Food as a predictor of behavior in children – eat better, act better?

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Most of us know that if we eat healthy, we are more likely to be healthy. But how often do we relate what we eat to our behavior, and more importantly, to our children’s behavior? In a recent lecture on nutrition, I used several examples of food each day to bring my point home to what is really found in the foods we eat that we may not be aware of. One of these foods was children’s breakfast items. A conventional brand named sugar as the first ingredient and therefore a main ingredient. Yet, every parent knows that after eating sugar, children are likely to go off the deep end and become hyperactive and behave incorrectly, followed by the sugar that causes irritability.

So why do we feed our kids sugar first thing in the morning? Do we help them start their day on the wrong foot? Among other toxic and possibly disease-causing ingredients, there were 3 different food dyes in this grain. Food dyes have been linked to hyperactivity, decreased mental capacity and several forms of illness, including asthma and cancer. Reading the ingredients of this food made me think more about the ever-increasing prevalence of ADD and ADHD in children and the behavioral problems parents and teachers are so well aware of. Is it possible that by simply changing what we feed our children we can alleviate and perhaps eliminate hyperactivity and other behavioral problems in children? Increasing evidence suggests that the answer is Yes.

In an article titled You Do What You Eat, in the September 2005 issue of Ode Magazine, evidence of food directly affecting children’s behavior was reported. Studies show that when eating a diet of sugar, saturated fat, food dyes, pesticides and preservatives, children will exhibit aggression, restlessness and even explosive behavior. When this food is replaced with healthy, nutritious foods, the bad behavior disappears or is greatly reduced. This phenomenon was also highlighted in the movie Super Size Me. Here, an experiment was conducted with emotionally disturbed children who were put in another school serving only organic foods and healthy snacks. Soda machines were replaced with water dispensers. Candy machines were replaced with healthy choices. Soon, the behavior of these problem children became exemplary, even better than the other schoolchildren who still ate nutritionally invalid junk foods.

Similar results have been found in studies conducted in prisons. For example, a study conducted by Bernard Gesch, a physiologist at the University of Oxford, found that aggression and fighting were significantly reduced among inmates when healthy foods were replaced with conventional and junk foods. Food seems to be a reliable predictor of future violence and crime in children and even adults. This phenomenon offers remarkable opportunities for great improvements in relation to our level of crime in society, excessive congestion in prisons, and indeed our entire judicial system over time. This transforms our food choices, once thought of as a personal topic, into a social issue as well.

When adding crime and violence to the strong bonds already known to exist between food and ADD / ADHD, obesity and related health problems and other illnesses in children, there is even more reason to consider changing what our children eat. When this increased evidence becomes difficult to ignore, there is a wave beginning in schools across the country toward healthy and organic lunches and snacks for their students. Participating schools find students becoming more well-educated, happier, healthier and better able to learn, and their test results show that. Since these results are so favorable, the question becomes, is our school system ready for change?

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