Are you struggling with your child’s behavior and feel like you have tried everything? Maybe you have heard about how diet can affect behavior, but you are not sure where to begin? Before we share 5 clever diet changes to improve behavior, we need to understand how diet and behavior are connected.
The connection between the gut and the brain is called the gut-brain axis. There are approximately 100million neurons in an average brain and approximately 500million in the average gut. The Vagus nerve is a key pathway between the gut and the brain. It is responsible for carrying neurotransmitters between the brain and the gut. Neurotransmitters are what help the brain and body communicate.
Serotonin is an important brain neurotransmitter. It is believed to be responsible for affecting appetite, emotions, mood, sleep, cognitive, and motor functions. Approximately 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut along with many other neurotransmitters.
What you eat can affect the production and use of the neurotransmitters in your gut. Having a diet with healthy foods can support gut health. A healthy gut = a healthy mind and better behavior!
So how do we improve the production of neurotransmitters and have a healthy gut? Here are five clever diet tips that can help improve behavior.
In this instance, we are discussing added sugar, not the natural sugar found in fruits. Removing sugar from your diet may seem overwhelming, but it absolutely can be done. When you start to notice how much sugar is in many different foods, you may realize that you had no idea how high you (or your child’s) daily sugar consumption actually was.
The brain uses sugar for energy, but too much sugar has been shown to decrease thinking skills and behavior skills such as self-control. Too much sugar has also been linked to an increase in depression and anxiety. The World Health Organization recommends less than 5% of daily calories come from sugar, yet many Americans consume more than twice that amount.
You can begin to eliminate sugar by swapping sugary drinks for water, and using fresh fruit to add flavor. You can also read the labels for the sugar content on any pre-packed foods, dips, or sauces (where sugar can easily hide).
Not all processed foods are bad for you as processing involves cooking, canning, freezing, or dehydrating. However, some of these processes can reduce the nutrient value as well as introduce things that you do not need into your diet. You will want to reduce processed foods with the following:
Refined grains: When grains are “refined” this involves a process of milling the grain. The process of milling removes important nutrients from the grain.
Added Sugar: As we discussed earlier, added sugar can have negative effects on health and behavior.
Sodium: Many processed foods have added sodium in order to preserve the food. This can lead to an increase in health challenges such as high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Trans Fats: Processed foods often have trans fats which have been found to negatively affect heart health.
Artificial dyes: the CDC has studied the literature related to food dyes and did find that some children with ADHD could be hypersensitive to food dyes and it could affect behavior.
Preservatives: Common preservatives such as BHT and BHA have been found to be endocrine disruptors, and these are often found in pre-packaged foods.
Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and protein sources such as lean meats and fish are important for brain development. These foods provide nutrients that the brain and body need in order to develop and support regulated behavior.
If your child is a picky eater and does not choose to eat fruits and vegetables, there are some ways that you can turn this into a habit.
Try adding a fruit or a vegetable to each meal or snack. They do not have to eat the new food, but leaving on the plate they may eventually try it and begin to eat it.
In addition, you can try and add fruits or vegetables into foods that your child is already comfortable eating. For example, adding fruit into yogurt, adding vegetables into mashed potatoes, or even making a smoothie. Finally, some children find it more “fun” to eat with some dips or sauces.
Foods that have omega-3 fats are an excellent choice to improve behavior. This is because omega-3 fats help support the signals that connect the brain and the body. EPA is a type of Omega-3 that has been shown in research to stabilize moods and improve concentration.
Magnesium is also important because it has been shown through research to be connected to aggressive behavior. If the magnesium levels were too low, there was an increase in offensive aggressive behavior.
Some foods that contain Omega-3 fats are fish such as mackerel and salmon, as well as walnuts and flaxseeds. Flaxseeds are easy to sneak into a fruit and veggie smoothie as well. Some magnesium-rich foods are dark chocolate, almonds, whole grains, avocado, and bananas.
As we discussed above, many chemicals may mimic or interfere with hormone production in the body. These chemicals are called endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are found throughout the environment in plastic bottles and containers, food cans, cosmetics, receipts, toys, detergents, foods, and pesticides. These chemicals have been shown to affect mood and behavior and cause developmental and immune issues.
You can avoid endocrine disruptors by reducing your use of plastic products, carefully selecting personal care products such as shampoos and body wash, and using glass and stainless cookware and storage.
Diet can be an important part of a behavior modification plan, but it is just one step. To learn more about behavior and what you can to do change it download our FREE Behavior Bootcamp HERE, or take our FREE Mini-Course to learn more HERE.