Tips to manage mood and behaviour problems in children, through nutritional support
When it comes to your child’s mood and behaviour, there are many contributing factors and often to their actions, nutritional approaches are overlooked when dealing with behaviour problems. But they can be incredibly effective as food sensitivities, nutrient imbalances and deficiencies can all have an impact on your child.
Here are some helpful tips from the nutritionists at Nutritionist Resource for regulating behaviour and mood in children with the help of nutrition.
Identify food sensitivities
When a child is young, eliminating foods from their diet that they are sensitive to can have a real positive impact on behaviour and mood: it’s the most common factor that food intolerances are the main culprit for behavioural issues. Identifying the foods that cause the unpleasant behaviour can be difficult, especially when it’s common for a child to be resistant or emotionally erratic. But some common intolerances and food sensitivity include: gluten, dairy and eggs.
Some children find it difficult to digest specific compounds in foods, commonly phenols which are found in strawberries and apples, and known as a PST deficiency. If your child has red ears or cheeks, has a noticeable deterioration in behaviour after eating or craves apple juice or other phenolic rich foods (for example grape juice) then it’s worth considering this as an intolerance. Nutritional support from a registered therapist may be needed to address your child’s methylation and sulfation levels, linked to phenol intake, as this can significantly impact behaviour meltdowns or other issues.
Keep blood sugar levels balanced
The roller coaster of blood sugar levels will affect your child’s behaviour frequently and often a pattern can be identified between the ‘snack-mood, snack-mood’ cycle. Blood sugar highs can lead to impulsivity and hyperactivity, and the lows present as meltdowns, irritability and anger. The best action to take in this instance is to slowly reduce your child’ sugar intake as much as possible, and introduce increased portions of protein at each meal and snack.
Given the possibility that your child may be sensitive to food additives it isn’t a good idea to replace sugar with ‘low-sugar’ options. These options usually contain sweeteners and additives that are difficult for your child to process and can worsen behaviours and mood. To manage the re-balanced diet, your child may require additional support depending on their nutrient status.
Help your child to sleep
Getting off to sleep, staying asleep and early mornings are common in children with hyperactive, impulsive and anxiety-related behaviours. A good place to start supporting a healthy sleep routine would be upping your child’s magnesium intake. This mineral not only supports better sleep but can also help with hyperactivity, poor behaviour and inattention. It is commonly associated with high anxiety levels as it helps to nourish the nervous system, preventing symptoms of anxiety and restlessness.
Foods that contain magnesium include:
- Dark chocolate
- Cultured yoghurts
- Whole wheats
For guidelines on your child’s intake of magnesium, visit Public Health England.
Identify nutrient deficiencies
Your child may not be producing enough Gramma-Aminobutyrc Acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter between nerve cells in the brain. A lack of GABA causes increased aggression, impulsivity and mood disorders. Low serotonin levels ‘the happy hormone’ can have an impact on low mood, commonly linked to mental health condition, depression. Serotonin is again a neurotransmitter so when a signal is blocked or thrown off balance, the external indicator is commonly low mood.
There is plenty of research to suggest that digestive issues play a part between a healthy gut and a healthy mind. A child’s diet could be ideal but if the digestive system is performing ineffectively, then problems absorbing nutrients and breaking down protein to help build neurotransmitters can arise. Disruptions in gut flora can also have an impact on behaviour, with the gut bacteria commonly upset by repeated courses of antibiotics or by antibiotics used in the first few months of your child’s life.
Each child is unique, so for further help with managing your child’s mood and behavior through diet, we do recommend that you check with a medical professional or qualified practitioner before trying new dietary approaches or supplements.