Response to Doubters - Still Don't Think Food Affects Behavior? Read This.

Does Food Affect Behavior? Wondering if there is any science to prove that there is? Check out this post to find out.

In a Whole New Mom guest post called Think Food Doesn’t Affect Behavior? You’ve Got to Read This, I suggested that food may affect your child’s behavior more than you think. The post resonated with many parents and has been shared over 400,000 times. Some weren’t convinced. This post is for skeptical moms and dads who have kids with behavioral problems.

Dear Mom. Dear Dad.

Your child is suffering.

Her child’s unfocused mind prevents her from learning.

 child’s struggling brain drives him to tantrums, fights, and meltdowns.

Play dates have made way for sessions with:
- psychologists
- tutors
- psychiatrists, and
- the school principal.

This isn’t a happy situation.

I suggested that your child’s problems might lessen or disappear if you adopt a diet based on real food.

Your response: where’s the science?

You wanted:

- double blind tests
- a larger number of subjects
- more facts and figures.

You claimed that my evidence was anecdotal.

First of all, you’re right. The evidence was indeed anecdotal, but I don’t think anecdotal is a dirty word.

Why Anecdotal Evidence Is Not Always Bad

Consider the tragic story of Ignaz Semmelweiss, a Hungarian doctor practicing in Vienna in the 1840s.

I admit to being just a little obsessed with this piece of medical history.

Distressed at the shockingly high rate of childbed fever in his maternity clinic, he set out to discover the cause. He had a hunch that doctors who performed autopsies and went directly to the delivery rooms to assist birthing mothers might be somehow infecting their patients. To test his theory, he instructed his staff to wash their hands in chlorinated lime before delivering babies.

The results?

The mortality rate dropped dramatically.

April 1847 –18.3% death rate

(He started his hand-washing protocol mid-May)

June 1847 – 2.2% death rate

July 1847 – 1.2% death rate

August 1847 – 1.9% death rate

Dr. Semmelweis produced anecdotal evidence demonstrating that morbidity and mortality rates plunged drastically when doctors washed their hands before attending to their patients.

- Without hand-washing, the mortality rate was high.

- After washing hands, the mortality rate went down.

- They stopped washing their hands and deaths increased again.

The same thing happened in Hungary when he instituted hand-washing in another hospital.

You don’t need to perform complex statistical analyses to see that his protocol saved lives, and many of them.

You’d think that doctors in the Vienna General Hospital, as well as physicians around the country (and around the world), would embrace his protocol.

You’d be wrong.

Semmelweis postulated that invisible particles were causing childbed fever.

With Pasteur’s discoveries about bacteria still two decades away, critics labeled Semmelweiss’ theories as ungrounded.

They lacked robust scientific proof. The medical community basically said his ideas were hogwash.

Who knows how many thousands upon thousands of women might have been saved over those next few decades before antiseptic techniques became accepted practice, had they only accepted the anecdotal evidence?  

But no--women kept dying.

So Mom, do I have scientific proof that will satisfy you?

Well yes, there is some, such as this study on the effects of food on children’s behavior published in the highly prestigious Lancet - though probably not enough to convince you that this real food diet can help.

But I don’t think we need studies by scientists with degrees and lab coats to let parents know that it’s ok to feed their kids real food.

The REAL Need for Scientific Evidence

The onus of proof, if it lies anywhere, is on Eggbeaters®--not on the egg.

It’s on the frozen chicken nuggets--not the roast chicken dinner.

It’s on the industrialized margarine--not on farm fresh butter.

So my question is: If eating a clean diet with no food colorings or other chemical additives, a diet lower in sugar and higher in healthy, traditional fats might cure your child, why not just give it a try?

What are you afraid of?

This much I know: Not every learning disability or behavioral problem is caused by food; however, some are 100% caused by food.

Our old friend, anecdotal evidence, shows that for some kids, their problems disappear completely once they adopt a paleo diet. Click to learn what a paleo diet is. This is to say that deep down these kids don’t even have learning disabilities or behavioral issues.

Is this the case for your child? The only way you’ll know is to try.

And if it doesn’t help, you can always go back to the cognitive and behavioral therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists, Ritalin and Adderoll.

These options aren’t going anywhere. They’ll still be available.

But how sad to go this route if your kid is one of those for whom a dietary change would make the problem simply disappear.

 Do YOU think food affects behavior? Why or why not?

Ruth Almon of Paleo Diet Basics

Ruth is a big fan of the whole foods paleo diet, having regained her health after decades of living with chronic fatigue syndrome.

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77 Comments

  1. The global manufacturers of food are under increasing pressure to make food: taste better, look better and last longer. And they can by adding artificial additive, food coloring and preservatives.
    Unfortunately the by-product of squeezing all this rubbish in, results in increased behavioral issues in most children. But don't panic, their friends the pharmaceutical industry have come to the rescue to provide relief in the form of ADHD medication. Please don't complain its a win win, for two of our largest global industries. And the fact that its not discussed is disgusting. Well Done.

    1. You are exactly right. Thanks for commenting and for reading. It's all terrible. And adults are having issues too!

  2. great articles! thanks for posting. our family is very nutrition conscious -- including as many whole, real foods, fruits, veggies and good sources of protein as possible. gluten free, pretty much sugar free but we allow the kids to choose 2 days where they can have something sweet (of their choice) after they eat dinner. we've taught the kids to read labels and look at sugar content. they turned down a bottle of some juice that was given to them because it was 57 grams of sugar (albeit fruit sugar). 57 grams! They are generally both very good kids, good behavior, super focused and do really well in school when peers who eat much differently are really struggling with behavior and focus issues. Anyway...one day, we were traveling and sightseeing and we hadn't eaten dinner yet but came to a dessert place that everyone has to visit when you are visiting. I decided to let the kids eat ice cream without eating dinner because I'm always the one to say no and I didn't want to be that person and wanted to see what would happen. It was against my better judgement but we did it. BIG MISTAKE! My 4 year old was an absolute mess. Crying, screaming, lying on the table, really mad, fist pounding. My 8 year old was not too happy either but wasn't as much of a mess. Regardless of wether the study was "perfect", or anecodotal, or written in a journal, it is suggestive that what we put into our bodies, really matters. I'd love to see more studies but I already see the benefits at home so I don't need to see them to make changes. Thanks Adrienne for your website and posting all the information that you do.

    1. You are so welcome. And yes, we have the same problems if we let up. I can't let up on my own diet much either. Thanks for reading!

    2. I share the same sediments when it come to nutrition. Our extended family thinks we are a bunch of food Nazis, but without watching our children's nutrition, they turn into monsters. Last day of school, I decided to bike with the kids to the local ice cream shop for ice cream before dinner, since I too normally say no. I thought maybe the kids had outgrown the chaos that would ensue when we ate sweets without anything else in oyt bellies. Low and behold both kids had complete and utter meltdowns out of the blue. Crying screaming yelling hitting. Wow! Good lesson for all of us!

  3. I'm in total agreement with this article. My oldest has had a whole host of issues, finally leading to a classification with an Emotional Disorder and an iep. He had many tests as a young boy swallow study, therapy, allergy testing... Everything we could think of to explain his eating problems. He began losing foods and at the age of 2 was eating about 12 foods. He began having horrible behavior and fits. This has gone on and on... He is now 10 and having issues making it through a school day without seeing his counselor or special discussions with his teacher. This summer I felt like I had to do something, I took him off of gluten and within a couple weeks he looked better, smiled more, took time to ask siblings to stop doing something without screaming. He is becoming the sweet boy that he used to be. He still has a limited diet, but he is trying. For the first time since kindergarten I am excited to see how he does in school. I will keep him off gluten and he agrees that he feels and thinks better than before. I am certain without a doubt that food can be the enemy.

    1. Wow. So glad to hear how much better he is doing! Yes, it makes me sick that so many don't see the connection. To this and to toxins in our environment and on our bodies and in our foods. It is just common sense that they can affect us negatively. Hope to see you around again!

    2. Go Vegan Whole Foods, Plant Based, high percentage raw, as organic as possible, with a good amount of calories and variety, and watch the behavior problems melt away. Guaranteed. My kids are ages 6, 5, and 4, Vegan from birth. They are bright, active, and funny! Landon, the one who just turned 5 recently, just ran 3 laps around the track (3/4 of a mile). You are avoiding many potential prion diseases, animal saturated fat (which are long chain fatty acids that do not flush out of the body, unlike plant saturated fats, which are medium chain and do) and unnecessary dietary cholesterol, IGF-1 (which causes cancer cells to grow like crazy), animal protein, cortisol (fear chemical that ironically degrades protein), toxins and dioxins (which accumulate up the food chain), endotoxins, and potential carriers of disease and cancerous lesions when you avoid animal flesh. 99% of the animals deemed livestock on this planet are factory farmed, including the ones called "organic", USDA Census of Agriculture 2014 fact. The label "organic" only means what they are fed: it has nothing to do with what conditions the animals are raised in or how they are treated. There are zero federal laws protecting farmed animals. There is nothing one can do to a cow in the U.S. that one can be prosecuted for. Humane eggs and dairy are a myth.

      Please see: "Dairy is Scary!" on Youtube, by Erin Janus and "The Truth About Eggs"

      Another great one: "Uprooting the leading causes of death", by Dr. Michael Greger MD, and the studies presented. Funny and informative! https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=uprooting+the+leading+causes+of+death

      Highly recommended: http://www.challenge22.com

      To connect with me and see some of my meal plans in notes, please see my profile: (link removed by blog owner)

      1. Hi there.

        I really appreciate your input to the conversation. I do, however, think that there are humane treatment of animals. Have you seen the Temple Grandin movie? Would you not approve of some of the smaller farms in the US where they really strive to treat animals well? I actually was and do lean vegan in a lot of ways, but I think that some people seem to need animal foods in their diets. Have you looked into that?

        Sorry but I removed your Facebook link as I don't allow people to self-promote using my platform. Thanks for your understanding.

  4. This is an absolutely brilliantly written piece. Congratulations on being so forthright and determined to show there is another way. xo

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Bel. Wish I could take credit for it but I will pass on the comment. Hope to see you around again!

  5. Fantastic article! Foods also affect adults. But I have realized that talking to people about their food is nearly impossible. They have to be at a point of desperation it seems before they will make any changes.
    Things that affect me:
    GLUTEN - depression, anxiety, panic attacks, feelings of low self-worth, negativity,.....
    CAFFEINE - (the after effects) grouchy, negativity, heart palpitations, hateful
    SUGAR - I turn into a bear (and not a cuddly one)
    SOY - inflammation
    NIGHT SHADES - inflammation (mostly tomatoes and peppers)

    How sad that our food has become so tainted. Thank you for the article. I will definitely be sharing it.

    1. Yes, you are right. But sometimes even at the desperation point folks won't change. I have some people like that in my life right now.

      Take care. I wish you well and hope to see you around again!

  6. Amen! Both my boys have several food triggers that set them off emotionally. My 8 year old is a big help with saying what it feels like. When he is shaking and crying and can't control himself, he knows he doesn't like it. It makes him careful not to cross contaminated as he hates feeling out of contro.

    1. I know - those ads are a bit of a problem. We are always trying to figure out what to do about them b/c they help pay the bills. I have applied to some companies that have more whole foodie ads, but they haven't been very fruitful. Thanks for your understanding :).

  7. For the last ten years my work with children and adults who have mood/behaviour swings has 'evolved' so much so that I have written a user friendly, realistic guide to enable parents carers and individuals to have enough knowledge to identify and easily avoid just 4 food additives in their diet. Sadly people tend to use famous name brands thinking they are buying the best, when in fact all they need to do is change the brand which can often be cheaper, I have also tracked all the research that has taken place over the last ten years, regarding concern over food coloring's there is in fact a voluntary ban in this country and if they are still in food or drink there has to be a warning on the label. Very often research is 'inconclusive', because it is very much about the cocktail effect, which is well documented in my book The Additive Puzzle. The big concern now is the pressure on Manufacturers to reduce sugar in products, unfortunately the sweeteners (such as Aspartame) being used to supplement sugar are not only causing mood/behavior problems in children and adults alike, they also cause a long list of health issues, just Google aspartame side affects it says it all.

  8. Sorry, but your story about Ignaz Semmelweiss is actually not an anecdote at all. Having a theory of why the infection was happening, changing the conditions by adding the hand-washing protocol, then tracking the results is the very definition of scientific evidence. Just because it wasn't immediately widely accepted doesn't make it anecdotal.

  9. The article that this links of suggests the 'experiment' was preformed in Britain but the link on this page is to a study completed in the Netherlands and Belgium. Is there a reason why you don't have a link to the British paper that should've resulted from the experiment?

  10. I love you ! Thanks for encouraging some common sense thinking. It's just too bad that there are SO many people who against that ! FYI , there was at least one Doctor who worked on the civil war battlefield who came to a similar conclusion. He washed his hands/instruments between amputations and lo & behold....HIS patients died less frequently than other Dr's. Of course he was ridiculed for it, but he kept on, and actually saved some lives. Who says only kids are bullies ?