The impact of carbohydrate intake on the behavior and cognitive functions of children and adolescents

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Introduction. Although carbohydrates are the most commonly studied nutrients regarding their influence on cognitive functions, there is no unequivocal agreement on whether this influence really exists and what its manifestations are.

Aim. This study is a literature review of research on the association between sugar intake, behavior and cognitive functions in children population.

Material and methods. The analysis of the studies on the carbohydrate intake and its impact on behavior and cognitive functions of children and adolescents on the basis of MEDLINE database was conducted. The studies were found in PubMed Internet search engine. The following words were implemented in various combinations: “sugar”, “carbohydrate”, “glycemic index”, “GI”, “glucose” as well as “cognition”, “cognitive”, “learning”, “memory”, “attention”, “behavior”, “hyperactivity”. The number of 27 publications was chosen and the information they contained was analyzed.

Results. Despite multiple studies on the impact of carbohydrate intake and their glycemic index on cognitive functions, there is still no agreement on this issue. Multiple studies indicate the association between glycemic index and cognitive processes. The positive impact of low GI breakfast intake on the concentration and memory is relatively frequently emphasized. The concept that indicates the association between sugar intake and hyperactive behavior among children also has not been unequivocally confirmed in the analyzed studies – contrarily – some of them indicated lack of such relationship. The placebo effect may be the explanation for the above concept. The association between the number of carbohydrates in diet and sleep disorders also has not been proved.

Conclusions. Although there are no unequivocal scientific foundations to limit the intake of simple sugars and consume polysaccharides with low GI to improve behavior and cognitive functions, such actions are consistent with a healthy diet and should be recommended for children and adolescents.

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