We’ve all experienced irritability when we’ve gone too long without food or a mid-afternoon slump where we can’t seem to focus on what we’re doing. The foods we consume every day effect how we think, feel and even how we behave. Thinking, feeling, focus and energy happen across a network of interconnecting brain cells and each one of these cells depends on an optimal supply of nutrients to work efficiently. While not all behavioural issues can be linked to foods, when a child is having difficulty concentrating, when their moods is aggressive or low, when they struggle with appropriate actions and behaviours, we need to consider how their minds are being nourished.
There are many influencing factors that come into play when we look at food and behaviours. When considering the health of our children’s bodies and minds we need to take into account not only the nutrients that are necessary but also the anti-nutrients such as sugar and colouring they are consuming.
A crucial nutrient for the brain and nervous system is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are broken down by the body into its simplest form – glucose. Glucose is the only fuel the brain uses and it consumes more carbohydrates than any other organ in the body. To maximize mental performance you need to create an even supply of glucose to the brain. However, not all carbs are created equal. Dips in blood sugar resulting from missing meals or eating a diet centered on refined carbohydrates can result in poor attention, poor memory, irritability, crying spells and aggressive behaviour.
Refined carbs such as white bread and white rice have a similar effect as refined sugar. Most concentrated forms of sugar are devoid of minerals and vitamins. White sugar has had about 90 percent of its vitamins and minerals removed. It not only suppresses the immune system, it can also create a lack of focus, contribute to low energy levels, and mood fluctuations. When reducing sugar from the diet, withdrawal can result in symptoms of tantrums and mood swings. Providing children with natural sweet snacks such as melon cubes and apple slices can help to eliminate these symptoms.
Additives and preservatives are in a huge number of our foods today and unfortunately most foods geared specifically towards children are filled with them. One of the most widespread additives in children’s foods is food dyes. In the past they were made from natural vegetable and plant compounds. Chemists have now developed synthetic food dyes from artificial petroleum-based ingredients. Unlike the natural dyes, synthetic colouring is cheaper and has an unlimited shelf life. Current studies are showing that synthetic food dyes can worsen behavioural problems and may create symptoms of irritability, tantrums, aggression and antisocial behaviour. Because of their smaller bodies and still developing systems, children are even more susceptible to these foreign chemicals.
Although eliminating additives and preservatives from a child’s diet can seem like an enormous challenge, even decreasing them can have huge benefits. Reducing these anti-nutrients and increasing the quality of carbohydrates with a steady source of whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables can help to improve their energy, focus, concentration and behaviour.