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How your kid's diet may be feeding their hyperactivity

Tracy B. McGinnis is creator of www.caffeinatedpen.comHer work has appeared in dozens of magazines on variety of topics. For more diet and fitness articles, click here.

Hyper, cranky kids? These foods may help

When it comes to our kids' behavior, there are many factors at play, but one of them may be right there on the plate from which they're eating. Some experts say that when it comes to hyperactivity and other behavior problems, some of them may be significantly influenced by a child's diet.

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.

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. 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.

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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.

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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."

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"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.

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