Top five foods that affect child’s mood and behaviour and what to do about it

Did you know that by paying close attention to what your children eat, you could improve their mood, memory and attention span at school? Most parents instinctively know what triggers the change in their children from one minute playing peacefully to screaming tantrums 20 minutes later.

There's a clear relationship between food and your state of mind and when you combine strategies for eating the right foods that have a positive effect on your child’s well-being, you can plan meals that can help your child to feel better.

Little girl helping dad to cook

1. Sugar

Too much sugar makes children hyperactive, frustrated and angry.

What to do: You can lower the amount of sugar your kids consume by avoiding sugary drinks and switching to pure water instead. If they don’t like the taste, try and make things fun by infusing water with fresh fruit. Let them choose the flavour.

2. Artificial colourings

The bright colours in kids foods have been linked to hyperactivity, ADHD, anxiety and depression in children. Those bright colours don’t come from beetroots, blueberries or turmeric. Instead, most of them are derived from petroleum. The worst offenders are reds E129, E122 and yellow E102.

What to do: Where you can, swap shopbought snacks for wholefoods - an apple, tangerine, a handful of blueberries or walnuts are all great treats. Of course, there are companies out there who are dedicated to providing natural sweets for kids. Take a tour through your local health food store and find out who they are.

3. Dairy

Another food that your child may be sensitive to is dairy – many children have difficulties digesting dairy and this can cause mood swings and headaches.

What to do: Try switching to organic dairy products. Goat and sheep milk is generally easier to digest or try some other alternatives like nut milk or almond yoghurts.

4. Additives

Additives in ready meals such as nitrates and MSG might cause behavioural changes, including hyperactivity, aggression, anxiety and headaches.

What to do: Read the ingredients list - as a general rule, try not to feed children any products with ingredients that you can’t pronounce.

5. Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are a poor replacement for sugar. Artificial sweeteners are chemicals that taste sweet but contain no calories. Ironically, they increase your appetite and can make you gain weight. They might cause tummy upsets, anxiety and hyperactivity.

What to do: Replace sugar with stevia, maple syrup, honey or palm sugar.

If you think your child's diet may be affecting their behaviour, I would recommend keeping a food diary, write down what they eat and how their behaviour changes.

For extra support, visit the schoolchildren and teenagers fact-sheet where you can find specific guidance on packed lunches, school dinners and how to introduce healthy food to children.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Hove, East Sussex, BN3 5QJ
Written by Donna Valaskova, DipCNM, mBANT, CNHC, mTASK
Hove, East Sussex, BN3 5QJ

Written by Donna Valaskova, Dip CNM, mBANT, CNHC
Naturopathic nutritional therapist

T: 07983592086

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