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Hyperactivity and Diet

By: Catherine Gough - Updated: 1 Aug 2013 | comments*Discuss
Hyperactive Bad Behaviour Over Active

It’s a widespread belief that some children become hyperactive when they eat certain foods. Although it’s hard to find scientific studies to back up this theory, many parents and child care experts hold it to be true, with their own experience as evidence.

Isolating the Culprits

It’s often – but not always – artificial ingredients that seem to change children’s behaviour most dramatically. Many parents find that by cutting out processed foods and artificial sweeteners, flavourings and colourings, their children calm down significantly and concentrate better.

If, having eliminated artificial ingredients, parents still suspect that something in their child’s diet is making them hyperactive; it’s worth trying to identify the culprit.

The best way to do this is by removing the suspect food altogether for a few days and seeing if it makes any difference. Parents who are considering cutting out a whole food group, like dairy or wheat-based foods, might like to talk with the GP or a dietician to make sure their child continues to eat a healthy, balanced diet. They might also like to get in touch with a support group and swap ideas with other parents about what worked for them.

Sugar and Behaviour

A sugar rush might also be at the bottom of parents’ observations. Sugar gives a boost of instant energy, so if a child starts charging around after having fizzy drinks (note that coke also contains caffeine which is another stimulant) or after eating a chocolate bar, it should help to cut down on these or take them out of the diet altogether.

Hyperactive or Just High Spirited?

Some parents (and teachers) see children’s behaviour as hyperactive when it may be little more than bumptiousness. Young children, particularly boys, have a great deal of energy and may struggle to channel it constructively unless they’ve had some exercise. They may also find it difficult to sit still for long periods. It’s easy to think of such children as naughty or hyperactive, when in reality they’re just full of beans and need a chance to let off steam.

By all means modify their diets by cutting out additives and sugar and see if it helps. A balanced, healthy diet is highly desirable anyway and if it results in improved concentration at school and calmer behaviour at home, then so much the better. But don’t forget to offer plenty of opportunity for physical activity and outside fun too, which could be just as useful as looking at what they’re eating.

One test of true hyperactivity is whether a child sleeps well. Hyperactive children often find it hard to relax at night, get to sleep and stay asleep. This has knock-on effects the next morning, and the whole thing becomes a vicious circle.

Intolerance or Allergy?

In most cases, the reaction that parents are seeing will be food intolerance rather than an allergy. A true allergy will result in serious symptoms like wheezing, skin rashes, vomiting or even – in the most severe examples – anaphylactic shock. For more information about allergies, visit our sister site www.kidsallergies.co.uk.

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