4 Foods That Negatively Affect Your Child’s Mood

When our kids are having trouble focusing or are acting out, it’s easy to get frustrated and cast blame on them or ourselves. But there are a variety of factors that can influence your child’s mood and behavior! Things like lack of sleep or not enough sunlight, for instance, can cause our kids to whine or get frustrated easily. Certain foods can negatively affect your child’s mood too. If your child struggles with mood swings or seems irritable for no reason, here are 4 foods you might want to limit or avoid.

Foods with Sugar

Probably the most well-known culprit of hyperactivity, irritability, etc. is sugar. Sugar is, no doubt, in many foods your child eats, so avoiding sugar altogether is probably not a feasible goal. But limiting the amount of sugar your child consumes can help them keep a steady energy level throughout the day and prevent unwanted mood swings.

Artificial colors

Another food that can negatively affect your child’s mood is artificial colors. Pam Myers, BSed explains,

“Linked to ADHD, anxiety, hyperactivity, and headaches in children, artificial coloring can also cause significant behavioral changes. Because artificial coloring is in many sugary foods, parents often blame behavioral changes on sugar…. Avoid products with yellow No. 5, red No. 40, and blue No. 1 if you’re concerned about your child’s mood swings after consuming food with artificial coloring.”

If your child is acting out or gets frequent headaches, be sure to look at the ingredient label on foods your child eats regularly. You might be surprised how many foods have artificial colors in them!

Food allergens

No doubt you know by now what foods your child is allergic or sensitive to. But if your child hasn’t had any rashes or reactions but has some behavior issues, you may want to get your child tested. Some kids can eat everything under the sun but are sensitive to artificial food colors or preservatives. (We’ll talk more about preservatives in a minute.) Observe your child’s behavior after they’ve eaten certain foods (especially dairy products, which are known for negatively affecting children’s behavior). If you see a shift in your little one’s demeanor, consult your pediatrician or an allergist to see if a food allergy is to blame.


Preservatives including MSG, sodium benzoate, nitrates, and nitrites can cause side effects and trigger behavior shifts. According to healthfully.com, preservatives can cause hyperactivity in children. Check foods like deli meats, fruit juices, pickles, and soda for preservatives and try to replace these foods with preservative-free alternatives.

Does the thought of altering your child’s diet feel overwhelming and scary? Don’t make sudden, drastic changes. Instead, gradually replace behavior triggers with healthier alternatives, and don’t stress if it takes a while to find a realistic balance for your family. Who knows? You might find that the changes you make have a positive effect on your mood too.

“The idea isn’t to get paranoid (although that’s an understandable feeling); the idea is to get informed — and to make some simple changes that can go a long way toward keeping children and their families healthier.”
Claire McCarthy, MD