4 Foods That Positively Impact Behavior (and 5 Foods to Avoid)

Most of us are fortunate enough to have choices, particularly when it comes to food. When we can technically have cake whenever we want, it’s hard to tell ourselves “no.” It can be even more difficult to tell our kids “no” – especially if they have special needs. You want your children to have everything they could ever want and more. But you also want them to grow up to be the best version of themselves, starting today. And, believe it or not, success starts with food because there are many foods that positively impact behavior.

If your child has frequent meltdowns or behavioral outbursts, and you’re not sure what else to try, consider changing their diet. Here are 4 foods that positively impact behavior (and 5 foods to avoid).

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Life Pro Tip: These foods aren’t just great for your child’s mood. They’re great for yours too! Plus, they are very healthy for them and will help stabilize their nutrient levels. One of the best ways to get your child to try new foods is often to make a game out of it when they are young. Keep in mind, it can take time for your child to start enjoying some of them, while others will be instant hits!

  1. Breakfast

You hear all the time that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and that’s true. Eating breakfast can kick start your metabolism. Contrarily, skipping breakfast can make your metabolism lag, causing you to feel sluggish and slow. Surveys find that approximately 31 million people in the United States skip breakfast every day. Therefore, so many of your colleagues and your child’s friends at school seem to get off to a slow start.

While eating breakfast is important, it’s even more important to make healthy choices about what your child eats for breakfast. Many of the cereals in the grocery store have colorful boxes look so appealing. But when you look at their actual nutritional values versus their sugar levels, consider avoiding them completely.  A slice or two of whole-grain toast for fiber, hard-boiled eggs for protein, milk for calcium and bananas for potassium are all great options!

If your child is lactose intolerant, consider almond or coconut milk instead. Both of these “kinds of milk” have amazing flavors your child will love. If you mix coconut milk and sugar-free chocolate syrup you get a drink that tastes like a Mounds® candy bar.

  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s are a little more complex than you might think. They are also a very important part of a healthy diet. One ingredient in fish oil that particularly helps with behavior is Eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA). Studies have found that EPA can help stabilize mood swings, improve concentration, learning abilities, and behavior in children with ADD/ADHD. If you find that your child doesn’t like eating oily fish, check with your doctor. They may be able to recommend an effective supplement. You might also find it possible to incorporate some of the other foods that contain high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids into tasty foods that positively impact behavior your child will eat and enjoy.

Some foods that positively impact behavior and has the right Omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Oily Fish
  • Omega-3 Eggs
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseeds
  1. Magnesium

Some research suggests that children with behavioral or attention issues may be deficient in Magnesium. Taking this mineral regularly for six months can help improve behavior and attention span. It can also help to improve productivity, overall task performance, and reduce the number of mistakes made. To achieve the best results, it is best to use a magnesium supplement that also has vitamin B6 in it.

Vitamin B6 can help with the absorption of magnesium and it has found in several studies to help with ADD/ADHD. Best of all, magnesium is a safe supplement. The most common side effect of excessive amounts of magnesium is loose stools. These go away as soon as you reduce the dosage.

The best foods to eat to help improve Magnesium intake include:

  • Bananas
  • Avocados
  • Raspberries
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Green Vegetables
  1. Iron

Some studies suggest that there’s a positive correlation to behavioral issues with iron deficiency. In fact, iron deficiency in children under two has shown to have lasting effects on mood and behavior. A French research study also found that children with ADHD and low iron levels often exhibit more severe behavioral issues. Luckily, increasing iron-laden foods in your child’s diet can help correct this.

Here are some foods that positively impact behavior and are rich in iron:

  • Dark Chocolate (Yum!)
  • Spinach
  • Raisins
  • Broccoli
  • Potatoes
  • Chickpeas
  • Quinoa

Foods to Avoid

Adding the above foods, vitamins and minerals can significantly shift your child’s behavior (and yours!). But it’s also important to recognize foods that are triggers for poor behavior and attention issues. For many years, doctors have hypothesized that certain foods may have a negative impact on ADHD.

According to a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, foods are not responsible for causing ADHD. Rather, what they found was that there are several foods that can make the symptoms of ADHD worse. At the same time, some foods can cause behavior that is similar to those seen in children with ADD/ADHD.

Here are a few foods to AVOID which can help improve behavior:

Artificial food coloring

It is widely observed that some children might present altered behavior due to the consumption of artificially colored food. Synthetic dyes used in various foods and drinks have been linked to Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children. Frequent intake of such foods could lead to hyperactivity and restlessness. These include foods like candies, brightly colored breakfast cereals, gelatins, and colored drinks.

Lactose (in some cases)

Lactose intolerance can lead to behavioral changes in children who can’t digest lactose properly, consequently creating discomfort and acting out. Typical symptoms would involve bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and in certain cases gas, which can make the child irritable and distractible. Foods rich in lactose include milk, cheese, other dairy products, and many prepared foods.


Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a food additive used for enhancing the taste of foods. However, this enhancer is infamous for causing what is known as the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”, symptoms of which include headache, flushing, sweating, numbness or burning in face and neck, and heart palpitations. The sudden onset of these symptoms can understandably cause distraction, frustration, and anxiety.

Artificial sweeteners

Products such as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium, commonly used to replace sugar in diet foods and beverages, are considered artificial sweeteners. These can sometimes cause symptoms of headaches, allergies, and gastrointestinal problems, which can in turn affect a child’s mood and behavior. Especially aspartame, which has been linked to neurologic effects, including mood disorders and even possible cognitive impairment.

Certain ready-made meals

The convenience of ready-made meals is appealing, but these often contain high levels of salt, sugar, fat, and various additives and preservatives. Food additives such as sodium benzoate, used for preserving food, have been found to be associated with increased hyperactivity in children. The high sugar and fat content can also wreak havoc on blood sugar levels, leading to mood swings, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.

In addition to improving your child’s diet, you may also consider enrolling them into a fitness program. Exercise has also been known to positively impact behavior. The personal trainers at Special Strong specialize in working with clients with ADD, ADHD and intellectual and physical special needs.

Take improving your child’s behavior one step further by enrolling them into the fitness program at Special Strong. We’re so confident in our services that we’re offering a 7-day FREE trial. Don’t take our word for it. Try out our services and see the difference for yourself.

The Impact of Diet on Managing Behavioral Issues

The connection between diet and behavior is a compelling avenue to explore, particularly when addressing behavioral issues. Nutrition plays a crucial role in influencing mood, cognitive function, and overall well-being. A well-balanced diet can significantly contribute to managing and improving behavioral challenges. Here’s a closer look at how dietary choices can positively impact behavior:

1. Blood Sugar Regulation:

Maintaining stable blood sugar levels is key to managing mood and behavior. To achieve this, opt for complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to provide a steady release of energy. Moreover, avoiding sugary snacks and refined carbohydrates can help prevent energy spikes and crashes, which can contribute to irritability and mood swings.

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, have been linked to improved cognitive function and emotional well-being. Incorporating these sources into the diet may support better emotional regulation and reduce impulsivity.

3. Adequate Protein Intake:

Proteins are essential for the production of neurotransmitters that influence mood and behavior. Ensure a sufficient intake of lean proteins like poultry, fish, beans, and legumes to support the synthesis of these important chemical messengers.

4. Nutrient-Rich Foods:

A diet rich in vitamins and minerals is crucial for overall brain health. Include a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds to provide essential nutrients like vitamin B, zinc, and magnesium. These nutrients contribute to proper cognitive function and emotional stability.

5. Hydration:

Dehydration can impact mood and cognitive function. Staying adequately hydrated is vital for optimal brain function. Encourage the consumption of water throughout the day and limit the intake of sugary or caffeinated beverages that may contribute to energy fluctuations.

6. Balanced Meals and Regular Eating Schedule:

Establishing a routine with balanced meals at regular intervals helps in stabilizing blood sugar levels and provides a predictable environment. Consistent meal times contribute to a sense of security and may positively influence behavior.

7. Identify Potential Triggers:

In the process of addressing dietary factors affecting behavior, it’s essential to monitor and identify specific foods that may trigger adverse reactions. Additionally, some individuals may be sensitive to certain food additives, preservatives, or allergens, influencing behavior. To systematically track potential correlations between diet and behavior, keeping a food diary proves to be an invaluable tool.

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8. Seek Professional Guidance:

When considering dietary interventions for behavioral concerns, consulting with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian becomes paramount. Moreover, their expertise allows them to assess individual dietary needs, identify potential deficiencies, and offer tailored recommendations to address specific behavioral concerns.

The Relationship Between Nutrition and Behavior

The impact of food on the behavior of individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a subject of growing interest. Research suggests a connection between diet and ADHD symptoms, with certain foods influencing cognitive function and behavior. High-sugar and processed foods may contribute to increased hyperactivity and impulsivity, while diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and essential nutrients show potential for positive outcomes. Maintaining stable blood sugar levels through balanced meals and avoiding potential allergens could also play a role in managing ADHD symptoms. While individual responses vary, understanding the intricate interplay between nutrition and behavior is crucial for developing personalized strategies to support those navigating ADHD.

Special Strong provides adaptive fitness for children, adolescents, and adults with mental, physical and cognitive challenges. Start your own Special Strong gym franchise today and create a lasting impact on your community.