The Effect of Food on a Child’s Mood (What to Avoid)

Parents typically expect that their children won’t be content all the time. While mood swings may be a part of growing up, there are food triggers that can exacerbate the range of emotions children experience. Specific foods may make mood swings worse, so it’s helpful to be aware of the effect of food on children’s moods. If your child is having adverse mood issues, you may want to avoid the following food types to determine if the problem is caused by food.


Dairy products, including milk, yogurt, and cheese, all contain the protein casein, which is hard for the body to digest. In many people, consumption creates antibodies that lead to inflammation. Kids can get irritable, aggressive, or cranky as a result. Children who are lactose intolerant may become physically uncomfortable after eating dairy and, therefore, exhibit moody behavior. As an alternative, consider dairy-free beverages such as almond milk and rice milk.

Artificial Coloring

It may come as a surprise that artificial color can result in behavioral changes in children. Many parents reasonably look to other ingredients first before considering the effects of yellow No. 5, red No. 40, and blue No. 1, all of which cause mood swings. It’s not just in treats; artificial color can be in so-called “healthy” foods such as yogurt and bread. Get to know your product labels and try eliminating any foods with artificial colors.


Both natural and artificial preservatives may cause mood changes in children. They also show up in many surprising places, like beverages and packaged foods. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is in savory dishes and sodium benzoate is sometimes in juices marketed to kids. Both of these cause hyperactivity.

Surprisingly, some children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) experience greater symptoms after consuming foods with salicylates, which are naturally occurring in many fruits and vegetables. While you don’t want to cut out healthy foods, you may consider doing so if it will help curb ADHD behaviors.


Reducing sugar is a challenge for parents. While many parents try to limit access to sweets and swap out junk food and soda for healthier alternatives, they may be surprised to learn that many other foods have an unexpectedly high sugar content. Sugar causes depression and sleep issues in children, so parents should carefully monitor labels and opt for non-refined, raw sugars as much as possible.

It’s good to know that added sugar often goes by different names. Be on the lookout for rice syrup, barley malt, dextrose, sucrose, maltose, and high-fructose corn syrup on your food packaging, to name just a few. And too much sugar can also affect academic performance.

Refined Grains

Often, diets designed for adults say to avoid “white food.” When it comes to bread, that’s also good advice for children. Refined grains cause gastrointestinal inflammation, which can limit the effect of the hormone serotonin that is produced in this area of the body. And low serotonin can result in a sad, depressed mood as well as low energy. Choose whole grain bread, brown rice, and steel-cut oatmeal as an alternative to white bread and processed food.

Food Sensitivities

As tough as it may be for their parents, some children have a variety of food sensitivities that you can only discover through the process of elimination. As opposed to an allergy, a sensitivity causes real symptoms but can’t be detected using standard allergy tests. For kids living with ADHD, some common sensitivities include wheat, soy, eggs, corn, nuts, and citrus. In consult with your doctor, consider cutting out some foods one at a time and see if symptoms improve.


Choosing the right foods for kids can seem like a high-stress process, but by simply being conscious of what’s in your children’s food and how it’s made, you can avoid triggering mood swings. As a result, they will be happier and healthier.

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