It’s common to joke about kids being on a sugar high after a party, so all of us know –on some level–that food influences how kids behave.
But how many of us realize the extent to which our children’s day-to-day actions are shaped and molded by the foods we feed them?
An experiment on the effects of food on behavior done by the British TV series, The Food Hospital, produced shocking results. Party food loaded with sugar, artificial coloring, and other additives has the power to turn your lovely, cooperative child into a badly behaved, physically aggressive youngster.
The Food and Behavior Experiment
Children in Britain aged 5 – 9 attended a party. They were split into two groups:
Group One: was fed healthy options such as apple slices, carrot sticks, sandwiches, hummus, etc. and was given water to drink.
Group Two: received the usual party fair: candy, potato chips, and soda (or as they say in the UK, sweets, crisps, and fizzy pop), all containing loads of sugar, artificial coloring, and other additives.
The children’s ability to follow instruction, concentrate, and remember information was then measured as they played party games, and their actions were carefully recorded. You may be surprised by what they found.
It wasn’t only how they behaved that was remarkably different.
The healthy food group did “48% better in the games overall” – that’s a huge improvement in performance.
Those who ran the study say that they don’t know what it is in the party food that affects the children. Is it the sugar? The artificial coloring? Maybe the lack of essential nutrients? It’s not clear. I suspect it’s a combination, with individual children being more affected by different things. What is clear is that children not only behave better but concentrate better, follow instructions better, and remember more when they eat healthier food. Let’s not forget that concentration, following instructions, and memory are fundamental building blocks of the learning process and vital for success at school.
Are We Setting Our Kids (and Ourselves) Up for Failure?
So having watched this segment, I couldn’t help think that many kids are inadvertently being set up for failure by their own parents. Moms and Dads certainly intend to do the best for their children, and part of this can mean feeding them “regular food” that won’t set their children apart from their friends. But in doing so, our children are being sabotaged in ways that make it difficult for them to perform school tasks successfully. They’re fed processed foods that can make them aggressive and difficult to control. Then, as if that weren’t bad enough, they’re penalized for their inability to learn and their out-of-control behavior. We all know that a child who is constantly hitting other children, having tantrums, and running around wildly is a child who is continually reprimanded. We also all know a child who doesn’t follow teachers’ instructions, can’t remember what he or she was taught yesterday, or can’t concentrate long enough to finish a task receives poor grades and negative feedback. No parent wants this for his or her child. Tragically, in the worst cases, kids who are simply reacting to what they are being fed end up taking unnecessary prescription drugs or are sent to special schools.
Setting Children up for Success
How do we feed children to prepare them succeed in school and get along in society? Generally speaking, the more natural a food is, the less likely it is to cause a severe behavioral reaction. Keep in mind that there are plenty of individual differences in how children react to specific foods and additives. One family might discover that avoiding a certain additive transforms their child into a little angel, while in another family cutting out wheat may do wonders. That said, watch out in particular for these three substances, which are often linked with behavioral problems.
Three of the Most Troubling Things to Eat
1. Artificial Coloring
More and more evidence is pointing to artificial food dyes as a major cause of ADHD in children. While this hasn’t been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, the facts are strong enough to convince many European countries to ban blue 1 (brilliant blue), blue 2 (indigo carmine), yellow 5 (tartrazine), and yellow 6 (sunset yellow) among others. These food colors have FDA approval and are found in cereal, candy, and a variety of colorful foods popular with children.
There is a shocking amount of sugar in processed foods – and some of it is lurking in places you wouldn’t suspect. One 12 oz. can of coke has 9 ½ teaspoons of sugar. The same amount of Tropicana Farmstand Juice has 9 teaspoons. There’s also lots of sugar in flavored yogurts and chocolate milk – not so surprising. But did you know that there is often sugar in savory foods, such as ketchup, bread, sausages, and barbeque sauce? Your child can consume a considerable amount of sugar even before you let him or her eat candy, and high sugar levels contribute to hyperactivity.
3. Sodium benzoate
Sodium benzoate is a preservative found in carbonated beverages and fruit juices, condiments, candies and many other products. It has been implicated either separately or together with artificial colorings for causing or aggravating ADHD symptoms, and is best avoided. Read labels. A real-food, which excludes these three substance as well as anything likely to affect behavior seems to be the best way to ensure your kids get the right nutrition.
The Experiment. On Video.