As a practicing Naturopath for the last 18 years,  I have seen how the power of food can influence one’s health physically and mentally/emotionally.

Today I’m going to share with you information about Nutrition, the effect food can have on children’s behavior, the growing number of food sensitivities that I am seeing and also a method I use at VITAL HEALTH to measure for food sensitivities.

Before I get into Can Food Affect Children’s Behavior? Let’s see how our bodies work and how it can affect the mind.

The brain, like every other organ in the body is totally dependent on the bloodstream for oxygen and nutrients and on the lymph for removal of waste products. The condition of the blood and lymph is in turn dependant on what the blood collects from the intestines and on the condition of the organs of elimination. What is in our intestines depends, in turn, on what we put in our mouths. So there is a distinct connection between diet and the mind.

Keeping the blood and lymph clean are the organs of elimination namely the liver, kidneys, skin and lungs.

The liver is one of the most over-worked organs in the body because it has to process all the fat, protein and carbohydrate we eat and to also detoxify all the chemicals that we consume or inhale, including air pollutants, pesticides, food additives, drugs, alcohol and so on. If the liver is overwhelmed by the demands placed upon it, metabolic wastes and man-made chemicals begin to accumulate in the body and there develops a state of internal pollution.

The filters become clogged and you become acidic and the biggest contributor to acidity is the modern diet and stress which is another lecture in itself.

We can measure acidity using PH and also testing urine samples and in all the saliva and urine samples that I have tested, there have only been a handful that have been alkaline or non-toxic. What’s more disturbing is that our kids are already polluted and testing as acidic from an early age.


There are many aspects relating to food that can affect children’s behavior. Factors such as meal skipping, allergies and food intolerances can all impact on behavior.

In past decades, there has been a change in our food supply with an increasing number of processed foods. Processed foods fit in with busy lifestyles. Packaged foods are often an inclusion in some children’s schools. Many of these foods contain artificial colours and preservatives, which are thought to cause many behavioural problems and also exacerbate conditions such as eczema and asthma.

Food intolerances are usually due to wheat, gluten, dairy, preservatives/colours even fructose but I find the main culprit is SUGAR.

Before I discuss Sugar, food intolerances can cause feelings of tiredness and mood change. Children can become irritable and restless and guess what Adults just get ROAD RAGE. Common behavioural problems include irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbances and are more common than hyperactivity.

In the clinic, we see lots of kids and adults with food intolerances but the biggest culprit in children’s behaviour would have to be sugar, or refined carbohydrates.

What I am seeing and no matter what the age in the child, is that each child displays the following characteristics:

  • An almost fanatical sugar or carbohydrate addiction
  • Signs and symptoms of rapidly fluctuating blood sugar levels
  • Adrenal Imbalance
  • Multiple food sensitivities
  • A pathological aversion to fresh salads and vegetables.

Let’s have a look at what happens when you eat too much sugar. When we consume a large amount of concentrated sugar, the pancreas invariably over-reacts and releases too much insulin, removing not only the excess sugar from the blood, but some of the normal level as well. This is because the pancreas “panics” when confronted by very high levels of sugar. With blood sugar below the fasting level, the person craves sugar and reaches for another sweet snack, and the cycle of high blood sugar, followed by depressed blood sugar is repeated all over again. If this goes on day after day, year after year, the pancreas eventually becomes super sensitive to sugar and reacts to even a small amount in the diet. The person has more or less permanent low level of blood sugar known as HYPOGLYCAEMIA. Now because the brain is totally dependant on a minute-by-minute supply of blood sugar(or glucose) it instantly suffers when the blood sugar level drops and is almost driven crazy, resulting in fatigue and emotional chaos.

Mental symptoms may include fatigue, irritability, nervousness, depression, crying spells, dizziness, faintness, insomnia, mental confusion, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, anxiety, phobias and fears, headaches and disruptive outbursts. Common physical symptoms are cold hands and feet and cold sweats.

The hypoglycaemic reaction is particularly severe if a lot of sugar is consumed on an empty stomach because there is  no other food to delay absorption. A recent study in a Journal of Paediatrics found that giving children a sweet snack (say 2 cans of cola or equivalent) on an empty stomach, triggers an adrenalin rush which may make them shaky, excited, anxious and have difficulty concentrating.

So regular very high sugar intake can cause a range of behavioural symptoms, including depression, hyperactivity and anti-social behaviour.

Did you know that refined sugar consumption has risen over the last 200 years from about 5 to 10 gms per day to the current level in Australia of around 130gms per day.

So the key to preventing and reversing this hypoglycaemia is to replace high-glycaemic index foods with low glycaemic index foods.

High GI foods-in descending order-include glucose, white bread, honey, cornflakes, refined sugar, chocolate bars, white rice and jam.

Low GI foods include brown rice, wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta, Oatmeal, whole rye bread, unsweetened fruit juice, fresh fruit, lentils, chickpeas and fresh veggies.

These complex carbohydrates contain fibre which slows the rate of absorption of sugar.

I believe different diseases like ADD, hypoglycaemia, hyperactivity, learning difficulties etc are simply different manifestations of a brain that is literally driven crazy by large quantities of sugar and other processed foods, food additives other chemicals and possibly additional lifestyle factors.


  1. Unhealthy snacks and confectionery

Many of the snacks commonly eaten by children and adolescents, such as chips and lollies, are high in kj and provide very few useful nutrients. They also contain high salt and fat.

  1. Too much takeaway food

Again high in fat, sugar excess kj

  1. Skipping meals

Many teens tend to skip meals, particularly breakfast resulting in poor concentration and fatigue during the morning as well as hunger which results in poor food choice/unhealthy snacking later on.

  1. Consumption of sugary drinks

This includes soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and cordial again high in sugar and low in nutritional value.

  1. Too early consumption of alcohol

Teens are susceptible to marketing of alcohol and peer pressure to drink. Many binge drink on weekends which can lead to liver damage and added kjs.

  1. Dieting

Concerns about body image and thinness means overzealous dieting by many girls and therefore low levels of intake of certain nutrients especially Iron, Calcium, Zinc, Vitamins A and C. It also sets the scene for the diet-binge cycle which can become an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.

The next topic I would like to discuss is the effect of FOOD INTOLERANCES on health.

First though we must distinguish the difference between food allergies and food intolerances.

Food AllergiesFood Intolerances
Immune reactionNon immune reaction
Usually begins as infant or toddlerCan develop at any age
Symptoms can be mild to life threatening and include swelling, itching, hives, breathing difficulties and anaphylaxisSymptoms can be mild to severe including hives, irritable bowel
Immediate onset of symptoms-minute to one hourDelayed onset of symptoms-1/2 hour to 72 hours
Symptoms occur every timeSymptoms don’t always occur-there is a level of tolerance
Can be diagnosed with skin/blood testsCan be difficult to diagnose although CEDS and elimination diets very useful
Usually involve only a few foods. Common foods causing allergies are milk, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, wheat, gluten, soy, fish/seafoodMay involve large number of foods-natural and added chemicals

Food intolerances can cause feelings of tiredness and mood changes. Children can become irritable and restless and any existing behavioural problems can be aggravated. Common behavioural problems include irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbances and are more common than hyperactivity.

Many foods contain chemicals; many of these are naturally occurring preservatives, colours and flavor enhancers.

Food intolerance is a reaction to a food, or a food chemical-whether naturally occurring like salicylates, amines, glutamate, MSG or artificially added(eg. Preservatives, colours, flavours)

People who are sensitive to natural food chemicals are also very likely to be sensitive to food additives such as artificial colours, flavours and added preservatives. Children’s behavior is most likeky to be affected by Sugar, Salicylates, Preservatives and colours.

Examples of foods with high salicylates are:

  • Tomatoes and tomato products, gerkin, button mushrooms, radish, olives, capsicum/cucumber
  • Dried fruits, most berries, oranges, apricot, rockmelons, plums
  • Sweet foods such as honey, licorice, peppermints, chewing gum.
  • Examples of foods with high amine content are: Bananas and Cheese

Foods with high MSG include mushrooms, tomatoe and tomatoe products, strong cheese and yeast extracts.

Food reactions are dose dependant meaning that a small amount of the food may not cause a reaction, but eating small amounts regularly can cause a build-up of the food chemical and the symptoms develop after a few days.

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Domenic Pisanelli

Domenic Pisanelli is a qualified Naturopath and has helped hundreds of people regain their health back as an experienced naturopath with over 18 years of clinical experience.