You’ve read all the parenting books, heard a lot of advice, and implemented great parenting methods. But why is your child’s behavior so discouraging? There may be one factor that’s affecting your child’s behavior, and it’s right underneath your nose and right on top of their plate. That’s right, food!
Food has a huge impact on behavior in general. But since children are so vulnerable and don’t yet have the coping skills to deal with food’s negative impact, it can really be distressing.
Problems like mood swings, insomnia, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), inattention and anxiety are only a few of the issues food causes.
That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to what your children eat. It can really make all the difference in the world.
The Brain-Gut Connection
You may have heard that the stomach is like a second brain. Why is that?
According to John Hopkins Medicine, there is another system nestled within the digestive system called the enteric nervous system (ENS). It’s very delicate, consisting of over 100 million nerve cells. The ENS goes all the way from the esophagus to the rectum. It communicates with the rest of the body – including the central nervous system – and can set off noticeable mood changes.
This is especially true for people with gastrointestinal problems, including upset stomachs, problematic bowels, IBS and bloating.
As you can see, your digestive system plays a role in your emotional and psychological wellbeing. And if children eat foods that disrupt the equilibrium of their delicate digestive system, it can lead to behavioral problems, too.
Leaky Gut is another common problem facing many children and attests to the brain-gut connection. Whenever foods go undigested, these undigested particles can actually leak through the gut lining into the rest of the body.
Naturally, the body responds to what it sees as a threat, and it creates an immune response within both the brain and the body.
Which Foods Can Be Problematic for Children?
Unfortunately, there are many culprits that can negatively affect your child’s behavior. But once you know what they are, you can improve your child’s diet. Let’s look at the most common offenders.
Did you know that artificial colors are actually linked to ADHD, headaches, hyperactivity, and anxiety? Be sure to avoid the following colors: 102, 104, 110, 122, 124, 129 and 211.
Processed and Packaged Foods
Consider cutting back or eliminating processed and packaged foods entirely. They are usually full of unhealthy preservatives and additives that can be very detrimental to your child’s behavior. Research shows that children who avoid additives behave better, and have an easier time concentrating.
Preservatives might seem necessary, but some countries have already banned additives from their food. So, have a good look at the food labels and avoid preservatives like sorbates, sulfites, and nitrites, as well as flavor enhancers, such as the notorious MSG. They are all thought to contribute to behavioral problems.
Common allergens include dairy, nut, soy, eggs, gluten, and corn. Unfortunately, these are staples in many diets and it might seem impossible to cut back or remove them from your child’s diet. But it’s worth it.
Dairy allergies can make children act aggressively or irritably. Allergies can also cause skin breakouts, ear infections, and colds, which can definitely affect your child’s behavior, too.
This naturally occurring chemical shows up in many fruits and vegetables, which are usually a very good thing for children. However, for those kids who struggle with ADHD, they can react badly.
Try eliminating the following foods from your child’s meals, and see whether their behavior improves: apples, oranges, nectarines, tangerines, grapes, cherries, cranberries, peaches, apricots, plums, prunes, raisins, almonds, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. Of course, it’s always good to check with your family doctor about potential food allergies.
Iron and Zinc Deficiencies
Without these two minerals, your child’s behavior might seem off the wall. Low iron and zinc stores can lead to hyperactivity, impulsive actions and an inability to socialize.
Improve Your Child’s Behavior with These Foods
Now, that might seem like a long list of foods to avoid, but don’t worry. There are plenty of wonderful alternatives to ensure that your child’s emotional and psychological health is maintained.
Have a Balanced Breakfast
Swap out sugary cereals with whole foods. Without a good breakfast, blood sugar levels can drop, leading to fatigue, moodiness, and overeating later in the day. Opt for low glycemic index foods, liked soaked oats with sliced apple, or scrambled eggs on sourdough bread. Or, buckwheat pancakes with coconut oil and palm sugar.
If your child doesn’t have a dairy allergy, probiotic-rich yogurt is a wonderful food that supports gut health, and therefore, brain health, too! Just make sure you avoid sugary, colored ones. Instead, go with plain yogurt and add your own berries or maple syrup.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Good fats support healthy brain function and the central nervous system. Salmon, mackerel, and cod liver oil are wonderful choices. Walnuts and flaxseeds are a good snack, too and also go well with your morning oatmeal or yogurt.
Eggs are another great addition; they’re inexpensive, versatile and easy to integrate into many dishes.
Dark Green Vegetables
Now, these might be hard to integrate into your child’s diet, but go ahead and back a yummy spinach quiche, or roasted broccoli, or sautéed kale. These can help improve behavior.
Why? Research shows that these leafy greens help deal with digestive and toxic issues that can affect children with ADHD and Autism due to the intake of too many toxic pesticides and chemicals.
Organic, red meat
This is a good source of iron, and while there are mixed feelings about any connection between ADHD and iron levels, studies reveal that there may be a connection between iron deficiency and mental development and confusion, along with learning disability and cognitive impairment. So, why not introduce homemade tacos and healthy burgers to your weekly meal plan?
As you can see, food does have a big impact on behavior. And although so many foods can negatively affect your child’s behavior, there are many more great alternatives to choose from. In this way, your child will be well-fed and well-behaved.