Child eating yogurt and fruit

Foods affect behavior

Which foods help calm hyperactive kids?

Experts recommend taking a look at the foods your kids are eating to find out why certain foods make them hyper, cranky or irritable. Find out which foods should be avoided and which foods you should incorporate into their daily diet.

How can foods affect your child's behavior? Kids that eat foods high in sugar or refined carbs, such as white rice and white flour products can experience a drop in blood glucose which can affect their mood.

"[These foods] can trigger the release of regulatory counter "stress" hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These are the "fight or flight" hormones that make us fidgety, irritable and anxious — certainly not something that we want to occur in our young children who are already rambunctious by nature," explains Dr. Ann Kulze, M.D. of

Kulze says that of all the organs in the body, "The brain is the most sensitive and the most discriminating in terms of its nutritional needs." She says that in order to get the most out of your brain you need to give it a constant and steady supply of blood sugar as well as amino acids, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids.

Switch out processed foods for natural foods

"Food additives and colors plus artificial sweeteners make the nervous system overactive."

"Food additives and colors plus artificial sweeteners make the nervous system overactive. That's in addition to what too much sugar can do," explains Dr. Jennifer Greenfield, Center for Chiropractic Wellness.

"Foods that have calcium and magnesium, like vegetables, nuts and seeds, can be calming," adds Greenfield.

Researchers are continually looking at how food coloring and preservatives influence hyperactivity in children and experts like Kulze suggest eating as many natural foods as possible and avoiding "factory made" food choices.

Calming food choices

Some of Kulze's top snack picks for kids include instant oatmeal, granola bars, air-popped popcorn, hard-boiled omega-3 fortified eggs, stone ground tortilla chips, fruit smoothies with wheat germ, and dark chocolate.

She also recommends incorporating these foods into your children's diet:

  • Cut fresh veggies (baby carrots, celery sticks, bell pepper strips,
    broccoli/cauliflower florets, etc.) – serve along with a "healthy dip" like hummus, low-fat salad dressing, guacamole or salsa.
  • Low-fat yogurt or low-fat cottage cheese – plain, sweetened with blended fruit or a bit of frozen concentrated fruit juice is best. If you use low-fat fruit flavored yogurts, cut in half with plain to reduce their sugar content.
  • Nuts or seeds – almonds, cashews, walnuts, peanuts, etc. Don't forget about sunflower seeds and toasted pumpkin seeds. Try roasted soy nuts.
  • Fresh, frozen or dried fruit – serve cut up in an interesting cup or bowl. Even better, create a "healthful" fruit/yogurt parfait by alternating layers of fruit with low-fat yogurt and granola.
  • Reduced-fat cheese – you can now find an amazing array of cheeses made from 2-percent milk in lots of kid-friendly packaging.
  • Whole grain crackers, like Ak-mak, Kashi TLC, or Triscuits with 2-percent milk cheese, peanut butter, almond nut butter, hummus, salsa or spreadable fruit.
  • Healthy cereals – dry or with skim or low-fat milk. To select a healthy cereal, be sure it contains at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and that you see the word "whole" as the first word in the ingredients list.

Healthy options to satisfy a sweet tooth

If you're looking to satisfy your child's sweet tooth, Kulze suggests trying fresh fruit smoothies, or light ice cream topped with berries. Homemade "healthy" cookies are all good alternatives to store-bought pastries and candy.

Kulze suggests avoiding processed foods with additives, particularly food dyes and refined carbohydrates and sugars. "The worst choices here would be donuts, pastries, cupcakes, cake, candy (especially those with lots of food dye), sugary kids' cereals, Lunchables, pancakes (waffles [white flour-based]), soda and other sugar-fortified beverages (fruit drinks, sports drinks) and white bagels," says Kulze.

Consider these calming foods for kids next time your little one is craving something sweet:

  • Peaches – The peach contains a natural sedative that can help alleviate stress and anxiety to help calm and relax the mind. Next time your hyperactive child wants a sugary treat, hand him a peach instead.
  • Berries – When kids are feeling hyper or wound up, a bowl of berries can do wonders. Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries contain healthy antioxidants and vitamin C, plus they help prevent a boost in cortisol — the "stress hormone" produced by the adrenal gland.
  • Oranges – Give a child an orange to peel. The few minutes it takes for him to slow down and do it will be calming in itself. Plus, the vitamin C and muscle-relaxing potassium also will do him some good. Apples and bananas are also good sources of vitamins and minerals that can help calm your hyperactive child. All-natural applesauce is also a fantastic choice.
  • Dark chocolate – So it's not as sweet as milk chocolate, but dark chocolate is a lot healthier. It can help reduce cortisol levels as well as lower the levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine — which make kids (and adults) anxious and nervous.
  • Ice cream – Not any ice cream. Low-sugar, low-fat vanilla bean ice cream. Make sure it's made from real vanilla beans. Vanilla is known for its calming properties.

Calming nighttime snacks

Next time your hyperactive child wants a snack before bed, reach for one of these calming options:

  • Whole grain crackers and peanut butter
  • Oatmeal topped with bananas and walnuts
  • Chopped fresh peaches warmed in the microwave and topped with a little milk
  • Whole grain English muffin topped with melted low-fat cheese
  • Smashed bananas on whole wheat toast

If your nighttime routine is anything but dreamy, Cyrus Schwartz, father of three and president of Mountainside Farms and ZenSoy, says, "Before bed, children should always avoid caffeinated beverages, candy, high-sugar fruit juice and ice cream."

"In terms of caffeine intake for children, a safe bet is to limit your children to 45 milligrams per day, an equivalent of a 12-ounce soda," says Schwartz.

Schwartz's list of healthy nighttime snacks includes low-fat milk, soy products, peanut butter and cheeses.

Read More

The difference between bad behavior and ADHD
How eating organic improves your child's health
ADHD: Overdiagnosed and overmedicated


Recommended for you


Comments on "Calming foods for hyperactive kids"

kathy March 07, 2014 | 1:55 PM

When the author wrote about the caffeine intake of a child, the 12oz can of soda was used a reference, not a suggestion. I was also told by a pediatrician that children only need whole milk until the age of 5 for proper brain development. Also, a diet high in carbohydrates makes you hyper. Fat is essential but make sure it is the good fat. I would like to suggest you speak with a pediatrician or a licensed dietician. Getting answers from the internet is not always a good source. Just saying.

Ryan Bayne January 26, 2014 | 1:46 PM

Good article. Sent it to my partner to read. I made the mistake of giving grapes before bed and the kids were suddenly hyper. Very strange so here I am after a quick Google. I'm happy to keep giving my kid the fat milk though. I think low-fat milk upsets cows, I mean they spend so long making it and they have been for hundreds of years. Those cows know what they are doing and what we need.

Xolislele January 22, 2014 | 2:22 AM

I'm having problems my son is 9yrs old he has problem with concentration and can't read and write properly please help i need some advice.

Kara November 04, 2013 | 9:33 AM

Oh and SOY???!!!!????!!! Just Google how terrible soy is, ESPECIALLY for kids. Who is this guy?

Kara November 04, 2013 | 9:31 AM

Low-fat foods are causing obesity problems in children. Children are supposed to have fat in their diet. It helps regulate and stabilize blood sugar. Full fat milk, yogurt, cheese are all better for kids. Check out the Weston Price diet. All traditional cultures thrive on high fat, low sugar diets. And to say that any amount of cola, let alone 12 oz!!, is ok for kids is ludacrous.

Lori September 30, 2013 | 8:03 PM

Um...children should not have ANY caffeine per day. I can't believe this article suggests the equivalent of a 12 oz soda every day. Soda is terrible in and of itself, but to suggest that a CAFFEINATED soda is ridiculous to me. Also, our bodies NEED the good fats from our food. If it says low-fat or no-fat, you can be sure that it has added artificial sweetener in it, which is much worse than actual sugar, which should be limited for children who are hyperactive. And quit feeding children processed foods as much as possible! Triscuits are not a healthy option. They are laden with GMOs.

Caroline September 19, 2013 | 9:38 AM

Help! My 4 yr old daughter is a gem in the day (although more hyper a lil than the rest) but at night, she wakes up screaming they are spiders in her bedroom, she jumps around & her pupils are dilated, this happens about 4 times a week :( mummys very tired. She also wakes in the middle of the night saying she is board, cant sleep & wants to play! Any food reccomendations please?

Amanda Gqeba September 11, 2013 | 2:42 AM

My son he is also got hyperactive, i have been going to the different doctors but i did not get helped, so i don't know what to do anymore can you please help me.can you send me the list of food that can calm him down because the teachers at his school they are complaining him

chika ekwunife August 31, 2013 | 5:36 PM

My 4yrs old son is hyperactive and often experience seizure. He does not concentrate in school and at home during learning. His speech are not as fluent as expected. He is presently on medication for his seizure. He is on epillim tab 200g and multivitamin. What do i do to make him calm and concentrate., pls advice. Thank S

Rose August 30, 2013 | 1:24 AM

Pls advise i have 7 yr old boy hyperactive, he is not paying attention in school, have poor eating habit, cannot wait for his turn and cannot sit still.. though his quizzes in school are doing great. Please give some advise on how to manage his hyperactivity.

Ronnie August 27, 2013 | 6:40 PM

My 5 year old daughter has trouble concentrating at school and gets distracted and climbs on the furniture she has no problem sleeping is happy and loving i was just wondering if there is any Technic that i could use or do to help her concentrate better at school.

Carla August 27, 2013 | 10:47 AM

The kids,are allergic to Salicylic Remove almonds apples+cider, apricots all berries cherries cucumbers, pickles currants grapes and raisins green peppers, nectarines oranges,peaches,,plums and prunes,tangerines tomatoes,oil of wintergreen. All artificial colors,flavors and fragrance(air fresheners) KIDS GO WILD !BHT,BHA. Check the labels. GOOD FRUIT: CANTALOUPE,MANGO,PAPAYA,GUAVA,GRAPEFRUIT,LEMON,PINEAPPLE,BANANA raw vegetables, cabbage spinach, mung bean sprouts. cooked veggies: brocceli, brussels sprouts,kale, cauliflower,spinach, peas, okra turnips, green lima beans, sweet potatoes, potatoes. Oce this works, you can add 1 new food and see, if the child has a reaction. Try another food. There is no need for meds after a while. In an emergency,when the child ate something "wrong" and he is very unruly,give him some regular coffee, that will calm him down(the caffeine at work) Don't make it a rule. The whole family should eat all the same food, that is only fair to the kid and will benefit every one.When kids are old enough, to read, take them to the store and let them look for food items, that are safe. Good luck

Nothile August 05, 2013 | 5:19 AM

Hi , i have a 8 years little boy. he is strugling to settle down at school he does not listen to instructions he is always busy with somthing n talking noe stop. He just cant wait for his turn. Please help me, how do i assist him because its becomes a problem even at school.

simmi rawat July 30, 2013 | 6:10 AM

my son is 3 yrs old, he can't sit a one place at a time &he has a lot of attention deficit , he is too hyper, he only enjoys his accompany, play alone, he tries to match with two similiar things wit each other, &most imp.that he don't speak too much &he don't want to learn anything &speak anything, when he wants anything& idon't give it, he gets panic, trying to hit me or trying to throw objects anywhere so plz suggest me , what should i do & how should i treat him thanx

Rishi July 06, 2013 | 11:08 PM

My son is 10 yrs old & he is ADHD & AUTISTIC CHILD...He is so hyper active.that he can't sit at one place in a time...we are realy worried for him..we take him for skating & swimming classes from last 2 yrs but his energy level is so high that we dont know from where he is generating so much you are requested to please send some tips or diet list for him which help o reduce his hyperactivtiy better...

chinna June 20, 2013 | 11:46 PM

Hi - my 4years son is also hyperactive and very hard to be around...he had a operation when he bron he had pipe in his head to stomach y because doctor said he had water in head we have to keep pipe to go from stomach it may be life time r upto 15years so pls help me he shouts something in his language he is still not talking but only he says sister auto and tv. I am hoping that you could send me a list of foods and excises wat to do daily that will calm him down? My fear is that when he starts school in the fall he will never be able to sit still or be quiet! Thank You!!!

Christine Broderick May 12, 2013 | 6:38 AM

Hi we too have twins aged 5 a boy and girl our little boy is so hyperactive his so trying every day it upsets us to see him like this... It's constantly hard work. He never listen to us and basically try's to do his own thing all the time. We would love some information on how to help him his "wound up" from morning till night..he gets so frustrated and cries when he can't get his own way.. He slept great since da day they were born but the last 2 weeks his sleep pattern is gone very bad he wakes the whole house at 3 am then goes back to sleep and gets up at 7am please help thanking you in advance.

edith February 22, 2013 | 10:55 AM

my grandaughter is 3years old very bright but hyperactive but can sit down and play with jigsaws think it is what she drinks fresh orange mostly could you give me a list of e numbers that can cause this also have a grandson 10 who has asbergers is there any diet that can help him if you can help would be most grateful

emily January 06, 2013 | 1:27 PM

we should not be feeding our children ANYTHING low fat.... Is this person stupid?

Pam Berriman December 27, 2012 | 10:29 PM

I would like to know why you are recommending ALL low fat foods? Do you feel "fat" is a problem to hyper active children? I would like to suggest that it is a rather dangerous suggestion, if you look into the process by which a food becomes "low fat", you may have a heart attack. I would believe natural cheese, yogurt etc is a much healthier choice, if you have over weight problems maybe try eating less of good healthy foods rather than more manufactured foods regards Pam

+ Add Comment

(required - not published)