If your child experiences sudden mood swings or shifts in behavior, look into the amount of sugar in her diet. A child's body needs some sugar to function properly, but dramatic increases in sugar associated with junk food make many children irritable. Instead of removing all traces of sugar from your child's diet, however, look for ways to decrease the amounts and effects of sugar.
Mood and Blood Sugar
Nutritional deficit disorder -- a biochemical disturbance related to poor nutrition -- often occurs as a result of unstable blood sugar levels, according to physician William Sears on askdrsears.com. While some children demonstrate little sensitivity to a spike in sugar, others have a strong reaction to continually fluctuating blood sugar levels, as evidenced by severe moodiness. If your child experiences dramatic mood swings, consider putting a stricter limit on junk food.
Stabilizing Blood Sugar
The first step to stabilizing blood sugar is to cut back on problematic snack foods. Sears advises removing foods and drinks that contain high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and those with numbered dyes. High fructose corn syrup, as a high glycemic sugar, rapidly increases and destabilizes blood sugar levels, which can cause irritability. Hydrogenated oils contribute trans fats that increase harmful LDL cholesterol. Studies show that food dyes contribute to behavioral problems, including hyperactivity, according to the "New York Times." Begin your child's day with a breakfast containing healthy carbohydrates and high protein, such as oatmeal topped with fruit. Throughout the day, offer healthy snacks and drinks to maintain consistent blood sugar levels.
Many foods have natural sugars that generally have a less severe impact on a child's mood than refined sugars. Natural simple sugars include fructose, glucose and lactose. Many fruits contain ample amounts of fructose and glucose, while most dairy products have high levels of lactose. In addition, complex carbohydrates contain sugar but break down more slowly, causing a more gradual increase in blood sugar and contributing to an even greater stability of blood sugar levels and mood. Foods rich in complex carbohydrates include starchy vegetables like potatoes and carrots, whole grains, rice, breads and cereals.
Find healthy substitutes for refined white sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Unrefined sugar has a slightly lower sucrose level than refined sugar and makes a suitable baking substitute. Most artificial sweeteners also suffice in baking, but research any health risks associated with a particular brand before stocking up. Rice syrup, made from brown rice, contains complex carbohydrates that promote blood sugar stability. Blackstrap molasses contains more vitamins and minerals than other sugar products and can substitute for honey, corn syrup and other syrups.
Disguising Healthy Foods
Instead of giving your kids junk food, provide healthier food choices and allow your kids to add a little bit of sugar or flavoring. According to WebMD, studies show that low-sugar cereals promote better health than high-sugar cereals, even when kids add a little bit of refined sugar or cut-up bananas and strawberries. For snacks, consider serving whole fruits or starchy vegetables with a variety of dips and spreads, including peanut butter, fat-free salad dressing or even honey.
- Parenting; Ask Dr. Sears - Preschool Mood Swings; William Sears; 2010
- Education.com; Healthy Snack Foods for Kids; Dewi L. Faulkner; 2006
- Kids Health: Carbohydrates, Sugar and Your Child
- Healthy Child: Life Is Sweet - A Guide to Using Healthy Sweeteners
- Web MD; Low-Sugar Cereals Help Kids Eat Healthier; Bill Hendrick; 2010
- New York Times; FDA Panel to Consider Warnings for Artificial Food Colorings; Gardiner Harris; March 2011
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images