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Improve Your Child's Behaviour Using Food

As parents, when we feed our children we are conditioned to always read the labels carefully. Mostly we are looking for that dirty word ‘sugar’ which is often disguised as corn syrup, dextrose, ethyl maltol, sucrose or sorbitol (just to name a few) because we know that high levels of sugar can cause a major behaviour melt down at home. But, did you know that the chemical additives in food and drinks have also been linked to the behavioural challenges we face with young children?

In a one-month study a group of three-year-old children drank two fruit juices that were identical in appearance, but one contained additives and one did not. Parents filled in reports assessing their child’s behaviour on criteria such as interrupting, fiddling with objects, disturbing others, difficulty settling down to sleep, concentration and temper tantrums.

The findings report said preservatives had ‘substantial effects’ on behaviour, and scientists concluded that significant changes in children’s hyperactive behaviour could be produced by removing colourings and additives from their diet.

When I am planning Emily’s meals these are the top 5 ingredients I look to avoid:

  1. Artificial Colours. As a rule of thumb avoid anything that begins with FD&C (e.g. FD&C Blue #1)
  2. Chemical Preservatives. The most common types you will find in food are Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), Sodium Nitrate, Sodium Benzoate.
  3. Artificial Sweeteners. Check for Aspartame, Acesulfame-K and Saccharin.
  4. Added Sugar. While there are over 50 names for sugar the most common offenders are, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Corn Syrup, Dextrose, etc.
  5. Added Salt. Always look at the sodium content and choose foods with the lowest amounts.

Remembering all these names can be quite overwhelming – but here are some helpful hints to help you ensure you are feeding your children the right things.

Eliminate sugar drinks. Water is always best but sometimes this can be a hard transition, especially if your child is used to having things like fruit juice. I suggest diluting fruit juices with water while you make the transition.

Plan your meals and snacks.  Get your kids involved in the kitchen, because when they are involved it will give you greater time to consider what ingredients you are using. I suggest you ask your child to pick out their favourite treat, you can then work together to make the recipe additive and preservative free.

Clean out the pantry and fridge.  Sweetened cereals are often loaded with sugar and refined grains. Replace these with wholegrain cereals such as rolled oats, puffed brown rice and other grain flakes.  This way you have control of the amount of sweetness. I find that spices are a great way to add flavour (cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, vanilla) and nutrition!

And finally, Read labels!