Diet and Behavior

Updated on March 09, 2011
M.D. asks from Napa, CA
12 answers

My son has been having issues (defiance and anger) and I am considering changing his diet to see if there is any effect. I am starting with eliminating corn syrup. We are also doing other things to get to the root of the problem (reflection and talking through the issues, no "screen" time until it becomes less of a problem, makign sure he gets enough sleep and exercise, etc.). But we all need to eat a healthier diet anyway - sometimes when i get too busy we rely on prepackaged/preprepared food too much. So I am going to be making food in advance for busy days.

So I have 2 questions - does anyone have experience with the relationship between diet and behavior? And - good recipes? Need some things that can be made quickly but healthy and in bulk for leftovers.


So the behavior is not just when he is hungry. But he is 11 years old, which I know can be tough regardless of diet . I think a growth spurt is coming, but he is making pretty bad food choices, too. Mostly sweets, which is not the best fuel. He eats prtein pretty well, but not many veggies, and only some fruit when I push it.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Can only respond to the food ideas and tell you that kids DO get a bit hyper and crazy on junk food bonanza days.

Just try to eat as low on the food chain as you can--fruits, veggies, lean meat, dairy, etc. The less processed a food is, the lower on the food chain it can be found.

Breaded & baked boneless chicken tenderloins, meatloaf (make 2, freeze 1), homemade soups all go a long way to feeding a family.

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answers from Houston on

i am not as cranky when i eat protien and lots of it i have more energy too. is he trhrowing his fits only when he is hungry???? for some reason feeding a kid even a grown man will settle them down. he may be having a growth spurt and need more food.

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answers from Appleton on

There is a ton of evidence to support the idea that diet effects behavior. Way back in 1983 I did a college term paper on PMS and found out that a women's salt intake effects PMS greatly. So I really started reading up on diet and behavior back then and since. MSG is in most prepared food, it is a flavor enhancer so the company can use less quality ingedients and make the food tase as good if they used higher quality ingredients, thus raising profits.
MSG causes violent behavior in kids with ADD-ADHD or autisim. This can show as laying on the floor kicking and screaming at bedtime, jumping on furniture, tuning out Mom and yelling back ect. Not necessarily hitting and kicking at someone. Check out web sites dedicated to autisim, and other learning disabilitues. They have tons of info on how food effects kids.
Also watch his behavior if he gets too much dairy, yorgurt, is a big item for Austistics. It too makes them violent. It's a matter of doing your research and watching your child and taking out foods and adding them one at a time a few weeks apart until you get it all figured out.
One more thing on MSG in adults it can cause upset stomach, diarrhea, cramping leading to bloody diarrhea, personally when I eat MSG I feel like I am coming down with the flu for 3 days, sore muscles, tired, can't think straight ect. It can lead to anaphylactic shock, so it is nothing to mess with.
This is not easy and it takes time to transition from pre-packaged food to healthy food.

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answers from Honolulu on

All I have to say is:
Your son is a 'Tween."
Tweens are from 9-12 years old.
Changing hormones also occurs.
Developmentally, they are changing a ton.

A friend, who worked at a school said, at this age, she noticed a HUGE difference in the emotionality of the kids, at this age.

So, if you Google search "Tween Development" online, you can read articles about their changing emotions and development at this age. Which, knowledge about it, always helps.

As an aside: Does he drink sodas or soft drinks? Sodas, have caffeine in it. And is majorly, bad for kids. I read an article that said many kids are also drinking the super caffeinated drinks, from vending machines. Their systems, cannot take the caffeine quantities.

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answers from San Francisco on

Omigosh! Do I ever have experience with diet and behavior in my kids!

When my daughter was in 4th grade she was severely depressed - scarily so - and counseling wasn't helping. We were so lucky to discover a book called "Little Sugar Addicts" by Kathleen DesMaisons. It completely changed her life and, as a wonderful side-effect, the lives of the rest of the family as well. My son, in particular, can get quite surly when he doesn't eat right. When we follow the guidelines from this book, everybody stays happy and centered.

Interestingly, the program isn't centered on giving up sugar - in fact we haven't. It's about getting enough of the right foods at the right times. The dietary modifications are actually relatively simple, but can make a huge difference.

You can learn more about the program at to see if your son's symptoms fit this program (to me, it sounds like they do). There's also a really great Parent's support list where you can learn a lot and ask questions. Sometimes the author even answers questions!

Good luck!

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answers from Sacramento on

Why not start with his doctor first? I would be very careful about eliminating foods, adding vitamins and other strategies without medical guidance. You may also want to have him evaluated for medical issues that may be causing the behavior problems. I would definitely tap into the expertise of a physician and get a referral to a dietician who can tell you safe ways to modify his diet, if that is appropriate at all.

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answers from Chicago on

A few of my friends have done this and it helps but is not the cure all for some of the normal behavior kids will have :) How old is he? One of the culprits is Red dye #5. I would seek out a nutritionist who is experienced with an elimination diet so you are not going crazy as to what to keep in your pantry or what you need to buy.

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answers from Eugene on

I personally can't handle corn syrup, soft drinks are the worst, even the "natural" ones if they have high fructose corn syrup. It changes my personality, and not in a good way!

I need to eat protein and my two teen boys do, too. I keep all-natural, uncured hot dogs, cold cuts and chicken nuggets around for them to snack on. No preservatives or dyes. The fewer weird ingredients, the less you have to worry about.

I cook in bulk and so there are leftovers to snack on. For example, I'll bake 2 tri tips and slice them thin, or cook up a couple pounds of ground turkey. The leftovers can go in the fridge or freezer and be heated up with some refried beans and cheese on a tortilla.

For fruit, my boys will eat it if when it's prepped and ready to eat. So I scoop melon balls, slice apples or wash and set the grapes out for lunch. If it's there and ready, they will eat it. If they have to wash, peel or cut the fruit, it sits uneaten in the fridge. Oh well.... My boys also will also eat fruit if it's in a smoothie. I buy the large bags of frozen strawberries, raspberries and blueberries and blend them with a banana and some yogurt.

Vegies are a little more difficult but we eat them every day. I've noticed they take the minimum amount when I cook frozen vegies, but the last time I saute'd fresh baby spinach it all got eaten up. So this summer I'll be experimenting more when the farmers market comes to town.

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answers from Las Vegas on

My son is sensitive to sugar so I try to limit it as much as possible. Also, I try to stay clear of artificial colors and perservatives because they are supposed to cause problems with hyperactivity and attentional issues. Not all kids are reactive to sugar and synthetic chemicals but some are. My son was also on the gfcf diet for a couple of years but what I found most helpful about it is that it seemed to alleviate his digestive issues.

I think, as far as cooking goes, just try to keep things simple when you first begin. An example of a really good dinner menu would be:

Chicken roasted with olive oil and herbs
Carrots, onions and sweet potatoes roasted in the same pan as the chicken
Rice or quinoa made made with part chicken broth, part water mixture

Another healthy dinner menu could be

Broiled salmon coated with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper
Steamed broccoli
Roasted potatoes

I've found the Joy of Cooking cookbook to be a really good resource of recipes for someone who wants to learn how to cook food using fresh ingredients. Also,,, and Some of the recipes can be kind of ambitious but they do have a lot of recipes that are very simple but a new way of cooking food.

Good luck.

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answers from Williamsport on

Sometimes food makes things more challenging due to hyper activity from sugar, or bad nerve reactions from chemicals and colors. To an extent. But I know lots of kids (myself included when we were young) who still had to follow rules regardless of what we ate. Food can play a part in over all health, but it can't replace discipline. My kids definitely have more energy and shorter fuses after a birthday party where they've had junk, but it's not license to forget what they know. They just have to run it off and crash. They don't act any different discipline wise.

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answers from Cleveland on

Just you sit down together as a family and eat meals? If you don't do that, I'd suggest you make it a family habit today. It sounds like he doesn't have to eat all the food that you make, since you say he doesn't really eat veggies.

If you make a healthy dinner and have everyone sit down together, he should be eating veggies, fruit, lean proteins, etc. That way, you can really see what he's putting in his mouth. Pack him a nice, healthy lunch to bring to school as well. School cafeteria food is notoriously high in salt, fat, and additives.

By the way, if you do go through with this experiment (sounds like a good one), make sure you get rid of all the junk food in the house. He won't be very willing to give up junk food if you (or his sister or his father) are still eating it. Make it a family commitment. I wish you luck!

For tips on simple cooking, try this website:

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answers from San Francisco on

Hi M., Yes diet, poor sleep and lack of nutrition all plays a roll on the behavior. I show individuals how to make healthy snacks and better sleep habits. If you want more info email me and I can share some ideas with you.

Have a good day.

N. Marie

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