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Back to School: Gut Health for Brain Health

Good nutrition is always important. And as our kids head back to school it becomes even more important to consider what they are eating and how their diet may be affecting their behavior and function in the classroom.  This is especially significant considering the increased diagnosis of anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, and sensory processing disorders. All of which can lead to the unnecessary and over-medication of our children.

Kids & Nutrition: 4 Foods to Monitor

Nutrition can be confusing!  And it can be even more difficult for kids to be compliant.  To keep it simple let’s, look at the top four things we can limit/avoid in the diet that have the biggest impact on behavior, principally in school age children.

  1. Dairy: Look at it this way, we are not baby cows, so why do we consume cow milk and milk products?  Both the sugar, lactose, and the protein, casein, in dairy are difficult to digest and are known food allergens.  Dairy consumption has been shown to cause an increased incidence of ear infection and colic in infants, and can cause irritability and aggressiveness in older children.
  2. Artificial colorings: particularly yellow No 5, red No 40, and blue No 1.  Each of these dyes has been linked to ADHD, anxiety, hyperactivity, and headache.  Because these are often found in highly processed, sugar laden foods, it can be easy to blame these symptoms on the sugar, but keep in mind that chemicals are just as bad for you.
  3. Preservatives:  Just like artificial coloring, foods high in sugar also tend to have a lot of preservatives.  Nitrates, nitrites, sodium benzonate, and MSG can cause hyperactivity and headache.
  4. SUGAR:  This is the big one. Sugar tastes great and can be addicting. Manufacturers know this and hide sugar in everything!  The immediate response to eating sugar is hyperactivity and decreased attention span.  Eating too much sugar long-term can cause cognitive delays and sleep disorders, depression and obesity.

Kids and Sugar

Not only does sugar contribute to behavioral issues, but consuming a lot of sugar promotes an overabundance of yeast in the gut.  Yeast, like kids, loves sugar!  When there is too much yeast in the gut, it disrupts the normal flora, or “good bacteria”, that lines the GI tract.  These bacteria help digest the food we eat, are a crucial part of our immune system. They also produce a significant amount of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and GABA.  Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that regulate mood/behavior.  Imbalances in neurotransmitters can contribute to anxiety, depression, autism, ADD/ADHD, and sensory processing disorders.


In combination, these four things, dairy, artificial colors, preservatives, and sugar considerably influence behavior, producing headaches, irritability, aggressiveness, anxiety, depression, and hyperactivity.  They have also been linked to ADD/ADHD, sensory processing problems, autism, cognitive delay, and sleep disorders.  Any one of these symptoms or diagnoses alone could limit how a child behaves, learns, develops, and functions in school both academically and socially.

If your child is struggling with any of these issues or if your family is dealing with a specific diagnosis of one of the above, please remember to look at diet first.

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