5 foods that negatively affect your child’s mood

Parents intuitively know that food can impact their child’s behavior and mood. We know that sweets, for example, can cause bouts of hyperactivity. But mood-altering food isn’t limited to sugar – there are other culprits in the snacks and meals that we feed our little ones. The following five foods are the most common contributors to mood and behavioral changes in children.

Sugar + artificial sweeteners

Kids love a big bag of candy. According to a research, the average child under 12 typically consumes around 49 pounds of sugar each year. We know that sugar is linked to conditions such as diabetes, but what about mood?

When consuming an excess of sugar, this often leads to highs and lows regarding one’s blood glucose levels. This roller coaster effect can actually accentuate mood disorder symptoms. There are a number of theories regarding sugar’s impact on key hormones, but inflammation also plays a significant role.

More importantly, while focusing on children, high-sugar diets affect proteins that are needed for optimal brain development. In comparison, as per one study, when given a breakfast low in sugar and high in fiber, children can not only experience improved mood, but also improve their short-term memory and attention span at school. So next time you are tempted to give your child a sugary snack to keep them busy at home or quiet in their car seat, just say no.

What you can do:

• Significantly reduce your child’s intake of candy, soda, processed baked goods, concentrated juices, ketchup, and other high-sugar foods.

• Swap white and even ‘whole wheat’ bread for low-processed, sprouted whole grain alternatives.

• Trade instant oatmeal for rolled oats.

• Eat more fresh fruit (avoiding fruit in syrup).

• Always pay attention to nutrition labels.


Lactose intolerance is nothing new, and if your child is, in fact, allergic to the proteins found in dairy, their mood may be affected. If this is the case, you may notice that your child is fairly irritable or even aggressive. They are also often more prone to common colds and ear infections.

The protein in dairy products, known as casein, is hard for the human body to digest. After reaching the gut, receptors react by creating antibodies. This causes the immune system to kick into high gear, leading to increased stress within the body. It has even been reported that when consuming more dairy, symptoms of autism worsen.

What you can do:

• Reduce your child’s intake of heavily processed dairy products.

• Eat more non-dairy sources of calcium, B-vitamins, and vitamin D, such as kale, mushrooms, broccoli, coconut yogurt, sardines, quality Greek yogurt, oats, and collards.

Refined grains

Just like sugar, refined grains directly influence brain health. As inflammation increases, your mental health is directly impacted. The consumption of refined grains is known to produce inflammation of the gut, and since about 95 per cent of serotonin (your ‘happy’ hormone) is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, this can lead to mood issues.

While studying the effects of refined carbs on health, one study found a clear link between refined grains and a higher risk of depression. In comparison, those who consumed more whole grains and produce, exhibited a lower risk. Instead of feeding your child processed foods and white bread, opt for steel-cut oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, fruits and vegetables.

What you can do:

• Swap refined grains for whole grains. A whole grain will include the bran, endosperm and germ – whereas refined grains only include the endosperm.

• Eliminate white bread and pasta, as well as other foods made with ‘enriched white flour.’

• Opt for wild rice, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, barley, and even air-popped popcorn.

Fast food

Kids most certainly recogniSe the ‘big M’ – but what are these foods doing to their health? When regularly consuming fast food, children can essentially get ‘addicted’ to this high-calorie diet. After eating a burger and fries, they likely experience a rush of dopamine – activating the brain’s reward system.

Children who eat fast food on a regular basis, are likely deficient in key nutrients. Unlike children who get plenty of antioxidants (from fruits and vegetables) and healthy fats (from wild-caught, cold-water fish), those who suffer from deficiencies, instantly increase their risk of depression, as well as sleep disturbances and poor digestion.

What you can do:

• Replace fast food with wholesome, home-cooked meals. You can eat well while managing your budget and time.

Any processed food

While focusing on the issues above, whether it be a high-sugar or high-fat diet, these problems can be traced back to processed foods. It’s well understood that processed foods lack the type of nutrition both children and adults require – and are also often packed with trans fats.

Unlike the type of healthy fat that comes from olive oil or nuts, trans fat has been linked to a range of health complications. Within one study, it was found that trans fat consumption led to a 48 per cent increase in depression. The researchers concluded that both depression and cardiovascular disease may share common nutritional determinants, based on subtypes of fat.