Autism and Sugar Cravings

Autism and sugar cravings often go together. Sugar loving gut microbes tell kids to eat more sugar. Reducing sugar cravings isn't as hard as you think.


Autism and sugar cravings - In brief

In brief
  • High sugar diets aren't good for anyone, but for kids with autism and ADHD, it's even more important to limit sugar.  Parents notice that sugar and autism symptoms track together more noticeably than with neurotypical children.
  • Sugar addiction in children is a concern, however, there is a reason for cravings. Knowing the reason helps manage cravings.
  • Reducing microbes that thrive on sugar reduces the signal to eat sugar.
  • Contrary to popular belief, overweight people often have the most willpower and mental strength, because many times a day they have to overcome a significant signal from microbes to eat sugar.
  • Improving gut health can not only stop sugar cravings but improve overall health.
  • Common sugar replacements can make matters worse, but xylitol may help.

Sugar cravings and Autism Spectrum Disorder often go together.

Have you pondered where cravings come from? Cravings come from cells in the body signalling the brain to ask for food, and I don't just mean human cells. Cells in the body contributing to cravings include microbes. If you have cells in the body that want a lot of sugar, you'll get sugar cravings. Microbes outweigh human cells by a factor of ten, and their signal to the brain is significant, particularly if the microbe community is not diverse, and they all like the same thing.

It's really worth reflecting on how much sugar your child with Autism Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) consumes, and what this may be doing to his body, his gut and his brain. Autism and sugar should not go together. If your child with Autism craves sugar more than other children, there may be a reason, and it may be the gut.

Sugar addictions and gut issues in children with Autism may not be two disconnected symptoms. Autism and gut issues often go together. Studies show that in general, children on the Autism spectrum have differing, and less diverse communities of gut microbes than neurotypical children. A balanced gut is key to healing Autism. Improving the diversity of gut flora helps to improve the lives of Autistic children naturally. To improve gut health, foods that require a community of microbes to digest are needed. Foods, such as sugar that can be digested by a single strain of yeast or bacteria contribute to a less healthy gut. To put this into practice, however, seems too hard. It's put into the too-hard basket for most families. When kids crave sugar and simple carbohydrates such as pasta and bread, it's difficult to get them to eat more complex fibres and prebiotics.

Does sugar cause autism?

It's unlikely that's there's a single of autism for any one person.  Each person's autism will have their own unique causes and contributing factors.  The major contributing factors for autism usually fall into categories that induce inflammation and hamper the functioning of mitochondria.  With this in mind, I would say that sugar does not cause autism.  However, sugar can cause inflammation and impair the function of  mitochondria. Therefore, I recommend reducing sugar intake for people with autism to allow the body to heal and improve functioning.

More on the causes of autism here.
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Altering gut microbes can stop sugar cravings.

The good news is that one of the main reasons that people with Autism, ADHD, or anyone crave sugar, is that there is a significant signal coming from the gut microbes telling them to eat it. This means that improving the balance in the gut makes it easier to resist sugar. One of the key things that people overlook is the drive to eat certain foods often comes from microbes in our gut.

The most obvious example is the issue of weight loss. Many adults strive to lose weight by consuming fewer calories and exercising. I won't go into details about why this is the wrong approach to weight loss, but I will say that overweight people have the biggest willpower of all people, yet their personal trainer judges them for having low willpower. What I mean is they are presented with sweet food and drinks many times a day, with a large signal from gut microbes wanting the sugar. Since they are 'dieting' they refuse over and over again. That's until they are tired, stressed and their willpower lowers enough so that it no longer holds up, at which point they gorge on the food they shouldn't eat.

Many people don't have to overcome the same drive and cravings for sugar because they don't have such a huge overgrowth of sugar-loving microbes. They don't have such a huge signal to eat sugar coming from their gut.

As parents, it's important that we provide food that requires a community of microbes to digest. Not simple sugars! That's how you promote diversity. The microbe community will evolve with diversity if the food you provide requires it. If you have fussy eaters, remember to check out our blog post on fussy eating.

We strive for a balance of diverse microbes that are working together for the good of each other, and for your health. Just as a good community of people and animals rely on each other, the gut microbes rely on each other too. If one type of microbe takes over, and the balance is lost, your health suffers. Balance is lost when the environment (the food we eat) is poor.

The most common cause of a poor gut environment in the western world is sugar and other poor-quality carbohydrates. To enhance your gut ecosystem, you must minimise poor quality foods, such as low-quality carbohydrates. The sources of carbohydrates that should form the majority of the diet, in general, are quality vegetables, and some fruits that are relatively low in fructose.

Certain unwanted microbes, particularly yeasts, love sugar. Yeast gorge on sugar, and tend to disobey the natural rules of balance. Where wanted microbes tend to work together and achieve balance, certain unwanted yeasts and sugar-loving microbes don't. They would take over the gut and body if they could. Don't feed them sugar! Starve them of sugar.

Microbes that love sugar don't enhance diversity, and it's quite simple for them to process sugar by themselves. A community working together isn't needed to process sugar in the gut. Yeasts, for example, are quite good at processing sugar on their own. They don't have to be helpful to any other microbe because they don't need help in return.

On the other hand, to process the remains of a salad that reaches the large intestine, a community is needed. Bacteria ‘A' relies on bacteria ‘B' to expose what it needs. If bacteria ‘B' weren't there, bacteria ‘A' would go hungry. This idea of relying on each other to provide food for the community is what promotes diversity.

Altering children's diet in an attempt to improve the lives of children on the Autism Spectrum has been tried by many parents. Using a special diet to help children's concentration and their well-being, in general, is certainly worth a try. At the very least, dietary intervention will help your child feel better.

Reducing processed foods and sugars, while increasing prebiotics and fibres may do more than improve the way people feel, it may alter the gut microbes enough to reduce sugar cravings, making long-term lifestyle changes easier to maintain. Reducing sugar intake is much easier if the cravings reduce, leading to better health outcomes. If done well, dramatic improvements are possible.

Sugar and Brain Function Sugar has a negative effect on brain function and brain development. There are a number of mechanisms for this, including systemic inflammation and reduction in the balanced production of neurotransmitters.

To help demonstrate the importance of removing sugars and creating a healthy gut environment is PANDAS. PANDAS symptoms can often be found with children on the Autism Spectrum. There are strains of bacteria that rely heavily on sugar, such as certain strains of Streptococcus bacteria.

An overgrowth of certain streptococcus bacteria strains can result in PANDAS. When children have the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it's often just accepted as normal for them. It can even be considered a permanent disorder as a result of some sort of structural issue with the brain. The symptoms, however, could be related to an overgrowth of streptococcus. To read more about OCD, PANDAS and the role of certain Streptococcal bacteria species, follow this link to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Children that suffer from PANDAS can experience many symptoms that are similar to Autism, such as difficulties with social interactions, challenges with certain sensory inputs, impaired fine motor skills and reduced concentration.

PANDAS is still poorly acknowledged and understood by most doctors, and diagnosis can be often missed by general practitioners. Even if PANDAS is picked up by your health care professional, it's important to remember that you must couple the treatment with a good mouth, sinus and gut health program, to ensure the long term success of the treatment.

Many sufferers of PANDAS have significant improvement in symptoms following treatment of antibiotics, but unfortunately, symptoms return. The return of symptoms may be due to the poor balance of microbes, which allows for the return of strep and other sugar-loving microbes if the food we eat remains poor. To crowd out unwanted microbes is another reason to provide a complex and balanced environment in the gut. An environment that promotes communities of bacteria, not microbes that thrive in sugar-loving environments, helps to reduce the numbers of unwanted microbes.

Once the balance is created, it's more difficult for the imbalance of Streptococcus to return. Getting sugar out of the diet is easier said than done. There is the issue of sugar being hidden in many foods, and there's the issue of craving for sugar.

What causes sugar cravings?

There are things you can do to help reduce the craving for sugar. First, it's important to be mindful of the two primary sources of the sugar cravings;
  • Cravings from human cells.
  • Craving from microbial cells.
​​​​​Cravings from human cells are those that come from the body calling for sugar due to low blood glucose concentrations, and hunger hormones. Luckily, you don't have to get too technical to address these cravings. You can improve the cravings due to hunger hormones by increasing satiety using quality stable fats.

In my opinion (and the opinion of many modern thinking global experts) it's in general healthier to consume saturated fats and some unsaturated fats that are more stable such as olive oil and avocado oil. A great option is coconut oil. You can also make your own sugar-free chocolate using raw cacao and raw cacao butter. Add a small amount of essential oil to add flavour.

A fantastic option to reduce craving further is ‘Brain Octane Oil' from Bulletproof. The reason I like this option is that it's a very healthy fat that helps the feeling of satiety, but it also can help to stabilise blood glucose levels. In other words, it addresses cravings from a hunger hormone and a blood sugar point of view. The reason that it helps stabilise blood glucose is that it increases blood ketone levels. Ketones are used in cells to create clean energy and reduce the cells need for glucose for energy. Since glucose is spared, it lessens the huge glucose fluctuations that sugar lovers have.

Furthermore, a gut with quality prebiotics and good bacteria will produce short-chain fatty acids. These short-chain fatty acids have many positive effects on the gut, the body and the immune system. This may further reduce cravings for sugar and reduce systemic inflammation. These bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids, don't tend to signal the body to eat more sugar.
cravings may be caused by sugar loving microbes asking for more sugar
The microbes in the gut, and around other areas of the body are a huge source of cravings. Since it's estimated that there are ten times as many microbes in the human body compared to human cells, the signal to eat sugar from microbe signalling may be more significant than that of human cells.

It's essential and often overlooked to reduce cravings from sugar-loving microbes. Ultimately, the best way to fix this is to eat a quality nutrient-dense diet that's low in poor-quality carbohydrates such as sugar and increase quality carbohydrates from low fructose vegetables and fruits. In the real world, if there is an issue with sugar craving and a very unbalanced gut ecosystem, you can't go straight there.

You will need to starve and kill the microbes that love sugar. To do this, you can seek advice from a specialist in gut health. If this isn't an option right now, I recommend improving your diet as mentioned in some of my other posts on gut health. You can research diets such as GAPS, Bulletproof and Chris Kresser to find the diet that's best for you.

While you're experimenting with the right diet for you (which will continue to change over time), you could try supplements that help to kill pathogenic bacteria and yeasts and balance the gut. The best one to start with that I've found is Lauricidin. I recommend trying Lauricidin, but start with a very low dose of just a few pellets a day, and slowly ramp up to the recommended dose. Removing sugar-loving microbes with Lauricidin could make it significantly easier to reduce the sugar craving, particularly if you follow my other advice in this post and improve your diet.

Sugar replacements

Many people choose the common sugar replacements that are available. These tend to be in diet drinks and foods with artificial sweeteners. On the surface, it may seem like a good idea, but these can cause more gut dysbiosis and more cravings for sweet foods.

A better option for a sugar replacement is xylitol. Xylitol looks and tastes like sugar, but does not cause a blood sugar spike. Another significant benefit is its ability to kill microbes that love sugar.

In moderation, xylitol may contribute to a reduction of sugar cravings because it can replace sugar and not feed sugar-loving microbes, and even can kill them.

Remember that the biggest source of sugar cravings in your child's body may be from the sugar-loving microbes. Removing these microbes could make a significant difference.

What foods should I focus on to help my child with Autism?

Foods are important for improving health. Every person is different and requires a diet that works well for them. There's no one diet for everyone. The information below is not a comprehensive writing on the subject of diet to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It's a summary of things the consider to specifically help your child's obsession with sugar. Remember to keep in mind that some children will be sensitive to some of these food and in that case they should be avoided.

Please remember that artificial sweeteners such as sucralose are not recommended as an alternative to sugar.  Sucralose worsens sugar cravings and has negative health effects that may be worse than sugar. 

Quality Fats

Quality fats can reduce sugar cravings and supply the body with sufficient energy. Quality fats are stable fats, which tend to be saturated fats and some polyunsaturated fats. These include fats from grass fed animals, including butter. Some vegetable fats are stable, such as olive oil and coconut oils including MCT oils (MCT oils derived from coconut oil). MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oils can be a great source of energy as they can convert to usable energy for the body very easily.

Quality protein

The best protein sources are from grass fed sustainly raised animals. Not much is needed (most people probably eat too much meat) particularly when the meat have a higher concentration of nutrients and lower amounts of toxins.

Fibres and probiotics

Food that supports the microbes that improve our health is important to eat. Make sure your family eats a high fibre diet rich in vegetables. Vegetables should be the focus of a healthy diet. Some fruits can be enjoyed in moderation, particularly focussing on berries.  Probiotics may not be the best place to start and may be not cost effective.  To read more about our thoughts on probiotics for autism.

My recommendations for sugar cravings are below.  For more information about helping people with autism, such as the 4 strategies you should add to your autism treatment plans, you'll find links to all other posts below.

To make faster progress, wasting less money on mistakes, consider hiring a life coach.  More information on life coaching.

How to stop sugar cravings

The number one strategy to improve sugar response and stop the sugar cravings has to be improving diet. We do, however, live in the real world. In the real world, it's not so simple to move to a great diet right away.

Improving gut health and reducing sugar loving microbes is the best way to reduce sugar craving.  Diet improvements such as eating high-fibre vegetables and prebiotics that help the good bacteria gain control of the gut is the best approach.  

I acknowledge that you want a supplement to kick-start gut health improvements.  For this I recommend ION Biome (formerly restore).  ION Biome is my favourite supplement for improving gut health, balancing gut microbes and healing the gut lining.

One of the best supplements for reducing blood sugar spikes on the market is berberine.  Berberine has been shown to lower blood sugar and have a positive effect on a variety of functions inside cells.  

In summary

Although I've suggested a few tips and tricks to reduce sugar cravings, please remember to focus on a healthy diet. Setting up a healthy diet and lifestyle will have many lasting benefits, including long-term reduction in sugar cravings and improved brain function.

For further information about healing your child with with Autism, read this post about the natural treatment for autism. 

For support and help from parents that have been though and are going through the process of healing their child, you can join our online private community.   

To help you child faster, avoiding costly mistakes, consider hiring an autism life coach.

If you have a picky eater and want to know more about improving the range of quality food that they eat, visit our blog on how to reduce fussy eaters here.


Warren Gouin
Warren Gouin

I'm a parent of a child that was diagnosed with autism. I'm an engineer and scientist with most of my career in the diagnostic pathology industry. I'm passionate about improve health and I want to help other parents of children with autism.

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