Kids misbehave, sure. It’s part of learning where boundaries are, trying to assert themselves and challenging authority. It’s all part of growing up. But there is normal and then there are behaviors that a parent should probably get a little concerned about.

Aggressive behavior, hyperactivity, rage fits, defiance, argumentativeness and ADHD amongst young children are increasingly common, with parents and teachers pulling their hair out trying to control them. Often no amounts of time-outs, warnings or other disciplinary measures make any difference, so it is no wonder it drives parents crazy.

And more often than not, parents will beat themselves up about these behavior issues and frantically look back at their parenting, wondering what they did wrong.

Here in the States the solution is often to put the kids on drugs. Your kid has trouble concentrating in class? Here, take some Ritalin. Apparently 2/3 of children diagnosed with ADHD are on some sort of prescription medication. And these are not mild by any means. As Dr Mercola puts it, “we’re talking hard-core ‘class 2’ narcotics” (Read more here). Scary. Imagine what those are doing to the delicate minds and bodies of all these children.

Especially when the solution could be so much more simple.

We talk about healthy eating in relation to keeping diseases at bay, giving us better body composition, making us fitter and stronger, more attractive and physically healthier, but what about how foods affect us mentally and psychologically?

There are a few foods that we know obviously affect us in terms of behavior. Anyone who has seen a child 5 minutes after eating a sugary treat will have to be blind not to notice a change in their behavior. This is mostly not a positive change, which is why so many parents nowadays restrict their children’s sugar consumption.

eat-all-the-sugar

But what about other foods which have the same, or often worse, affects on them (and us)?

We all know, by now, that wheat products have an even higher glycemic effect on the body than sugar. 2 slices of whole-wheat bread have a greater impact on the body, in terms of glycemic index, than a snickers bar. So that already explains some behavioral issues (hyperactivity, inability to sit still, addictive relationship with wheat-based foods etc), not to mention overall health.

wheatBelly_BreadSnickers

But what about the other components of wheat. I talk about gluten a lot, because I truly believe that no good comes of eating it. And mostly I’ve gone into how it affects our gut, our immune systems and can lead to all sorts of conditions like Ulcerative Colitis, Hypothyroidism, Psoriasis, joint pain, and general inflammation of the body.

But very often none of these obvious symptoms will be present, and instead, its effects are seen through neurological or behavioral issues, which make a sensitivity often impossible to detect. Who would imagine that their kid’s tantrums and fits of rage could, in fact, simply be a manifestation of a gluten sensitivity? It is very often not an obvious connection to make, and yet it is surprisingly common.

It has long been known that people with celiac disease are also more likely to suffer from ADHD (read more here), but whilst most people believe celiac disease manifests with obvious gastro-intestinal symptoms, gluten sensitivity will often manifest purely through neurological conditions such as ADHD and other behavioral problems.

This is because, according to a recent paper (titled The Gluten Syndrome: A Neurological Disease),

Gluten sensitivity leads to the destruction of brain and nervous tissue more than ANY other tissue in the body, including the gastro-intestinal tract.

ie. You do not have to have celiac disease to have gluten-induced neurological problems.

A little scary.

In addition to gluten, other highly cross-reactive foods, such as all other grains, dairy and legumes can have similar effects on the body. Which is why people very often do not experience any drastic benefits from giving up gluten alone and require a full elimination diet to allow for gut healing to occur.

Our brain health (and thus behavior) is very closely linked to our gut health. The gut-brain connection is well recognized in terms of physiology and medicine, so this isn’t all that surprising, even though it’s often overlooked.

So this confirms that if our gut health is in any way compromised through eating an inflammatory diet, through excessive use of antibiotics or lack of exposure to healthy gut flora, it is also likely that we may experience neurological issues.

In my opinion, most people do better without gluten. However, if you manifest any of the obvious symptoms I’ve mentioned above (auto-immune conditions, IBS etc), then it is likely that this sensitivity will also have passed down to your children.

So before tearing your hair out worrying about how to discipline/love/train your children to behave better, consider addressing one very simple and non-invasive aspect of their up-bringing: their food. This obviously works for adults as well.

How to do this?

  • Eliminate grains and sugars from the diet. Even non-gluten containing organic, whole, sprouted grains can cause many problems for people, so it would be advisable to cut all out for at least a month.
  • Cut out dairy for a while. Whilst dairy can be a highly nutritious food for some, those with a gluten sensitivity often experience problems with dairy. You will only be able to tell if it is problematic by removing it for a while.
  • Avoid all processed foods. This should be obvious, but anything containing any artificial colors, flavors or preservatives can trigger or worsen symptoms. Eliminating gluten and sugar will automatically cut out most processed foods from your diet.
  • Avoid all highly processed fats. Vegetable oils and trans fats disrupt nerve cell intercommunication and increase inflammation, so are best avoided. Eat healthy fats like coconut oil, butter, olive oil and animal fats.
  • Replace fruit juices, pasteurized milk, and obviously all soft drinks, with water.
  • Increase the intake of Omega 3 fats. The easiest way is to take a good supplement like this one. Increasing the amount of fish in the diet is also highly advisable.
  • Avoid all soy products for these reasons.
  • I know this sounds like a restrictive diet – since I’ve focused on what you can’t eat. But it means you CAN eat a whole lot of delicious REAL, whole foods like these. Trust me, once you switch to these foods, you will quickly forget all the processed junk you were eating before.

    In many cases, you will be able to reintroduce some foods like high quality dairy and more benign grains like rice, but it is worth cutting them out for at least a month to allow the body to reset and to figure out where sensitivities lie.

    At the end of the day, this will for sure help you and/or your kid, health-wise. But what about if it could also help from a neurological or behavioral perspective?