If you’ve ever been to a child’s birthday party, you’ve no doubt witnessed the kind of effect food can have on the way kids behave. All that cake, candy and cordial results in an immediate ‘sugar high’, followed by the inevitable crash in blood sugar levels – and the lethargy and crankiness that comes with it.
But sweet treats aside, how does overall diet influence the way youngsters act and feel?
Here are three less obvious ways your child’s food intake may be affecting their behaviour – and what to do about it:
In food-sensitive children, artificial additives (such as colours, preservatives and flavour enhancers) can lead to irritability, restlessness and sleep problems. Studies have found such a strong link between artificial colours and hyperactivity that the US Center for Science in the Public Interest wants them banned. For now, they remain approved for use in Australia and continue to be found in many popular kids’ treats.
Tip: Get label-savvy! Check product labels at the supermarket and opt for those with short ingredient lists and natural colours. Home baking is another a great way to avoid artificial additives and your kids will no doubt enjoy helping in the kitchen.
Many kids are fussy eaters, which often makes parents worry that they’re missing out on essential nutrients. Iron and zinc deficiencies can have a particularly negative effect on behaviour. An iron deficiency in children under two years of age can result in long-term mood and attention problems, while research shows many children with ADHD have low levels of zinc in their blood.
Tip: If you’re worried, ask your GP for a blood test of your child’s iron and zinc levels. Include more nutrient-rich foods in your family’s daily meals and consider a supplement like Oz Farm’s Kids Care. Packed with 25 vitamins and minerals (including zinc and iron), this tasty milk powder is an easy way to boost nutrition levels in even the pickiest of eaters.
If your child is eating healthily but still acting ‘out of sorts’, there may be a food intolerance to blame. Some kids react badly to naturally-occurring chemicals in foods like dairy, nuts, eggs, soy and corn. Babies might appear ‘colicky’ while toddlers and older children can become irritable and aggressive. When these foods are removed from the diets of affected children, their behaviour often improves significantly.
Tip: If you suspect a food intolerance, start keeping a diary detailing the foods your child has eaten, the symptoms they experienced and when these appeared. Take this to an allergy specialist, who’ll use medical tests or an elimination diet to confirm which foods are causing problems.
Parents, we know getting kids to eat well can be a challenge! Research shows that improving diet in the ways mentioned above may help, but behaviour can also be influenced by many other factors. If you’re really concerned about your child, please see a paediatrician for specialist advice about the best way forward.