The Link Between Behavior and Nutrition in Kids

I know parents can all relate to the struggles with getting our children to eat, never mind eating healthy! These little humans have a will that could dent a steel door sometime! But we persist, and we fight the good fight, for as long as we can, so we can shape their habits early to help their bodies and minds grow strong. To help renew your vigor in this battle of the wills, it’s important to remember that nutrition is not just about a healthy BMI, avoiding diabetes or supplying energy for their ample activities. Their nutrition also plays a major role in their behavior as well.

We’ve all heard the old adage, ‘you are what you eat” but what does this mean? No your child won’t turn into a sweet lollipop when having one too many but, how do additives, sugar, and the lack of a balanced diet affect children’s behavior?  Of course, most shelf foods are going to have some amount of additives, it’s necessary to stabilize shelf life. However, knowledge is key and reviewing the ingredients, and choosing foods that are minimally processed, with better ingredients will help you make better choices at the grocery store.

Read that label! – Additives and Preservatives

Its been stressed over and over how eating processed foods can cause obesity and long lasting health problems, however, the mental complications have not been pushed enough. Preservatives and additives are artificially created and many kid-targeted foods often use cheap substitutes in exchange of more quality ingredients. So while fresh whole foods are of course better, when looking for packaged foods, there are reasonable alternatives out there. Knowing the difference on what additives are known to cause hyperactivity, irritability and more, is important information for parents to arm themselves with.

Checking the nutrition label for natural ingredients is always the best preventative measure. We previously touched the importance of fats in children’s diet,  studies have found omega-3 fats helps the brain stabilize mood swings and improve behavior. Processed foods usually lack high amounts of important vitamins; iron and zinc deficiencies have been showed to cause long term hyperactivity and impulsivity. Awareness of these implications is the first step in giving kids the opportunity to be their best, emotionally and physically.

The Facts

  • A recent study found that more than half the average American’s diet is filled with processed food.
  • This grouping of processed food had less protein, vitamins, and fiber with added sugars, saturated fat, and overall carbohydrates.
  • In 2016, 6.1 million, children aged 2-17 years in the U.S. had been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity
    • Nearly two-thirds (64%) also had another mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder, such as conduct disorder, anxiety, depression, autism, and Tourette syndrome

Additives and Preservatives – What do they do?

Added sugars are considered to be an immuno-suppressant because, it decreases our immune system’s ability to fight off illnesses. A number of additives have been linked to an increase in asthma, allergies, and hyperactivity. Beyond hyperactivity, certain dyes can cause inadequate digestion which means they are unable to absorb all the nutrients they need. Irritability, temper outbursts, restlessness and difficulty falling asleep are also common behavioral effects. Processed foods often contain high amounts of additives, preservatives, and added sugars, and have recently been found to more adversely affect children because of their lesser-developed systems.

Here is a short list of items that are directly linked to behavior impacts in children:

Added sweeteners: High Fructose Corn Syrup, an artificial sweetener with higher amounts of fructose than cane sugar,  adds no nutritional value other than calories. Opt for foods with natural sweetness. There are great options in many food selections that do not use added sweeteners and use lesser amounts of real cane sugar.

Synthetic food dyes: Synthetic dyes such as Red 40 and Yellow 5 & 6. show in study after study that they adversely affect children’s behavior. The labels even state it: “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” We could go on and on about food dyes. They are so common in many foods it is almost ubiquitous. However, they present real hidden health risks, this is why the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based consumer-watchdog group has asked the Food and Drug Administration to ban them.

Sodium Benzoate – commonly used to prevent spoilage, this added item has raised concerns about the possible cause of hyperactivity in some children.

A study analyzing 3-year-olds’ behavior found that eliminating artificial coloring and benzoate preservatives for one week resulted in significant reductions in hyperactive behavior. With a lack of nutrient-rich foods or the inability to process vital nutrients, it makes sense children will not act their best because their bodies aren’t able to function at their best.

In short, keep fighting the good fight parents! Knowing what to avoid, and learning about all the different additives and their impact, along with healthful foods, and their value, can be daunting, but as our friends at the Reading Rainbow used to say…”the more you know“.





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