This chocolate bar can create a sugar high.

Foods That Negatively Affect a Toddler's Behavior & Mood

by Maggie McCormick

When your little one starts acting out or just seems a little off, it's natural to want to look for the reason and do what you can to fix the problem. Food seems like an easy target, especially if you've been handing out food that isn't the healthiest. Medical studies don't always show a clear cause-and-effect relationship when it comes to food and behavior. Mom knows best, though, and if you've seen behavior problems after eating certain foods, maybe it's time to eliminate those foods.

Sugary Foods

The idea that sugar leads to hyperactivity followed by an energy drop is prevalent in society. Perhaps you've even experienced it yourself -- you eat a candy bar, feel energized and then crash an hour later. Giving your child candy or other foods that contain refined sugars, such as cereals, granola bars or even yogurt, might ay cause your child to bounce off the walls. Studies show that this is true for some people, according to MedlinePlus, but the effects are not nearly as far-reaching as some might think. Still, you could experiment with your child by removing sugary foods to see how he responds.

Artificial Flavors and Colorings

Dr. Benjamin Feingold is an allergist who noticed that many ADHD-like behavior problems went away when children were placed on a strict diet. Some children have an allergy to some of the synthetic compounds found in foods today. Food dyes, artificial sweeteners and artificial flavor enhancers are the biggest culprits. It's very difficult to get away from these ingredients, as they're found in most pre-packaged foods. It's important to note, though, that the behavior improves only in children who have an allergy to these items. The foods do not cause a reaction in children across the board.


Some studies have found a correlation between behavior and learning problems and celiac disease, often called gluten intolerance. Gluten is in products such as breads and pastas, both kid favorites. Some saw improvement in ADHD-like symptoms after following a gluten-free diet. Getting your child to give up his favorites will likely increase your battles in the short term, so if you're thinking about going gluten-free, check with his doctor to ensure that this is really a problem and shop for gluten-free versions of his favorites.


Though uncommon, imported ceramic dishes can contain lead that can leach into the food. If your child has lead poisoning, he might seem sluggish and develop learning disabilities. If you suspect lead poisoning, take your child to a doctor.

About the Author

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.

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