Diet secrets for child mental health

By: Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, School-based Psychologist

Major media recently reported upon studies to show that five or more servings of fruits and vegetables can improve your child’s mental health. The researchers conducted a study of almost 8,000 youth in Norfolk, England to find a “strong association between nutrition and mental well-being among the older secondary school children.”

But this news really isn’t new. Nor have ancient secrets been withheld from the general public. For years, doctors included recommendations for dietary changes as ways in which the food consumed by kids and adults can be used to treat and/or neurological and mental disorders. For instance, Ben Feingold in his book, Why Your Child is Hyperactive, argued that “childhood hyperactivity was caused by food dyes, artificial flavorings and certain preservatives.” 1 He estimated that 80% of the additives in our food are artificial. As such, he identified foods infused with salicylates, a natural chemicals found in many nuts, berries, cherries, cucumbers, grapes, oranges, plums, tangerines and tomatoes. And, of course, he suggested the restriction of foods with certain artificial ingredients. To lend credence to his outlandish claims at the time, Boris and Mandel, published an article appearing in the Annals of Allergy demonstrating that “children who eliminated wheat, dairy ,corn, soy, citrus, eggs, chocolate, artificial colors and preservatives experienced far less hyperactivity than they had previously.2

Not yet convinced? Incidentally, the researchers also found that when the child participants were allowed to go back to their original (unhealthy) diet, the hyperactive behavior returned! To augment the recommendations of Dr. Feingold, some pediatricians suggest to parents of hyperactive children that they consider eliminating hot dogs, some commercial baked goods and processed meats.3

Many observant mothers notice the negative effects of caffeinated drinks such as soda, cola and soft drinks have on their children. When too much caffeine is consumed by young kids, adolescents, teens and young adults it can cause irritability and sleeplessness. “Pediatricians generally advise that children consume no more than one cola or other caffeinated drink a day.”4

This information is commonsensical, you may say to yourself. What about bipolar disorders and aggressive behaviors? Just recently, Richard Johnson, co-author and researcher at the University of Colorado published an article appearing in the Journal of Evolution and Behavior finding that sugar-laden diets may “increase a person’s risk for developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder and aggressive behaviors.” More specifically, they zeroed-in on added sweeteners. Fructose, high fructose corn syrup, and uric acid, all which “may work” they said, “to bring about the onset of these disorders in those genetically predisposed to them.”5

The Ketogenic diet has been prescribed to “control intractable epileptic seizures.”6 In 1997, John Freeman, in his statement of the Child Neurology Society on the Ketogenic Diet, suggested that 50 to 75% of child using the Keto Diet have shown considerable improvement in the control of their seizures. Lewis cites another example how changes in one’s diet can reduce the size of respiratory throat tumors called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP) and associated with the HPV6 and HPV11 viruses. In a study conducted by the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, RRP patients were directed to ingest two cups of cabbage juice daily. According to the researcher, some patients experienced five-year remissions using the cabbage juice protocols.7

So the next time you speak with your medical doctor about behavioral challenges your child is experiencing, don’t forget to provide a listing of his/her types of food consumed, when (morning, afternoon, night) how often, and how much. You never now how impactful small tweaks to one’s diet can affect positive change and lead to more healthy outcomes.


1. Feingold, Ben, Why Your Child is Hyperactive, Random House: New York, NY.

2. Boris, M. and Mandel, F.S. (1994). “Foods and additives are common causes of attention deficit hyperactive disorder in children, Annuals of Allergy, 72 (5) 462-468.

3. Foods that Harm: Foods that Heal, Reader’s Digest Assoc. Inc, Pleasantville, NY

4. Foods that Harm: Foods that Heal, Reader’s Digest Assoc. Inc, Pleasantville, NY

5. Johnson, Richard, Fructose and uric acid as drivers of a hyperactive foraging response: A clue to behavioral disorders associated with impulsivity or mania?, Evolution and Human Behavior, Vol. 42, Issue 3, May 2021

6. Lewis, Lisa, Special Diets for Special Kids, Future Horizons, Inc: Arlington, TX, n.d. pg. 18

7. Coll, D.A., Rosen, C.A, Auborn, K, et al “Treatment of Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis with Indole-3 Carbinol, American Journal of Otolaryngology, Vol. 18, No. 4, p. 283-285

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Dr. Mead, PhD, MBA, MA is a consultant specializing in human behavior, school and social psychology. She can be contacted at: tonya at ishareknowledge dot com