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How Do Foods Affect the Moods of Children?

author image Eliza Martinez
Eliza Martinez has written for print and online publications. She covers a variety of topics, including parenting, nutrition, mental health, gardening, food and crafts. Martinez holds a master's degree in psychology.
How Do Foods Affect the Moods of Children?
Limiting your child's junk food intake can boost his mood. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images

Food affects mood because some nutrients induce good feelings while a lack of nutrients can cause poor mood. These effects are particularly noticeable in some children who are sensitive to food additives and ingredients, including many who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Offering your child a well-balanced and varied diet filled with foods from each food group is a good way to stabilize her mood.

Nutrition and Mood

A diet full of junk food doesn't provide your child with the nutrients his brain needs for healthy neurotransmitter function. This can alter mood because if your child's neurotransmitters are lacking in fuel they cannot adequately transmit messages that control his feelings. Some children are more susceptible to the mood alterations that occur with a poor diet and may experience depression or feelings of being down in the dumps. This can affect learning, relationships and behavior.

Good Mood Foods

When a child's diet is made up of mostly nutritious foods, she is more likely to be in good spirits most of the time. Complex carbohydrates, like those found in whole wheat bread and pasta, whole grain crackers and cereal, brown rice and oatmeal, can calm a child because they don't cause large fluctuations in blood sugar. Foods that release dopamine, a brain chemical associated with feelings of happiness, can improve a child's mood and when eaten regularly serve to stabilize it. Good choices include chocolate, bananas, milk, chicken and leafy green vegetables. Children who suffer from minor bouts of depression may experience an alleviation of symptoms by consuming caffeine, reports Middle Tennessee State University. Increasing intake of folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids and selenium can also prevent feelings of depression; food sources include tuna, salmon, spinach and sunflower seeds.

Bad Mood Foods

Foods that contain a lot of salt, sugar or fat are ones that can produce bad moods in children. The specific foods that cause a child to suffer a poor mood varies and some children may be more sensitive to the effects of an unhealthy meal. A food diary can help you determine which foods your child should avoid or limit. In general, foods that are common culprits are fast food, soda, candy, cookies, chips and frozen dinners. These foods often contain refined carbohydrates, which release more stress hormones, disrupting a child's mood.


Changes to your child's diet may be able to treat mood disturbances but should not take the place of medical treatment. Some research indicates that children with ADHD may experience mood and behavioral benefits when sugar, preservatives and additives are limited or avoided, reports the National Institute of Mental Health. If your child's mood is consistently poor or gets worse, contact his doctor for a psychiatric referral.

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