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The Relationship Between Food, Mood & Behavior in Children


By Gina Barbetta MS, RD, CD-N


the way children typically learn, be- have, or handle their emotions. This can cause distress and problems in getting through the day. Among the more com- mon diagnosable disorders in children are attention-defi cit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and depression. The rate of mental health disorders in children continues to rise in the United States (US) as well as many other countries. In fact, the prevalence of depression among US adolescents has increased by 30% over the last decade. It is estimated that one out of fi ve adolescents has a diagnosable mental health disorder, and nearly one third show symptoms of depression.


M Standard Treatment


The standard treatment for mental health disorders include psychotherapy, behavioral therapy and medications. However, there is a growing interest in alternative approaches to prevent and manage these disorders. Researchers concluded that the diets of some people with mental health disorders lack in key nutrients for brain well-being. Studies show that replenishing these nutrients can play an important role in treating mental health disorders. The fast growing ap- proach that uses food and supplements in the treatment of mental health conditions is known as nutritional psychiatry.


Nutritional Psychiatry Nutritional psychiatry is a relatively


new fi eld and the research has been studying the link between diet and risk of mental health conditions and treatment for about ten years. The research produced in the past decade is extremely compelling. A growing body of evidence suggests that nutritional treatment may help prevent,


www.NaturalNutmeg.com 13


ental health disorders among children and adolescents are described as serious changes in


treat, or improve depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, ADD/ ADHD, autism, addiction, and eating disorders. The scientifi c community is be- ginning to see how food is strongly linked to brain health/mental health.


Diet Patterns


Nutritional focused studies show that diets that contain highly processed foods, along with high sugar and fat content are linked highly with ADHD symptoms and depression in children and adolescents. Recent large studies in adults demon- strate that individuals with consumption of better quality diets such as a whole food, plant-based diet or Mediterranean- style diet are less likely to have depres- sion. These diets are high in omega-3 fatty acids (from fi sh), monounsaturated fat (from olive oil) and natural folate and other B vitamins (from legumes, fruits, nuts and vegetables). Intuitively, it would make sense to begin these dietary habits early in life for mental health benefi ts over the life span.


One theory hypothesizes that chil- dren and adolescents with mental health


issues self medicate with specifi c food choices, many of which are unhealthy and devoid of nutrients. However, it is equally as possible that the infl uence of early eating habits and nutritional intake has an important impact on mood and behavior. There are known biological pathways that may have an impact on mental health in children and adoles- cents that are potentially affected by diet quality. First, a poor quality diet that is lacking nutrient-dense foods may lead to nutrient defi ciencies that have been asso- ciated with mental health issues. Dietary intake of adequate vitamin D, B vitamins, folate, zinc, and magnesium is associated with decreased incidence of depressive disorders. Inadequate dietary omega-3 fatty acids (or imbalance between the ratio of dietary omega 6 to omega 3 ratio) are related to anxiety disorders and ADHD and behavioral problems. In fact, supplementation of fi sh oil may help to alleviate ADHD symptoms, anger, impulsivity and aggression, in addition to improving academic performance. Me- tabolism/metabolic systems including im- munity, oxidative processing, regulation


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