The importance of feeding children a well-balanced diet to ensure they get all the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development has long been drummed into parents. But the idea that what children eat can have a direct impact on how they behave is a relatively new one.
Yet, according to the latest research, whether your child has a diagnosed behavioural disorder such as ADHD, or is just throwing more tantrums of late, food could well be a contributing factor. Now more and more research is finding that skipping meals, not getting enough of certain nutrients and even food intolerances can have a negative effect on children's behaviour.
With our busier lifestyles, most parents will admit that at times their good intentions go out the window. Who hasn't given in and let their little ones have an ice-cream or a packet of sweets to keep the peace?
Of course, eating junk on the odd occasion won't do any harm, but the trouble starts if children get into the habit of eating unhealthy foods as a matter of course.
Here are five key ways to make sure your children's diet doesn't have an adverse effect on their behaviour:
1 Give them a good brekkie Many studies have indicated that children tend to be more attentive, less fidgety and recall more information in the classroom after eating a nutritious breakfast. If possible, get the whole family eating breakfast together in the morning and make wise food choices. A good children's breakfast should include wholegrain carbohydrates to provide energy and glucose, which is the main fuel for the brain. Adding some protein will also help boost mood and concentration.
Better Breakfast Ideas
Porridge sweetened with honey and sultanas
A boiled egg with wholemeal toast soldiers
Peanut butter on wholemeal toast
Weetabix with milk and sliced strawberries
2 Keep their blood sugar levels stable Behavioural, emotional and academic problems have been found to be more common in children with fluctuating blood-sugar levels.
In addition, studies have shown that low blood sugar reduces a young child's tolerance to frustration, making them more prone to tantrums.
To keep blood-sugar levels stable, a child shouldn't go longer then three hours without eating something, even if it's just a very small snack.
Blood Sugar Balancing Snacks
Fresh fruit smoothie
Peanut butter on wholegrain crackers
A cube of cheese
A box of raisins
3 Up their nutrient intake The National Children's Food Survey shows that Irish children are simply not getting the nutrients they need for optimal health. The survey found a large number of children to have inadequate intakes of the following important nutrients: iron, calcium, zinc, folate and vitamin A.
4 Watch out for food intolerances If you suspect your child's uncontrollable tears and tantrums may be diet-related, you may want to investigate whether they have a food intolerance. Parents who suspect certain foods are triggering behavioural symptoms may need to trial an elimination diet under the supervision of a nutritionist or dietician.
Common culprits are:
Lactose -- a milk sugar found in dairy products
Gluten -- a type of protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats
Salicylates -- found in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, honey, additives
Amines -- found in chocolate, cheese, yeast extracts, fish products
5 Wise up to additives Although the jury is still officially out on how much food additives are to blame when it comes to behavioural issues, if you believe your child might be affected by them, it would be advisable to avoid them.
Most food manufacturers in the UK and Ireland have voluntarily banned the use of food colours which have been linked to hyperactivity in children, these include: E211, E102, E104, E110, E122, E124.
These colours have now been removed from most foods aimed at children, although some manufacturers have yet to do so, so it's definitely worth checking labels.