Many a parent will comment on their child having ‘bounced off the walls’ or being ‘hyper’ after a bout of sugary sweets or drinks, and so it is common knowledge that at some level food influences behaviour. But how many of us realise the extent to which our children’s daily functionality, as well as development, is shaped by what they ingest?
Balanced nutrition is crucial during childhood to support normal growth and cognitive development. When children are fed unhealthy foods, it isn’t just a one off moment of bad behaviour at a party that is the issue; having researched into a range of information the basics detail that sugar, trans fats, artificial additives, colouring and preservatives, are all negative contributors to our overall health and behaviour. Excessive intake over an extended period of time of any of these ‘foods’ can lead to developmental difficulties, being directly linked to ADHD, anxiety, hyperactivity, aggression, headaches, depression, cognitive delay, and sleep problems. This occurs due to the constant disruption of chemicals affecting the reward-related regions in the brain. However, even in the short-term significant behavioural effects can be noted. Take this study made in the UK on a selection of regular children aged between 5-9 years old. They were split into two groups:
- Group one was fed healthy options such as apple slices, carrot sticks, sandwiches, hummus, etc. and was given water to drink.
- Group two received sadly typical party fair: sweets, potato chips, juices and soda, all with high sugar content, artificial colouring, preservatives, and other additives.
The children’s ability to follow instruction, concentrate, and remember information was then measured as they played party games, and their actions were carefully recorded.
It wasn’t only how they behaved that was remarkably different. The healthy food group did 48% better in the games overall; that’s a huge improvement in performance indicating that their food intake rapidly and directly affected their abilities as well as their mood. According Dr. David Schab, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Centre, behavioural problems in children improve when artificial colours, additives, etc, are removed from their diets and worsen when they are reintroduced, it is that simple.
What is clear from this is that children not only behave better but concentrate better, follow instructions better, and remember more when they eat healthier food. All fundamental building blocks of the learning process and vital for success at school.
Speaking of school, it is clear that no parent would want to hear that their child is aggressive or even violent, has tantrums, runs wild, and is therefore continuously being reprimanded for their disruptive and unruly behaviour. Children who refuse to listen and follow instruction, or can’t focus or concentrate long enough to do so will get used to receiving negative feedback, which in turn is a negative start to life proving difficult for the child as well as their family and teachers. Tragically, in some serious cases, kids who are simply reacting to what they are being fed end up taking unnecessary prescription drugs or are sent to special schools. This is obviously not a desirable situation so following a few simple ideals by changing a child’s diet to benefit their health and overall wellbeing seems like the obvious solution. So why do so many of us still consider handing out sweets, sugary drinks, fast food, etc. a ‘treat’? Surely it is the opposite in fact?
Unfortunately a lot of families around the world have little choice but to opt for the cheaper, processed options as fresh fruit and vegetables prove more expensive than an ironically named ‘happy’ meal. Those who do have a choice are often uninformed that their child’s diet could be the cause of their unruliness. Therefore education and raising awareness is paramount.
To summarise, we need to assume a predominantly plant-based diet, eat healthy fats, whole grains, proteins, fibre, drink plenty of water, exercise and sleep well (a lack of iron and zinc has also been noted in kids with behavioural difficulties) in order to maintain overall good health; both physical and mental. We should avoid sugar, processed foods, refined foods, additives, colouring, excess of dairy products, preservatives, trans fats, and sugary drinks to prevent any negative mood or behaviour patterns emerging.
If your child still suffers perhaps they have an allergy to something and so it may be necessary to involve a nutritionist, allergist or specialist to pinpoint the cause of the reaction. All of this should be considered prior to any child being diagnosed with a disorder and put on medication.
Pushing for good nutrition is essential for the welfare of future generations. Good gut health equals good mental and physical health…so let’s go with our gut and feed the children well.
Online Diploma Course in Child & Adolescent Nutrition
Here at the School of Natural Health Sciences we offer a distance learning diploma course comprised of 10 lessons in Child & Adolescent Nutrition. The course provides an in-depth introduction to the theory behind child nutrition, covering the nutrient needs throughout childhood, from newborn to adolescents up to the age of 19 years, and offers practical advice on food preparation, maintaining a healthy weight and encouraging physical activity. The course is a ‘stand alone’ programme aimed at all students/therapists wishing to obtain greater knowledge in child nutrition. Visit the enrolment page for more information.