Think Food Doesn’t Affect Behavior? You’ve Got to Read This.

Think what you eat doesn't affect how you feel and act? You need to read and watch this. The information and videos in this post are fascinating as researchers split kids into 2 groups and feed them different types of food. One group got typical party food while the other got more wholesome choices. The results are amazing.

{Food and behavior is a big topic these days.  Folks are talking about gluten-free diets, paleo diets, candida diets, and more.  Does it all matter?  Does food affect things like autism, ADD, ADHD and just plain old defiance? Ruth Almon, of Paleo Diet Basics is sharing with us some fascinating information about how food affects behavior.  I was amazed when I read this–check it out and make sure to share it to get the word out.  So many behavioral issues can be traced to gut health. We need to all inform and empower parents to make a difference in their children’s (and their own) lives.}

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?

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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.

Food Behavior Table


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.

Check out these videos to see what happened.


The Experiment. On Video.

Part One – The Test. 

UPDATE: For some reason the videos aren’t online right now, but you can watch this YouTube video to see portions of Part Two. We’re working to see what can be done about it.

For now, you can watch part of it here:

See how the coordinators divided up the groups, what they ate, and how things started to play out. This is very interesting!

Click on the below photos to see the compelling videos.

**UPDATE–It appears that occasionally the videos don’t work.  If that happens to you, try reloading several times, or paste the following url into your browser:

*** Don’t Watch the Spoiler Though!!!  When you click, you will have access to both videos, so make sure to watch Part 1 first and then Part 2.

Screen shot 2013-11-09 at 12.21.31 PM

Part Two

See the results of the experiment–how the kids behave and learn after eating their meals. Watch as parents and a psychologist evaluate behavior during play and learning tasks. A Must. See.

Again, click on the photo to see the video.

If Part 1 is showing, click on Part 2 below the video to see the results of this telling experiment.

Think Food Doesn't Affect Behavior? You have to read and watch this!
**Note:  The woman, when stating that they “don’t know” what made the difference, mentions “E numbers.” From Wikipedia, this is what she is referring to: “E numbers are codes for chemicals which can be used as food additives for use within the European Union and Switzerland (the “E” stands for “Europe”).They are commonly found on food labels throughout the European Union. Safety assessment and approval are the responsibility of the European Food Safety Authority”


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.

2. Sugar

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, nutrient-dense paleo diet – which excludes these three substance as well as anything likely to affect behavior – seems to me the best way to ensure your kids get the right nutrition. Click to learn what the paleo diet is.

How Does This Affect Your Family

You may think that these problems don’t affect you since your child doesn’t suffer from serious behavioral problems or learning disabilities. Remember, the children in the video were just a regular group of school kids–not children selected because they didn’t behave well. The impact on them was profound, so clearly, this is a concern for every parent.

Let’s do all we can to set our kids up for success.

(UPDATE:  Think the evidence isn’t compelling enough?

Check out Response to Doubters–STILL Think Food Doesn’t Affect Behavior?  Read This.)

{From Adrienne.  I have REALLY noticed the relationship between food and behavior in our home. We’ve removed colors, preservatives, and then gluten, and sugar and have seen a lot of things improve as a result.  Let’s for sure do what we can to get the word out about this.  So many meds and doctors visits and frustrating scenarios could be avoided if we try to feed our kids (and ourselves) well.}

Ruth is one smart cookie. And she’s written a GREAT new book called Step By Step Paleo.  It’s a Guidebook for helping your transition to the paleo diet, which is a whole foods, grain free eating plan.  Many, many folks have seen positive changes to their health after making the changes the Ruth outlines in this book.  And it’s no wimpy tome either. It’s a load of info!

Paleo Cookbook

Have you noticed (or do you suspect) foods affect behavior in your house?  

What has YOUR experience been?

Ruth Almon of Paleo Diet BasicsRuth is a big fan of the paleo diet, having regained her health after decades of living with chronic fatigue syndrome. She’s the author of Step By Step Paleo, a guidebook that takes the guesswork out of transitioning to paleo. Ruth blogs at Paleo Diet Basics.

Photo Credits: The Food Hospital


    Speak Your Mind


  1. Jessica Jensen says:

    I saw a reports several years ago, about a school in New York. It was a school fro children who were already “problem kids” (I’m sorry i cannot remember specifics). They had a special program where the students were at the school for like 12 10 hours a day and they provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner to the children (I believe part of this was due to most students being low income and weren’t being fed at home consistently, but again I can’t remember specifics). What I do remember is that they switched all of the students to a healthier diet low in sugar and high in protein and vegetables. They found that there was a much lower incidence of behavior problems and the students also did better in their classes!

    I have been a substitute teacher for many years and I can always tell which students have had a lunch filled with things like purple fruit drink and cheetos, and which ones have had apple juice and carrot sticks. And I feel too much sugar isn’t great, but processed foods are worse. Maybe the food colorings and preservatives?

  2. Hi Adrienne! I read your articles on Essential Oils and really appreciated all the information that you provided. I became a user of essential oils about eight months ago and have had many life changing health benefits happen for myself, my family and friends. I found this article about how what we feed our children affect their behavior while searching for a vitamin supplement for my 4 1/2 year old son. We eat fairly healthy and avoid food coloring and extra sugar at all costs when it comes to my son but there are still some issues that he struggles with. I had started him on YL’s Kids multi vitamins and could see a difference in his overall attitude and behavior within a few weeks, however, they have been out of stock for weeks with no date yet for them to be back in stock. I was wondering if there was another vitamin that you could recommend that would be comparable to that. Most vitamins that you purchase at the stores have artificial sweeteners and food coloring. I live in an area where going to a whole foods market or health food store takes about two hours. Thank you for your help!!

    • Hi there. Thanks so much. Are you specifically looking for a multi? Do you think he isn’t getting good nutrition? This is one that I have heard good things about. (affiliate link) Does that help or sound like what you are looking for?

  3. Danielle says:

    I can not tell you how much food affects humans! My son was diagnosed with ADHD and we put him (and our daughter) on the Feingold Diet. It was like day and night with our son. He had more control of his body and mind. When I would adhere to the diet, I didn’t think I felt any different. That is, until I went OFF the diet. Then I would feel the difference, especially with headaches, which I never used to get. 2 1/2 years after we started the diet with our children, my son now has NO signs of hyperactivity. He sometimes still has a hard time focusing, but it’s usually with tough school subjects, which is hard to blame him for. This article/video is great information for people. Thank you!

  4. happy girlfriend says:

    I bet the children in the health foods group would have done even better if they had not been made to eat sandwiches along with the healthy foods. The ingredients list in the average loaf of bread is very long and very scary.

  5. Dr. Julia LaJoie says:

    There may be something to your study but it obviously is not double blinded and therefore introduces huge bias in everyone’s expectations and “observations” of behavior. I think you should continue to study this topic but hire a scientific researcher to help you design and analyze your data in a more objective and reproducible way. It’s more work but worth it for the credibility of your results.

  6. Adrienne, I would like to thank you first and foremost for the time intensive research. I’m imagining you, like many of us have had to find these changes out on your own because of behavioral issues that mainstream medicine would be alarmingly willing to offer medication for.
    Even though our eldest has a broader palate, the younger two are prone to reach for the junk that grammy brings with her. I read about the essential oils usage in another post of yours and I wonder-are there eo’s that can help with the sugary cravings? Obviously, trashing the junk is exactly what I need to do, but come a certain week of the month & I’M the one bringing the junk into house! (meno)PAUSing for a response… :-)

    • Hi and thanks for commenting. Here is the response from the oils company about cravings:

      Cinnamon Bark and Ginger Root helps curve cravings. Ginger Root settles the stomach and pH. Cinnamon Bark should specifically help with sugar cravings.

      Also, our Slim and Trim product is designed to curb cravings.

      I do think personally that getting the stuff out of the home and out of your diet is the way to go, of course. Have you tried some of the sugar alternatives in my recipes? On another related note, when I cut out caffeine I found PMS issues were decreased and NAN / RMO has a blend called Feminine Aid that I have heard / read great reviews about: (that’s an affiliate link).

      I hope this all helps!!

  7. I’m wanting to know once a child eats food with the dyes in it how much time (approx.) does it take for the behavior changes? Could it be 12-24 hour reaction time?

  8. Doesn’t this study seem like more of a case for Captain Obvious? You load kids up with sugar and junk food and they act out. Garbage in, garbage out.

  9. thank you for this information- I just wanted to comment that although I believe that what you feed your child does make a difference in their behaviour, I also think that kids are programmed a certain way from the beginning and that parenting also plays a big part in shaping childrens behaviour. I feed my children limited sugar, very little, if any, colour inane sodium benzoate and I think that my kids must be the ones in the % that still act up- maybe that says something about my parenting skills:( but I do believe there are other factors that contribute to the behaviour as well as what they eat.

    • Thanks for commenting. Of course there are many factors in parenting but there are other things besides sugar and color that can affect kids…like gluten, high glycemic fruits, etc. My son doesn’t do well on a lot of carbs and my other one on high glycemic fruits. Do your kids eat a lot of carbs / things like bananas, etc.?

      • Hi! Aware this is an old article, but I read it with interest when it came up on my newsfeed and just wanted to write a quick comment. I have a career in nutrition and dietetics, and feed my kids a very healthy diet, we don’t keep any junk food in the house and treats are minimal. My son’s 3.5 and for the past 10 months his behaviour has got progressively worse, to the point where I could no longer use toddler tantrums as an excuse and realised my parenting couldn’t be THAT bad. He was having meltdowns, highs and lows for the majority of his waking day, and aside from anything else, I felt so sorry for HIM and what it must feel like for HIM. 2 months ago I closely examined his healthy diet and stumbled across the link between ‘salicylates’ and behaviour – a chemical naturally occurring in many fruits and veg (look up Feingold diet if you’d like more info). I realised part of my son’s healthy diet was actually the cause of his poor behaviour. I cut out completely 2 of the worst culprits, tomatoes and apples and all foods containing tomatoes and apples – both very high salicylate foods. The results have been dramatic – he’s a completely different boy. The relationship between diet and behaviour is clearly complex and very individual.

        • Thanks for sharing that. I have looked at salicylates too, mainly for a friend, but also for my kids. Glad it’s worked so well for you and yes, it is closely related.

  10. I give my child junk food and he acts horribly a lot of times and I know that I know that I know MOST of it is his diet…kids definitely do have different personalities but I think this experiment and the results are legit…anyone who doesn’t think its about the food, I’m wondering why? Is it like a feeling guilty because you aren’t ready to change your eating habits? It’s hard I know but I’m going to try slowly…not feel guilt and shame but use this as a positive thing! If you don’t believe it, try a test at home!

  11. Hi,
    Could you send me the source of the study? Who exactly did it? Was it published? I’ve looked around but cant seem to find it… sorry if you did post it and I’m missing it.

  12. Michele Johnson says:

    I think it would have been interesting had you done the test twice, with the same children – but switched the kids in each group so it is reversed. The blue group eat what the yellow ate and visa versa

  13. I totally agree that food influences behavior – adults, too! But this seems to say that ADHD, Autism, etc behavioral disorders are caused by food. What about the child who eat a completely natural, allergen free diet who still displays outrageous, unsocial, violent, and delayed behavior? Isn’t it just the way some kids are?

  14. Jodi Horner says:

    I try so hard to feed my daughter real food–the biggest challenge is lunch. She won’t touch sliced fruit unless it’s *just* been sliced, so I can’t pre slice anything. She won’t eat it whole (like apples, etc.) She never touches raw veggies. She’s 8, and we’re making progress, little by little. I have come to accept that I cannot have it the way I’d like it with her right now but in time we’ll get there. All that to say, there’s definitely a difference in her behavior with increased amounts of sugar! And I”m all too aware that it’s in things like barbecue sauce and other secret places. It pains me, but I feel like if she’s getting the protein then some of the sauce for now is ok. We’re working on it, and I”m always introducing new Paleo dishes. She’s trying them at least.

  15. Can’t see this video. It says it has been blocked in my country for copyright reasons (UK)

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