1. Cut back on overly processed foods
While it’s ok to allow your children to enjoy discretionary foods like chocolate, chips, lollies, soft drinks, cakes, pies, pastries (etc.) every now and then, these foods should not comprise a large portion of their diet. Foods that are high in added sugar can result in a spike in blood sugar levels, which can negatively impact mood and energy throughout the day.
Children who are eating foods like sugary cereals, white bread, lollies, juices, and other sweet or refined foods throughout the day are more likely to experience mood swings and low energy as a result of regular blood sugar spikes and crashes. This blood sugar rollercoaster can also negatively impact their behaviour, and overall ability to function.
Researchers around the world have investigated the relationship between what children are eating and their emotions and behaviours. Many studies have identified that a dietary pattern higher in processed and junk foods is linked to more emotional and behavioural problems in children and adolescents.
Tips to cut back on processed foods and added sugars include:
Feed your kids fresh fruit instead of fruit juices, or other processed fruit-based products
Choose low sugar breakfast cereals
Make homemade baked goods using fruits as a natural sweetener
Limit packaged snacks such as muesli bars and fruit straps
2. Include wholegrain carbohydrates throughout the day
Once ingested, carbohydrates break down into glucose which is the brain’s preferred source of fuel. A diet lacking in regular carbohydrates throughout the day is bound to contribute to a bad mood. Although the brain may seem like a small organ in the body (accounting for just ~2% of your child’s body weight) it uses an incredible 20% of total energy consumed by the body.
Offering your child wholegrains regularly throughout the day is the best way to ensure their brain receives a constant supply of energy. This constant supply of nutrients will help to prevent dips in energy levels and therefore maintain their mood, energy and concentration.
Tips to get wholegrains throughout the day include:
Choose cereals based on wholegrains such as oats or weet-bix
Offer brown rice crackers or multigrain crackers
Offer popcorn as a healthy snack option
Include wholegrains such as brown rice or quinoa at main meals
Choose wholegrain breads
3. Include probiotic containing foods such as yoghurt
Living inside your child’s gut are millions of microorganisms. Among these microorganisms are good and bad bacteria. The population of bacteria and balance of good vs bad bacteria can be detrimental to your child’s health, including their mood and energy levels. Incorporating probiotic rich foods such as yoghurt into your child’s diet regularly can help to create a thriving, healthy gut microbiome.
Serotonin, commonly known as “the happy hormone”, is produced inside the gut and travels to and from the brain via the gut-brain axis, impacting feelings of happiness. A healthy gut will allow for the healthy production of hormones like serotonin, which are essential for good mental health in your child.
Offer plain yoghurt and naturally sweeten it with fresh or frozen fruit
Add yoghurt to smoothies to boost the protein and probiotics
Make homemade yoghurt and fruit ice blocks
4. Offer oily-fish 2 to 3 times a week
You may be familiar with the Mediterranean diet, an eating pattern commonly touted as being beneficial for mental health and brain functioning. A common feature of this diet is oily fish. Consuming fish 2-3 times a week can help to reduce inflammation in the body, which is believed to be associated with poor mental health.
One of the strongest areas of research into the relationship between foods and behaviour focuses on getting children to eat more oily fish which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Best sources omega-3 fatty acids include:
Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon
Omega-3 enriched eggs
Walnuts, linseeds and flaxseeds