Mar 06

10 Ways Diet can Improve Behaviour in Children

Research into the effect nutrition has in changing behaviour and mood in children has had mixed results.

Nevertheless given that ‘We are what we eat’ is a straightforwardly true maxim, it makes sense that diet affects behaviour in some shape or form. The following article contains 10 points which aim to inform you on the effects of modifying behaviour through diet.

1. Symptoms of ADHD

These include insomnia, lack of concentration, mood swings and destructive outbursts. Talk to your GP first who can refer you to a paediatric team for expert assessment and advice. Whether your child is going through a difficult stage or diagnosed with a behavioural disorder, changing the diet can be very effective starting point in regulating behaviour.

2. Focus on the principles of a balanced diet

This means small meals often, lots of water, fresh fruits, vegetables and a high intake of essential fatty acids.

3. Remove high sugar, refined, processed foods and additives

4. For Breakfast focus on low GI (Glycaemic Index) foods such as:

  • Boiled eggs with wholegrain toast
  • Baked beans on wholegrain English muffin
  • Porridge with apple, blueberries, strawberries and/or other fruits
  • Weetabix with milk, sliced banana and/or other fruits

5. Give them Low GI Wholegrains

These keep blood sugar levels steady and help metabolise fat more efficiently. The Glycaemic Index (GI) ranks carbohydrate foods based on the rate which they are metabolised into glucose. Too much glucose triggers the pancreas to release the hormone insulin to bring blood back to the normal range. Consuming too many high GI foods leads to high levels of insulin circulating in the body.

There is little evidence that sugar has negative effects on behaviour. However, highly processed overly sweet foods have high-GI values and offer little nutritionally. Replace them with complex whole grains. This improves health overall and protects the teeth. Use wholegrain flours or oats to cut back on sugar when baking. Replace with fruits bases in sweets and cakes. With starchy foods – such as white rice and bread – change to brown and see if it brings benefits.

6. Remove harmful Additives

These prevent food spoiling and enhance flavour. They include substances such as preservatives, artificial colours, artificial flavourings and acidifiers.  Although many are banned, don’t assume that additives currently used are healthy. Large number of synthetic food additives remain in use linked to asthma, allergies, migraines and hyperactivity in children. Key ones to avoid for children include:

  • Tartrazine (E102)
  • Quinolone yellow (E104)
  • Sunset yellow (E110)
  • Carmosine (E112)
  • Ponceau 4R (E124)
  • Allura red (E129)
  • Sodium benzoate (E211)

Studies have shown diets free of these additives can lead to healthier, more constant behaviour and better concentration.

7. Watch out for Salicylates

Some children react to naturally occurring chemicals called salicylates. If you suspect this, consult your GP for referral to a paediatric dietitian. You may have to remove salicylate rich foods. These include apples, oranges, nectarines, tangerines, grapes, cherries, cranberries, peaches, apricots, plums, prunes, raisins, almonds, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers – for a few weeks and see if behaviour improves. Yes, it’s a lot of healthy foods but see if your child craves those foods. Reducing the quantity of the may lead to positive changes.

8. More Omega-3 fats

Eating oily fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to have many health benefits. These acids positively influence signals sent back and forth between the brain and rest of the body. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is one of the two main types of fish oil and has been show to lead to fewer mood swings and improve learning abilities, concentration and general behaviour in children with ADHD. The best sources of Omega-3 include:

  • Fish and animal produce – Mackerel, salmon, small boned fish followed by white fish other seafood
    Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds – Walnuts, linseeds and flaxseed

9. Correct quantities of Iron and Zinc

Iron and Zinc deficiencies in children aged up to 2 years when brain development is rapid, can be serious and result in attention and mood problems. Research shows many children with ADHD have low levels of zinc in their blood. Improving zinc levels has been shown to reduce symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity and impaired socialisation.
Sources of iron and zinc include:

  • Iron-fortified rice cereal and fruit purée (from aged six months onwards)
  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereal
  • Spaghetti Bolognese
  • Baked beans on soy and linseed bread
  • Green vegetables especially peas and spinach
  • Seaweed
  • Dairy products like cheese and yogurt (also a good source or iron)

10. Take Multi-Vitamins

Vitamin deficiencies can cause even more restlessness, irritability and fatigue in children. A good way of preventing vitamin deficiency is through giving your child a multivitamin supplement. Don’t worry if your child is fussy there are multi-vitamins out there that actually taste nice like ActiKid® Magic Beans.

We hope you found this article useful. We’re not saying that a change in diet will fix behavioural problems tomorrow but it may be one piece of the puzzle. We at ActiKid® think diet is so important that it must be worth a try. Did we miss anything out? Do you find that your child’s’ behaviour varies according to their diet? Please let us know in the comments below.

This article contains general information regarding health and well-being. This information is not intended as advice, and should not be treated as such. You must not rely on the information on this website as an alternative to advice from medical or educational professionals.