I think most parents know that eating healthy is important for their kids, but I think subconsciously many people are thinking about the long-term benefits – disease prevention, physical capabilities as they age, a longer life. Sure, these are definitely some of the “pros” of a healthy lifestyle in the long run, but what about right now? Can what a child is eating day-to-day be impacting how they are feeling/acting/learning right now?
The answer is a big, resounding YES!
I truly believe in the proverb “you are what you eat”. The food that we (and our children) eat impacts every single process in our body. These body processes are what fuel us to learn, work and play. They shape how our body feels and responds, our energy levels, our emotions and our behaviours.
In other words, if our kids eat fake, junk and unhealthy food, what can you expect? That’s right – fake, junk and unhealthy energy, emotions and behaviours. However, even kids who are eating Real Food most of the time can experience behavioural symptoms if they are not eating the right foods for their individual body.
I want to focus on children’s behaviour in this post, because this is something that all parents struggle with at some time or another. There are times when all children moody, irritable and angry. All kids throw temper tantrums, whine and scream or throw things once in a while when they don’t get their way.
But what about kids who are often moody, irritable and angry? Or who always whine and scream and throw things? Sure, this could just be the “terrible twos” (or threes or fours or nines), but it could also be something more.
The food your child is eating can simply be causing your child to feel unwell – a sore tummy, bowel issues, a headache, lethargy. Particularly in children who cannot communicate verbally, acting out is their way of saying “hey, I’m not okay”.
Apart from the general health implications of a bad diet, her are some more specific ways that food could be affecting your child’s behaviour:
Blood Sugar instability: Certain foods (particularly high-sugar and overly processed foods) can cause blood sugar to spike and then crash dramatically. This not only impacts children’s energy levels, but has severe impacts on their mood, behaviour, and concentration. Children need the right mix of protein, fats or carbohydrates, at the right times throughout the day to stabilize blood sugar and keep their mood and energy stable.
Nutrient Deficiencies – Even if your child is eating a varied diet of mostly Real Food, they can still be deficient in certain nutrients that help balance mood and behaviour. This could be due to lack of variety in the foods they are eating, or some sort of problem affecting their absorption or utilization of these nutrients.
As an example, one of the most common nutrient deficiencies seen in children (and adults!) is in long chain poly-unsaturated fatty acids (or long chain Omega 3 fatty acids), which are critical in so many bodily functions – especially brain development. To up their intake of Omega 3s, kids should be eating foods such as fish, flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds and eggs as often as possible. Most kids aren’t getting enough, and if this is the case I recommend supplementation. Some children with certain conditions such as ADHD and dyslexia, lack the enzymes necessary to metabolize these essential fatty acids from food, which could be a contributing factor in their condition.
Food additives: Despite being approved by Health Canada, there are many chemical food additives and preservatives in processed food that are just not food and that are having negative impacts on our kids’ health. Certain food additives (like MSG and aspartame) can cause misfiring in developing nerve fibres in the brain, and connections in the brain to be pruned. A recent study in the UK found that food additives led to temper tantrums and other behavioural and learning issues in as little as two weeks of daily consumption.
Food additives are just one of the many toxins/chemicals/environmental stressors that are impacting our kids’ systems – other examples include pesticides, heavy metals, and pollution.
Allergic reactions: Food allergies and intolerance can produce a number of symptoms, including mood and behavioural ones. The gut, the immune system and the rest of the body are intricately linked – so if a child is sensitive to a food or a protein found in foods (like the gliadin in gluten for example), the resulting immune reaction or inflammation can wreck havoc in other areas of the body – including mood, behaviour and learning.
I have witnessed some of these effects in my own child. I am the first to admit that Tyson is no angel, but he is definitely much more irritable right before dinner as his blood sugar is beginning to dip. He turns into a much different (and happier!) child once he has some food in his belly.
If you think food may be affecting your child’s mood and behaviour, start keeping a food diary and include a column for mood, and see if you can make a connection between a specific food(s) that could be causing the problem.