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Does a Good Diet Affect a Kid's Behavior?

by Maggie McCormick

When your child exhibits behavior problems, you may consider a variety of solutions. Switching to a healthier diet could be your first step, since it doesn't involve medication or a visit to a specialist. Some studies show empirical evidence that diet can play a role in behavior, but others have shown no connection. Either way, improving your child's diet is better for his overall health, so you really can't lose.

Breakfast

Breakfast may be the hallmark of a healthy diet. According to the Wisconsin School Breakfast Program, children who do not eat breakfast may exhibit behavioral problems, and they may also do poorly on tests. Schools often offer breakfast programs -- free or reduced price for lower-income families -- to counter this effect. If you want to get your child off to the best possible start each morning, encourage her to eat breakfast, whether it's a sit-down meal at home, a smoothie on the go or a quick bite in the school cafeteria.

"Junk Food" Diets

According to a study published in the April 2009 "European Journal of Clinical Nutrition," eating a diet high in junk food (sweets and salty snacks) and low in fruits and vegetables at 4 1/2 years of age correlates with increased hyperactivity at age 7. Children exhibiting this behavior ate as much as five times the amount of candy bars and potato chips than children who did not experience the behavioral changes. The study concludes that further research is required before continuing to address this issue, as there may be other causes for the hyperactivity, but if the findings are confirmed, eating healthy foods can have a longer-term effect than you might expect.

Artificial Dyes and Sugar

Parents often tell anecdotes that blame their child's hyperactivity on eating candy or other sugary snacks, but the empirical data has not shown a connection, according to a 2007 article in "Pediatric Nursing." On the other hand, studies such as the one done by David W. Schab of Columbia University and Nhi-Ha T. Trinh of Harvard University, published in a 2004 issue of "Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics," have shown that food dyes can have a negative effect on some children's behavior. Switching to a healthier diet that doesn't include these dyes could turn your child's behavior around.

Food Intolerances

According to the same article in "Pediatric Nursing," other food sensitivities can cause behavioral problems in some children. These foods include dairy, eggs, wheat, corn and nuts -- all of which can be considered part of a "healthy diet." If your child still has behavior problems while following a healthy diet and you want to experiment to find out if she has any food sensitivities, have her follow an oligoantigenic diet for a few weeks. This type of diet excludes all foods that are potential allergens. If her behavior improves during this time, you can reintroduce the potentially allergenic foods one by one to see if the behavior problems start again.

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