Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links in this blog post are affiliate links which means I earn from qualifying purchases. I recommend these products either because I use them or because companies that make them are trustworthy and useful.

We all know that added sugars are linked to childhood obesity and other chronic diseases, but something that is often overlooked is the effect of sugar on a child’s brain. 

In this episode, I sat down with Dr. Nicole Avena, a research neuroscientist, an expert in nutrition, diet, and addiction, and the author of 5 books. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and a Visiting Professor in Health Psychology at Princeton University. She is also a sought-after speaker and media expert and has appeared on shows like the Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors.

We talked about what happens in the brain when it gets a hit of sugar, and what research tells us about the link between sugar and ADHD, mood disorders, self-control, cognitive function, and memory. We also talk about how sugar can affect the gut microbiome and in turn, the brain, how stress increases sugar cravings, and what you can do to limit the amount of sugar in your kid’s diet.


4:00 Let’s first talk about your story and your path to neuroscience, nutrition, diet. and addiction.

6:53 What happens to the mind and body when we consume sugar? 

8:50 What is the process that happens with our dopamine receptors when we eat added sugars?

11:01 Can the consumption of sugar make you crave more sugar and is there a difference between natural and added sugars?

15:54 How does sugar affect the gut microbiome and in turn, the brain?

19:12 Sugar has been likened to cocaine, but is it really the same?

23:49 Does research support a link between sugar consumption and cognitive function and memory?

27:00 Does research support a link between sugar consumption and ADHD, other mental health issues, mood/behavior, self-control, etc?

29:00 How does blood sugar dysregulation affect the brain?

31:58 How does high-sugar consumption affect neurotransmitters?  

36:01 Can overconsumption of sugar have long-term effects on kids’ health? 

37:44 I read that high sugar consumption can reduce the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF)—what are these and why are they important?

39:09 Why and how does stress increase sugar cravings for kids?

43:19 What are tips for parents to reduce the amount of sugar in their kids’ diets?


Julie mentions her Fox News article that included Dr. Avena as a source. 

Julie mentions her “Food Issues” interview with Dr. William W. Li

Dr. Avena talks about her books, Why Diets Fail (Because You’re Addicted to Sugar), What to Feed Your Baby and Toddler, and What To Eat When You’re Pregnant 

Julie mentions last week’s episode of “Food Issues,” Too Much Sugar in Baby Food with Katie Thomson, MS, RD, co-founder and CEO of Square Baby. 

Learn more about Dr. Nicole Avena on DrNicoleAvena.com

Follow Dr. Avena on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


Kids Cook Real Food eCourse review

Kids Cook Real Food eCourse

The Kids Cook Real Food eCourse, created by a mom of 4 and a former elementary school teacher, is designed to build connection, confidence, and creativity in the kitchen. The course includes 30 basic cooking skills, 45 videos including several bonuses, printable supply and grocery shopping lists, and kid-friendly recipes. The course is designed for all kids ages 2 to teen and has three different skill levels. More than 18,000 families have taken the course and The Wall Street Journal named it the #1 cooking class for kids. Sign up now for the Kids Cook Real Food ecourse and get a free lesson for being a “Food Issues” listener. 


Thrive Market

Thrive Market 

Thrive Market is an online membership-based market that has the highest quality, organic, non-GMO, healthy, and sustainable products. From groceries, clean beauty, safe supplements, and non-toxic home products to ethical meat, sustainable seafood, clean wine, and more, Thrive Market is where members save an average of $32 on every order! Through Thrive Gives, every paid membership sponsors a free one for a low-income family. Join Thrive Market today and get 25% off your first order and a free gift. 


Unlike other blenders, the Vitamix blends everything up into a super-smooth consistency, much like a juicer would, except you get all the nutritious fiber that regular juicers leave behind. Yet Vitamix is for so much more than smoothies.  Every Vitamix has an entire range of textures to choose from so you can use it to make dips and spreads, nut and seed butters, hummus and guacamole, muffins, pizza dough, plant-based milk, and frozen treats. Vitamix has been around for 70 years and all of their blenders are powerful, durable, and built to last, and come with a full warranty. Get free shipping off any Vitamix purchase over $50.

Author Details
Julie Revelant teaches parents how to raise children who are healthy, adventurous eaters. Through blog posts and videos, her goal is to shift the conversation from short-term, problem picky eating to lifelong, healthy eating and healthy futures. Julie has written for FoxNews.com, FIRST for Women magazine, WhatToExpect.com, EverydayHealth.com, RD.com, TheBump.com, Care.com, and Babble.com.