for her son, Ethan Davis Godwin.

Pity. Although sugar may not be the most nutritious food, it packs no buzz. Not even a hum.

"Sugar has gotten a really bad rap," said Richard S. Surwit, chief of the division of medical psychology at Duke University and a researcher who has studied sugar's effect on the body. "Most simple carbohydrates, like potatoes and rice, have the same metabolic effect as granulated sugar."

And who ever heard of a potato buzz? A rice high? Surwit says the myth about sugar might have come about in the 1940s, with food rationing during World War II. In an effort to ease the burden of sugar shortages, health officials circulated the idea that sweets promoted hyperactivity.

Despite studies to the contrary, the misinformation persists. One of the problems is guilt by association. Candy, cookies and cakes fill the menu of celebrations, where people, and especially children, are keyed up to begin with.

Then too, many treats include chocolate, which has a dose of caffeine, a stimulant. Most sodas are also full of caffeine some have nearly as much as coffee.

"There are things in sweets that might give you a buzz, but it isn't sugar," Surwit said. He said he doesn't know why, despite the research, the myth of a sugar buzz persists so strongly. "It's something that people believe," he said, "and it's very hard to change."

Hawkins, for one, said she remains a skeptic: "I know I get a sugar rush. If you eat too much of it, you get kind of crazy."


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