Mental health issues, often alluded as “adult” problems, are equally common in children, with almost 13-20% of children being affected annually with mental disorders?

When a child shows signs of poor mental health, it essentially means that they are experiencing grave aberrations from their normal social, emotional and cognitive development. The oft-heard adage ‘You are what you eat’ couldn’t be more real here than anywhere else, because there is, in fact, a real correlation between nutrition and overall well-being.

Many studies have corroborated the mood-altering effects of different foods in children. While sugar is the most often cited culprit impacting a kid’s mood and causing bouts of hyperactivity, it just isn’t the only one that we should be on a lookout. Several other snacks and meals that we feed our little ones can cause behavioural issues and mood disorders.

Here are five foods that most commonly contribute to mood disorders among children and it would serve your (and your child’s) interest to reduce or eliminate them from their diet.

  • Food Allergens

Some common food allergens such as dairy products, nuts, soy, eggs and even corn may be the first of the food items that you need to check for intolerance or an allergy. Such allergens are known to cause behavioural changes that may even change to marked aggression, being more pronounced among children who have a food intolerance or are allergic to some elemental composition.

For instance, dairy products, especially heavily processed dairy products, have shown to bring about behavioural and mood changes in children, often making them cranky and irritable. Several studies have reported that milk consumption post-infancy is rather unnatural. The protein -casein– in dairy products is rather hard to digest for the human gut and leads to the creation of antibodies by the gut receptors and subsequently resultant stress in the body. Undoubtedly, this causes behavioural issues.

If you are concerned about the optimal calcium intake for your child, replacing these dairy products with non-dairy sources of calcium such as broccoli, mushrooms, yoghurt, coconut, oats, sardines and kale.

  • Foods with Food Additives

Food additives including preservatives, artificial flavouring, artificial colouring and acidifiers, used to prevent food from spoilage, increase shelf life, or to enhance its flavour, have been found to be linked with conditions such as anxiety, headaches and ADHD in children causing behavioural changes. These additives are primarily synthetic chemicals that have detrimental effects on the mental health in children.

Specifically, products that contain artificial colours such as tartrazine (E102), quinoline yellow (E104), ponceau 4R (E124), red no.40, yellow no.5 and blue no.1 need elimination from a kid’s diet. Similarly, preservatives such as sodium benzoate, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and other nitrates can bring about mood disorders in children.

Studies exhibit that kids who eat an additive-free diet are much healthier, better behaved and have better concentration levels. 

  • Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners
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Sugar, especially artificial sweeteners & starchy foods such as white rice and white bread, has been seen to cause hyperactivity in children, causing long-term damage to their health. Too much sugary food triggers the pancreas to release insulin, causing higher than normal insulin levels in the bloodstream. The resultant fluctuations in the glucose levels accentuate mood disorders as well as affect the proteins required for optimal brain development.

Cutting back on the sugar content helps maintain steady sugar levels in the bloodstream resulting in not only an improved mood but also improved short-term memory and concentration. 

  • Refined & Processed Foods

Just like sugar, processed foods, especially refined grains, also have a direct impact on brain health as these are linked with cognitive delays and sleep disturbances. Consumption of refined or processed foods causes an inflammation of the gut lining impairing its ability to produce serotonin (the ‘happy’ hormone). Since the production of 95% of the serotonin happens in the human gut, this impairment leads to mood changes and increased risks of depression and related issues.

Instead, these refined foods including white bread, pasta, etc. should be swapped with whole grains such as oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, millet, barley, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • Fast Foods

The millennial kids perhaps associate themselves best with the big ‘M’ and the ‘Pizza Huts’ more than any other food item! But, these high-calorie foods when consumed regularly, become a kind of addiction – bringing a rush of dopamine in kids & activating their brain’s reward system. In the long-run, these fast foods make them deficient in essential nutrients, leading to increased risks of mental disorders such as depression, mood disorders, sleep disturbances and poor metabolism.

Replacing these fast foods with wholesome, home-cooked ‘brain food’ can help replace the antioxidant deficiencies and support their overall well-being.

While mood disorders are different to nail down to a single cause, often the diet is an excellent place to get started. Cutting down on the consumption of the foods high in these five ingredients and an overall nutritional content based on a balanced diet can be an excellent way to make a noticeable difference and take a step towards a productive and happier life.

Medical Disclaimer: The information and reference materials contained here are intended solely for the general information of the reader. Patients and consumers should review the information carefully with their professional health care provider. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by physicians. You should consult your physician before beginning a new nutritional or fitness program.

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