Can Diet Affect Children’s Behaviour?

diet, children’s behaviour, child’s diet

Talk to many parents and they’ll list a number of foods guaranteed to turn their normally well-behaved offspring into an uncontrollable monster. But speak to those who spend their days working with children who have behavioural problems and you get a very different perspective. Parenting forums, blogs, and books are overflowing with advice about which foods to keep off the menu if you’re worried about your child’s behaviour. Experts say children should avoid any foods containing additives, such as artificial colours or preservatives, along with anything containing sugar, wheat or dairy.

However, is this relationship between diet and children’s behaviour based on parental paranoia or real medical research? The debate appears to have started in the 1960’s, when American allergist Dr Benjamin Feingold was treating children for skin rashes and other allergic-type reactions. He noticed that eliminating certain ingredients from a child’s diet not only improved their skin, it also led to major improvements in behaviour. He argued the ingredients most likely to be responsible were food additives, such as colourings and preservatives, and a particular class of naturally occurring chemicals called salicylates, which are found in plants.

He also concluded that when you modify diet appropriately there can be big changes in behaviour. But it’s not just the so-called “unnatural” additives, such as food colourings and preservatives that cause problems. Salicylates are another chemical group that is a major cause of intolerance-related behavioural issues. These chemicals occur naturally in just about all plant foods, with the notable exception of pear flesh, and the group also includes preservatives, such as sodium benzoate. Sensitivity to salicylates is not technically an allergy but is described as intolerance. Some people are more intolerant than others, and as with food additives, there are a range of different reactions from headaches and hives to full-blown ADHD-like symptoms.

In boys it tends to be the ADHD behaviours, so they’re impulsive, fidgety, they can’t sit still, they jump all over the place, they’re volatile in their moods, and hard to reason with. In girls for example, there’s less of hyperactive behaviour, but they’re more withdrawn and grumpy, not so much depressed, and they’ll just sit in a corner. They don’t want to play, don’t want to do anything, they feel unwell, and they don’t communicate very well. What’s interesting is the transformation that happens when the trigger chemicals are removed from a child’s daily diet. They’re completely different children when they’re well. The parents will often say that it’s like having a Jekyll and Hyde child.

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Posted in Children's Health, Dieting, Nutrition

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