Effect of diet on mood & behaviour
There are so many different reasons why people behave in the way they do that attempts to investigate any one single aspect of it in isolation is fraught with difficulty.
Genetic factors are obviously important. Parents cannot help but notice the way in which genetic traits are passed down from one generation to the next – not just the obvious physical attributes of their child, but aspects of its personality and behaviour.
External factors also play a part. It’s long been accepted that a stable home environment is important to every child, though even the best behaved can become irritable when they become tired or hungry. The role of food seems self evident – we are what we eat – but the precise way in which diet affects behaviour is more difficult to understand.
One of the first people to draw attention to a possible link between diet and behaviour was Dr Ben Feingold, an American allergist. He claimed that the behaviour of hyperactive children could be improved by removing artificial colours and flavours as well as certain fruits containing naturally occurring salicylates from their diet. His first paper was published in 1975 and many studies have been carried out since then to try to confirm or refute his hypothesis (see Artificial colours and hyperactivity).
Over the last 20 years an increasing body of evidence has suggested that an imbalance in fatty acid in the diet could be an important contributory factor (see Nutrition and hyperactivity).
The importance of good nutrition, especially for the growing child, has been highlighted in recent years by the ongoing debate on healthy eating, and public concern about the nutritional quality of school meals. There is a growing scientific consensus about the links between diet and health, but the true nature of the link between diet and behaviour is not yet fully understood.