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?

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:

http://foodhospital.channel4.com/The-Truth-About/pixie-investigates/series-2-episode/party-food-series-2-ep-6/

*** 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”

Conclusion

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

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  1. I read a blog about a year ago stating that some schools are banning children bringing their own lunches/snacks to school. so the children are forced to eat what the school provided for them. The only way they would be allowed to bring lunch was if they had a doctors note stating they had a specific food allergy. Has anyone else heard this?

  2. Kim Garcia says:

    Growing up in the mid 70’s my younger sister was placed on The Feingold Diet which eliminated all preservatives, additives and coloring (ex: BHT/BHA) from food for ADHD. Believe it or not, sugar was not one of the forbidden ingredients. In fact, without all the other additives, it wasn’t associated with causing hyperactivity. My sister consumed sugar on a regular basis in moderation and never had outbursts of hyperactivity. However, it was always apparent when she did deviate from the Feingold Diet because it was as if she was on speed. If I was not a witness to how evident this diet works I may be skeptical but it worked from the time she was a toddler thru her adolescent years. She is 40 years old now and and far more healthy because of the healthier diet she ate. She no longer needs the Feingold Diet but continues to make healthier choices. I only wish my mother insisted that I do the Feingold Diet growing up as well but at the time it was costly. I do make these choices for my family now.

    • That’s fascinating. I am dealing w/ having to re evaluate my oldest’s diet. And my own. He is having recurring issues now and it’s hard. Clearly this all matters. Thank you!

  3. We LOVE this kind of information & would encourage parents to pay very close attention! “Move more! Eat less! Milk is for babies! Fowl is foul! Pork is for Porkers! Sugar is poison! If it isn’t organically grown, the suicide is included at the checkout!” ~mikewondoctrine~

  4. Beth Husom says:

    Thank you for this article regarding sugar and behavior. My 3 year old boy is normally very easy but can be a holy terror; kicking, tantrums, yelling, crying… Almost always, I trace it to food. I check out daycare’s lunch that day, ask his teacher their am/pm snacks, and see if my parents gave him a treat if they picked him up. It’s hidden sugar; high fructose corn syrup, etc. that gets us, and sugar in completely inappropriate foods, like tomato soup, milk, bread and ketchup for instance. I know many articles and official studies do not find evidence of sugar and behavior, but I will testify before a grand jury that sugar matters. We make homemade bread without sugar, drink whole milk, and get food with the lowest possible sugar possible. However, his daycare provider said it’s state law they give children skim milk, which contains sugar. Maybe if parents and teachers keep making noise our food will get healthier!

    • I say, “testify” :). We need to get the word out about this. Skim milk has added sugar? Are you sure it’s not the sugar that’s naturally in milk? Thanks so much!