Surprising Symptoms in Children Related to the Foods They Eat

The food we eat interacts intimately with our entire body.

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Nutritional science continues to explore and discover surprising ways that food can affect our health, our skin, mood, energy levels, and even our brain functioning.

Our food culture has changed over the decades and we have been increasingly exposed to processed foods (rather than whole natural foods), artificial ingredients, genetically modified ingredients, chemical pesticides and herbicides.  Ingesting these foods and chemicals has come with consequences for our health.  Moreover, recent faulty diets promoting low fat diets or fat free diets has contributed to rising chronic health conditions such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular illness, and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Food plays an extremely large role in the health and functioning of our bodies and brains, and furthermore, there is a dangerous cumulative effect over time from unhealthy diets.

Regarding our children, learning to notice symptoms that may likely be food related, and then making adjustments to their diets, takes them off the trajectory for health issues, behavioral and mood problems.  For example, one study looked specifically at the effect of artificial colors on children’s behavior and found that in a group of 3 year old subjects who drank a beverage with artificial coloring, 100% of them exhibited significant hyperactivity as a result.  Artificial food dye is also commonly responsible for migraines and nausea.  In Europe food dyes are no longer used due to their harmful effects.

In addition to lactose intolerance, many children (and adults) are discovering they have a sensitivity to casein, the protein in cow’s milk.

This can manifest as chronic congestion, runny nose, cough, and sinus infections.  Moreover, if the milk or milk products are not from organic cows, then you are also being exposed to growth hormones and antibiotics as well.  These can affect hormone balance, especially in females, and is being considered as a possible indicator in early-onset puberty for girls, as well as causing premenstrual cramping, mood swings, breast tenderness, and acne.

Very young infants can have reactions to foods mom’s eat during breastfeeding, or the first foods introduced when beginning to eat solids.

In infants, some possible signs related to food intolerance can be colic, sleeplessness, gas, acid reflux, eczema, diaper rashes, excess mucous, constipation and/or diarrhea.  Rather than medicating infants, often simple adjustments in diet can clear up most cases.  In other cases, more investigation is required into possible trigger foods.  Keeping a food journal to track foods eaten and symptoms can help tremendously to highlight triggers.  Then, remove suspected trigger foods to see if symptoms ease.

Parents can too easily feel despair if their child exhibits behavioral problems such as hyperactivity, impulsiveness, aggression, despondency, insomnia, or complains of pain.

Before battling behaviors or attempting medication, consider looking at the impact of foods.

If your child suffers from any of the following symptoms/issues than food might be playing a bigger role than you think:

  1. Skin rashes, eczema, acne, diaper rash, hives, flushed red cheeks, rash on face

  2. Gastrointestinal distress such as colic, gas and bloating, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, cramps, GERD, acid reflux

  3. Hyperactivity, impulsivity, oppositional defiance, aggression, low frustration tolerance

  4. Depression, lethargy, low motivation

  5. Anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive tendency

  6. Chronic congestion, coughs, ear infections, sinus infections, headaches/migraines

  7. Diagnosis of ADHD, autism, autoimmune disorders, ODD, or mood disorders

To begin with, know what foods are the most common trigger foods for people and begin by removing them from the diet and track symptoms.

If symptoms decrease significantly after a few weeks, then attempt to reintroduce foods one a time, and track if symptoms reappear.  This takes commitment, awareness, and follow through.  To be successful, labels on foods need to be read to make sure hidden sources of trigger foods aren’t inadvertently consumed.  If no changes are noticed with elimination, then it is possible there is a trigger food that is still being consumed.  If you need to investigate further it is totally worthwhile to work with a professional nutritionist, or naturopath that can help you navigate the terrain.

The following are some of the most common problem foods:

  1. Gluten (wheat, rye, and barley)

  2. Dairy (Cow’s milk and cow’s milk products)

  3. Soy (including soybeans, soybean oil, and soy lecithin)

  4. Corn (including corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch)

  5. Nuts (including almonds)

  6. Citrus fruits and berries (often for very young infants these can be problematic)

  7. Eggs

While this list contains the most common problematic foods, your child may be fine with many of them, and may also be triggered by something not on this list.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but merely a place to begin your own investigation.  Finding and eliminating trigger foods from your child’s diet can mean the difference between a full night’s sleep, or not.  It can mean the difference between a child who enjoys school and relationships, or avoids them.  This may seem dramatic, but it can definitely be the case and it is entirely worth it to explore yours and your child’s relationship to food and what role it does play in their behavior, mood, and overall experience of the world.

Furthermore, there are some ingredients that are problematic for everyone, and definitely worth avoiding, especially if your child exhibits or has a tendency towards anything on the list of symptoms above.

The ingredients to avoid are:

  1. Artificial food coloring, dyes, and flavors.

  2. Artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame)

  3. High fructose corn syrup

  4. Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

  5. Hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils (also called trans fats)

As you begin to let go of problematic foods and ingredients, look into increasing nutrients and creating new delicious alternatives to old favorites.