Children’s behaviour changes due to many variables including their environments, the people around them, their levels of physical health and if they are experiencing stress. Just as important, though less often investigated, is their diets. Additives and sugar in particular may have an effect on children’s behaviour, but so too can food allergies and intolerances. Some children may also be lacking necessary vitamins and minerals, meaning that changing their diets and ensuring better nutrition can become paramount to better health and behaviour.
Additives and Sugar
Additives and sugar are in much of the food you eat at every meal, but many children also snack on pre-packaged foods that is stuffed with both. Sugar in particular can affect children’s behaviour because it affects blood glucose levels, and these levels affect surges of adrenaline in kids. Thus consuming sugar often results in children who have an extra burst of energy, and sometimes a corresponding lack of concentration. Additives are chemicals used to preserve foods, many of them synthetic, which can also affect children’s behaviour. Artificial colours and preservatives in particular are known to have a negative affect on children’s behaviour.
Food allergies seem to be more common in children today, though this may only be because we understand more about such allergies and have better medical tests to identify them. A common behavioural side effect of food allergies is hyperactivity, which can lead children to excessive activity, poor concentration and a seeming inability to follow directions or suggestions. Common foods to which kids are allergic include:
- Nuts and nut butters
- Fruits (often due to natural salicylates, chemicals much like aspirin)
- Milk and dairy
- Wheat and gluten
- Pre-packaged foods which include dyes
Food intolerances are situations which often arise when a body is unable to process a food substance. They are distinct from food allergies because they do not cause a body to create antibodies against the food substance, however they can affect a child’s behaviour similarly. Negative behaviours may arise because the body is unable to tolerate a given food item and the whole system is thrown into disarray, or because children become miserable due to things like skin rashes, vomiting or effects on the bowels and act out due to their physical discomfort. Common food intolerances in children include:
- Lactose intolerance (found in dairy)
- Gluten intolerance (found in most grains, cereals and breads)
- Casein protein intolerance (found in milk)
- Wheat intolerance
- Yeast intolerance
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are a necessary part of keeping children healthy, strong and developing correctly. Children who lack these substances, whether it is due to poor diet, not enough sun or simply not taking a daily childhood supplement, are more apt to engage in poor behaviour, show less concentration, have less energy and even have trouble staying awake during the day. GPs can help advise parents on their children’s levels of:
- Vitamins A, B, C, D and E
Children’s behaviour can be due to many causes, but often adults don’t look at the relationship between diet and behaviour until other avenues have been exhausted. Additives and sugar, food allergies, food intolerances and abnormal levels of vitamins and minerals can all negatively influence children’s behaviour and concentration.