Posted: Feb 20, 2014 8:00 AM
 
Numerous personality traits may be exacerbated or quelled simply through dietary changes. Here's a guide to some of the most common culprits and benefactors.

While of course there are behavioral conditions that require medication to remedy, you may be able to alter your child's behavior simply through diet and nutrition. It is, at least, a good place to begin the process if you notice recurring, difficult behavior in your child.

Something being consumed is irritating
or something that the body needs is missing.

In Cure Your Child with Food: The Hidden Connection Between Nutrition and Childhood Ailments, nutritionist Kelly Dorfman explains that "most nutritional problems fall into one of two areas: Something being consumed is irritating or something that the body needs is missing" (p. 425). This irritation or deficiency can manifest in behavioral issues such as anxiety, inability to concentrate, hyperactivity, insomnia and mood swings (among others).

Here are four substances that may be affecting your child's behavior.

Omega-3 fats

"There is evidence that omega-3 fats may help ADHD, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and other mood disorders" (Dorfman). In children, fish oil and omega-3 fats have been linked to better concentration and learning in school-aged children (source). In other words, if your child is having trouble maintaining focus, sitting still or concentrating at school, try increasing omega-3 fats. In addition to vitamin supplements, omega-3 fatty acids can be found in salmon, flax seed, walnuts and many other foods.

Sugar

Even if sugar has not been proven to cause aggression and hyperactivity, it certainly cannot hurt to consider improving the diet before adding medication.

According to Dorfman, "High sugar intake alone does not appear to cause hyperactivity in most children, but — and it is a big but — it is a factor for some children. There is a subgroup of children in studies who do respond poorly to sugar… My bottom line is this: Even if sugar has not been proven to cause aggression and hyperactivity, it certainly cannot hurt to consider improving the diet before adding medication." This webpage discusses some of the connections between sugar and depression, anxiety, learning and memory. If you are noticing such issues in your child, try removing or limiting processed sugars. The worst possible outcome is generally improved health and diet. Though sugar and mental health connections are up for debate, there is no debate surrounding the argument that sugar is terrible for the body and over-consumed in America.

Zinc

Have an extremely picky eater? She might be low on zinc: "Children with a deficiency of the mineral zinc can become almost repelled by the tastes or smells of many foods" (Dorfman). Dorfman explains that children with a zinc deficiency will often demonstrate a preference toward a "white" diet: white breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, etc. Increasing zinc intake through a multivitamin or foods can sometimes result in a less picky eater.

Magnesium

"Magnesium is found in whole grains and vegetables… Studies have found that blood levels of magnesium are usually low in hyperactive children" (Dorfman). In addition to lowering sugar intake, try increasing magnesium to decrease hyperactivity in your child. Magnesium can be found in pumpkin seeds, chard, spinach, soybeans and other foods.


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Though medication may be necessary
to remedy behavioral and mental health issues, there may be another "medicine" cabinet sitting at the local farmers market or grocery store. Though multivitamins and supplements seem like a quick fix to balanced nutrition, minerals and fats are absorbed better by the body through actual food sources. So watch your child, do some research, and see how you might be able to "heal" your child through diet and nutrition.

More on nutrition

Feeding your baby: Healthy nutrition for every stage
A healthy must-have: Apple cider vinegar
Healthy foods your kids won't hate

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