Parents intuitively know that food can impact their child’s behavior and mood. We know that sweets, for example, can cause bouts of hyperactivity. But mood-altering food isn't limited to sugar - there are other culprits in the snacks and meals that we feed our little ones. The following five foods are the most common contributors to mood and behavioral changes in children.
- Dairy – If your child is lactose intolerant or allergic to the proteins found in dairy, you may see changes in her mood and behavior. Many children become irritable, cranky, or aggressive. Children with dairy allergies or intolerance also tend to suffer from frequent colds and ear infections. Babies may exhibit colicky symptoms, whereas toddlers and older children may become inconsolable and irritable.
- Artificial Coloring – Many countries have banned artificial coloring due to the detrimental effects these chemicals have on children. Linked to ADHD, anxiety, hyperactivity, and headaches in children, artificial coloring can also cause significant behavioral changes. Because artificial coloring is found in many sugary foods, parents often blame behavioral changes on sugar. Artificial coloring is also often hidden in unexpected foods like bread and yogurt. Avoid products with yellow No. 5, red No. 40, and blue No. 1 if you're concerned about your child's mood swings after consuming food with artificial coloring.
- Sugar – Sugar can cause a child to be hyperactive, which is often an immediate indicator that sugar is the culprit. However, sugar is in just about everything the average child eats, unless the child is eating a whole foods-based diet. Sugar has been shown to cause long-term health damage, and a diet high in processed foods has been linked to depression, cognitive delay, and sleep problems.
- Preservatives – There are several preservatives that may cause behavioral problems in children. They include but are not limited to nitrates, nitrites, and sodium benzoate. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer that also causes mood and behavior changes, including headaches and hyperactivity. Sodium benzoate is commonly found in juice products marketed toward children.
- Food Allergens – Common food allergens are dairy, nuts, eggs, soy, and corn. When a child has an intolerance or an allergy to a particular food, it can cause significant health and behavior issues. However, it can be difficult to pinpoint which allergen is making your child sick without the help of an allergist. A food intolerance, for example, is often missed and a child is instead diagnosed with ADHD.
If you notice behavior changes or mood swings in your child, consider keeping a food journal. Track what they eat and when they exhibit concerning behavior. Try eliminating suspicious foods to see if the behavior changes. While food isn't the cause of all behavioral issues and conditions, it's important to make sure that your child is not suffering from something that can be easily remedied.
Related: Food Allergies in Kids