Behavior and Food – Are They Linked?
Have you noticed that behavioral issues in children (and adults, for that matter) are on the rise? Not to mention conditions like obesity and cancer. When you look in history books you don’t find a predominance of behavioral issues. You don’t see photos of an obese population. There could be many reasons for this: the introduction of electronics and social media; the inescapability of sugar and chemical additives in our food; the decline in educational standards; the rise in readily available, cheaply produced food products. While all of these are factors in human behavior and health, we are going to spend some time looking at how what you eat affects how you act and feel.
You Are What You EatStop me if you’ve heard that one before. But as with so many sayings, it contains an underlying truth. If we load our bodies full of artificial colors and flavors and processed sugar, is it any wonder things go wrong? Our bodies were designed to live in and process nature. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen any Yellow 6 or high-fructose corn syrup growing on a tree lately. Unless you buy only whole-food ingredients and make all your meals from scratch, you are likely consuming an average of 17 teaspoons of added sugar a day. You read that correctly. “But wait,” you say, “I don’t drink soda or add lots of sugar to my coffee. How can that be?” Well, food companies long ago realized the addictive power of sugar (studies have found it could be just as addictive as cocaine), so they add it to pretty much everything: salsa, soups, sauces, yogurt, you name it. We all know that too much sugar leads to a host of health problems (diabetes and obesity top the list). But did you know that sugar is linked to behavioral issues like hyperactivity and sleep problems, just to name a few.
Only The Tip Of The IcebergSugar is only one of the culprits. Preservatives have been linked to behavioral changes and hyperactivity. Artificial colors are known to cause cancer, ADHD, and mood changes. And you can find both of these chemical additives in the most surprising places. The best thing to do is read food labels carefully. Avoid anything with ingredients you can’t pronounce. An often overlooked source of behavioral and health issues is food allergies. Severe allergies to foods like peanuts or shellfish are easy to recognize and thus avoid. Less obvious allergic reactions can often go undiagnosed for years. Little Johnny suddenly starts acting up in class and being more aggressive at home. This is never linked to the addition of strawberries to his lunchbox every day. (True story!) The strawberries cause an allergic reaction, making Johnny uncomfortable and causing him to act out.
Bringing Things Back Into BalanceSo what can be done to eliminate food-based behavioral and health issues? Here are some suggestions:
- As much as possible, cook your own meals. That way you know exactly what is in the foods you eat.
- Because we can’t all be Martha Stewart, at least take the time to read food labels. Avoid products with ingredients that sound like they came from a lab. (Because that’s exactly where they came from. No one reads “sodium benzoate” or “butylated hydroxyanisole” and thinks, “Yum!”)
- Make a conscious effort to repair the damage already done. Homeostasis (think “balance in your body’s functions”) is important but is damaged by all the sugar, preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors you consume. Adaptogens (named for their ability to help your body ADAPT to stress) can fill in where damaged cells are falling short. Making adaptogens part of your daily routine will lead to immediate improvements in energy, sleep, and overall performance.