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The foods kids eat contribute substantially to their moods and energy levels, with veggies playing a starring role. Making the most of them, however, also means understanding what contributes to temper tantrums. How veggies can transform little sourpusses into afternoon delights.

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Here’s a kid conversation starter: Next time your child laughs, tell her she is acting like a cucumber.

The foods we eat contribute substantially to our moods and energy levels, and veggies play a starring role in that function. From red beets to leafy greens, the vitamins and nutrients in veggies feed our cells and organs to form an all-together happier, better-functioning person.

Anyone who has watched her child have a meltdown understands the priceless value of such benefits. Making the most of them, however, requires understanding what contributes to temper tantrums in the first place.

Let’s explore what produces sourpusses, and what delivers afternoon delights.

The Ugly

A kid’s day can be determined by what’s on the breakfast menu. Sugary cereals, despite their bright colors, can lead to gray moods.

For some kids, particularly those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating foods high in sugars, salt, preservatives and additives can contribute to a lack of focus and mood swings. This is because an unbalanced diet can deprive the brain of the fuel it needs to transmit messages that manage feelings.

Key culprits of ugly behavior include fast food, soda, candy, cookies, chips, frozen dinners and some juices.

However, even children who do not have ADHD have been shows to experience adverse reactions from certain additives. Research shows that eating a lot of sugars and starchy carbohydrates contribute to falling blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia, which can cause hyperactivity. A study of 3 year olds conducted in the United Kingdom found that children who consumed juices containing artificial flavor enhancers were more likely to lose their temper and have trouble concentrating and sleeping.

The Bad

Let’s move on to lunch. What’s on that plate might not only lead to a meltdown, it could lead to health risks.

Specifically, a prolonged unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression, according to a 2014 study in the online journal PLoS One. Similarly, studies find a correlation between the quality of the foods we eat and our mental health.

Further, early diets that are high in sugars have been linked to food addiction, which in turn can lead to obesity and diabetes.

The Good

It’s dinnertime. So, are we going to go for the processed frozen entree, or the fresh chicken breast with broccoli?

Since Dr. Benjamin Feingold reported a link between diet and physical conditions back in the grooving 1970s, scientists have explored the effects of food additives on children. The results have not been so groovy. Maybe that’s why mood rings emerged at that time.

Fortunately, the same research has supplied us with the knowledge to provide our kids (and ourselves!) healthier diets. Complex carbohydrates, found in whole wheat bread, brown rice and oatmeal, help stabilize the blood sugar and mood. Red beets and leafy green veggies including kale boost the production of dopamine, a chemical that triggers feelings of happiness. And omega-3 fatty acids and selenium, found in salmon, sunflower seeds, spinach and avocado, prevent feelings of depression.

Controlling moods simply means managing what we eat. When checking labels, look out for glucose, corn syrups, MSG, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate. If in doubt, go all-natural. Cucumbers, for example, include plant-based sugars that are slowly absorbed into the blood stream, improving the chances of a stable, happy mood.

Not a bad way to act, is it?

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