Changes In Your Child’s Behavior? This May Be The Culprit

Today’s parent is busier than ever, scrambling to work, take care of the kids and home, and juggle countless other responsibilities of the day.

Even though we have the desire and intention of living a healthy lifestyle and giving our children the best start possible, we often have to take shortcuts to manage our hectic schedules.

Several studies have been conducted, however, that show the dangerous effects of our modern lifestyles on one important part of our lives.

We all strive to eat a healthy diet and model good eating habits to our children.  But we are also all guilty of letting fatigue and stress take over our best-laid plans.  It is obviously easier to run through the fast food drive-through for dinner or give our kids a donut for breakfast.

Pediatricians and dieticians are now seeing a massive rise in behavioral issues in children due to chemically-laden heavily processed foods and an overuse of sugars.  And these foods we all eat that are so readily available and “convenient” are causing major problems for adults and children alike.

Parents have heard for decades that giving kids too much sugar will make them hyperactive and then cause them to “crash” afterward.

But monitoring sugar is not the whole issue, and researchers are identifying several problem foods that not only cause behavioral changes in children but are at the root of our declining health as a population.

A recent study in the U.K. is one of the largest conducted on the effects of food additives on children’s bodies.  The study focused primarily on young children between the ages of two and three to illustrate how we must stay vigilant about what we are exposing our kids to in their early years.

Food Matters reported on the study by the U.K. Asthma and Allergy Research Center:

For two weeks the children drank a daily fruit juice dosed with 20mg of artificial colorings and 45mg of preservative, which are either equal to or below permitted levels. 

For the other two weeks the children drank a fruit juice which was identical in appearance but without the additives. Parents filled in reports assessing their child’s behavior on criteria such as interrupting, fiddling with objects, disturbing others, difficulty settling down to sleep, concentration and temper tantrums. The report said the results showed the artificial food colorings and sodium benzoate preservative had ‘substantial effects’ on behavior.

In recent decades, food additives such as artificial flavors and colors, and preservatives to increase shelf-life have been increasingly added to our foods, so it is little wonder that we are seeing negative effects on our children.

And while government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are in place to test and approve these additives, they are often far from safe.

Tests are typically run to determine only short-term effects and are conducted not in the field to demonstrate real-life effects, but in a lab in an often-rushed process where the bottom line is financial benefits for the companies that produce the additives.

Changes in behavior and food allergies are on the rise in the U.S. and many parents who are looking for answers are pointed in the wrong direction, even by their pediatricians.

There are so many different additives out there that there is often no way to isolate which ones are causing problems for our little ones, and therefore, an incorrect diagnosis may be made.  This is especially the case with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which is often a blanket label that physicians want to treat with drugs that have side effects of their own.

What’s a parent to do if they see behavioral changes in their children?  While it is important to have your child seen by their pediatrician to rule out any other obvious underlying causes, if you generally have a healthy family medical history, it becomes our job as parents to become detectives and advocates for our little ones.

And obvious food additives that must be displayed on food labels are not the only culprit.   Some foods we think of as “healthy,” like lean meats and dairy may come from animals that have been treated with hormones, antibiotics, or other chemicals that do not appear on packaging labels.

So what are the main culprits of behavioral changes in children, and what can we do about it?

Dairy is the underlying factor in many food allergies in children, but can also cause reactions that are not necessarily allergy related.  Milk proteins can cause stomach issues and respiratory problems in young kids that may be misdiagnosed.

Little ones who cannot verbally communicate what is making them feel bad may exhibit irritability, aggression, or may not be able to be consoled.

Artificial colorings and flavorings are a major cause of behavioral changes in our young children, and yet, they are the target demographic for brightly colored and heavily flavored foods.  They are appealing to little ones and are easy for busy parents to grab while running out the door to keep the kids pacified.

These additives are often found in sugary foods, so parents may blame sugar rather than digging a little deeper into the source of the problem.

And companies market foods like breakfast cereals and snack bars as “healthy,” not knowing they often contain high levels of these chemical additives.

Preservatives are found in every packaged prepared food, like breads and crackers.  They include nitrates, nitrites, sodium benzoate, and monosodium glutamate (MSG), and often do double-duty as flavor enhancers.

These preservatives can cause a wide range of behavioral issues in children, especially in little ones who may experience headaches or stomach pain.  Physical pain can manifest itself in behavioral changes because our kids don’t know how to otherwise communicate their discomfort.

And sugar by itself can change blood sugar levels that give children headaches or make them lightheaded or nauseous, again manifesting as a behavioral change rather than an obvious sign of physical illness.

There are two important steps that parents can take to help get to the bottom of what is bothering your child if you suspect it is food related.

Keep a food journal for at least two weeks, preferably a month, logging everything your child eats and any noticeable behavioral change in the hours following.  Once you have this information, meet with a pediatric dietician who can help you analyze the results and create a food plan that may include a step-by-step elimination diet to target the main cause.

Second, and much easier said than done, is to switch the entire family to a whole foods diet.  These are very popular with adults now who have seen many of their health complaints decrease by eating organic lean proteins and organic leafy greens as the basis of their diets.

We know – the last thing our toddlers are going to eat is a kale salad or some unidentifiable vegetable.  But if children are not introduced to sugary processed foods early on, they are much more likely to enjoy healthy, natural foods from the start.

With the data from your food journal on hand and the help of an expert, you can identify what works and what doesn’t with your child.  There are many options to replace refined grains found in the bread and crackers our children seem to love so they can enjoy a healthy alternative to their favorite foods that may not cause the physical pain during digestion.

It is also important for breastfeeding moms to monitor their intake of these food additives if they notice their infant seems irritable or inconsolable.  The standard diagnosis of colic often has roots in discomfort caused by foods that mom is eating.

Obviously, the reason many of us hit the fast food drive-through or give our kids a cup of fruit-flavored cereal or sugary juice in the car is that it’s easier.

How on earth are we going to find the time to research all of this, write down everything our kids eat, and find and prepare safer alternatives when we are already struggling to find the time to make dinner at all?

The bottom line is that it will take time and work on your part, but in the long run, you may find yourself with a calmer and happier child.  That, in turn, brings peace of mind to parents and less frustration in dealing with negative behaviors that may have a root in these food culprits.

And who wouldn’t want a happier, healthier child?  Eliminating the behavioral issues might just make the day a lot easier.  And eliminating these problem chemicals from your diet will likely make you feel healthier and more energetic as well.

Have you noticed food-related behavioral changes in your child?  What did you do to get to the bottom of the problem?  Leave us your thoughts.


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