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How diet can help your child’s behaviour

Learn how simple dietary changes, such as including whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids, can help your child.

According to research, food has a mixed effect on mood and behaviour in children. However, the possibility that a healthy, balanced diet could make a significant difference for even some children with behavioural issues makes it worthwhile to give it a shot.

The first area to consider is the overall nutritional content, which should be based on the principles of a balanced diet, such as eating small, frequent healthy meals, drinking plenty of water, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and getting plenty of essential fatty acids.

It’s also a good idea to eliminate the bad guys: too much sugar, refined, processed foods, and additives.

Insomnia, lack of concentration, mood swings, and frequent destructive outbursts are common symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). If these symptoms sound familiar, talk to your doctor, who can refer your child to a paediatric team for expert evaluation and advice.

Although you may recognise some of these characteristics, avoid self-diagnosis until a specialist has evaluated your child.

Whether your child has a diagnosed behavioural disorder or is simply going through a difficult period, modifying the diet can be an extremely effective first step in behaviour modification.

Encourage your children to eat breakfast every day

Any breakfast is preferable to none; however, new research suggests that lower-GI foods may be a better choice. Excellent alternatives include:

• A boiled egg on wholegrain toast
• Baked beans on a grainy English muffin
• Porridge cooked with apple and topped with yoghurt
• 2 Weetabix with milk and banana slices

Offer wholegrains with a low GI

Serving your child foods with a low glycemic index score can help keep their blood sugar levels stable and even help their body metabolise fat more efficiently. The GI rate of carbohydrate foods is based on how quickly they are broken down into glucose. When there is too much glucose in the bloodstream, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin to bring blood sugar levels back into normal range. Consuming high-GI foods results in high levels of circulating insulin.

Although many parents agree that sugary foods make their children hyperactive, there is little scientific evidence to support the claim that sugar (specifically) has a negative impact on behaviour. However, foods that are highly processed, overly sweet, or have a high GI value have little nutritional value.

Replace high-GI carbohydrates with complex whole grains that have a low GI value.

Whenever possible, avoid additives

Food additives are used to either prevent spoilage or enhance flavour. They include preservatives, artificial colours, artificial flavourings, and acidifiers. According to studies, children who consume a diet free of additives can be much healthier, more evenly behaved, and have better concentration.

Provide foods with omega-3 fatty acids

One of the most important areas of research into the relationship between foods and behaviour focuses on getting children to eat more omega-3 fatty acid-rich oily fish. Oily fish contain beneficial fatty acids that influence the signals sent between the brain and the rest of the body.

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is one of the two main types of fish oil and has been shown in studies to help children with ADHD improve their concentration, behaviour, and learning abilities. If your child does not like oily fish, talk to your doctor about taking a supplement.

Ensure they get enough iron and zinc

Iron and zinc deficiencies have both been linked to behavioural issues in children. Iron deficiency appears to be the most serious under two years of age, a period of rapid brain development, and can result in long-term problems with attention and mood. According to new research, many children with ADHD have lower levels of zinc in their blood than the general population. Improving zinc levels in ADHD children is thought to reduce hyperactivity, impulsivity, and impaired socialisation.

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