Research over the past decade has confirmed that the quality of our diet can significantly affect our mood. Eating a high junk food diet consisting of high-sugar and refined carbohydrates increases the risk of depression, while eating a Mediterranean-style diet with lots of vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats is associated with improvements in mood.
Unfortunately, in relation to the effects of diet on children’s behaviour there has been much less research. There have been some studies showing that avoiding certain additives and eating a restricted diet (e.g, Feingold Diet) can improve symptoms in children with ADHD.
Researchers in Perth, Western Australia have recently published the results of a study investigating the relationship between magnesium and zinc on externalising behaviours in youth . Externalising behaviours are behaviours directed toward others and examples include being oppositional, defiant, arguing, lying and aggression.
The researchers found that youth consuming a higher dietary intake of magnesium experienced significantly reduced externalising behaviours. Although the effects were not as large, a higher intake of zinc was also associated with reduced externalising behaviours.
Both magnesium and zinc have hundreds of crucial roles in the body and are particularly essential for the production of several hormones. In fact, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that is associated with mood and aggression is serotonin. Both of these minerals are required for the optimal production of serotonin. Therefore, one theory is that a higher intake of magnesium and zinc increases serotonin production, and therefore improves mood and behaviour. Magnesium is also an effective anti-stress mineral which could be another reason why it may be helpful for adolescents and children with oppositional behaviours.
While further research is required increasing the intake of foods with high levels of magnesium and zinc is probably a good idea.
Foods high in magnesium include: dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, avocadoes, yoghurt, and bananas.
Foods high in zinc include: beef, lamb, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, lentils, cashews, oysters, and wheat germ.
Supplementing with a high-quality magnesium powder may also help improve mood and behaviour in youth. It is best to use a product that contains a highly-absorbable form of magnesium plus other calming amino acids. It also tastes great which is important for children. Taking one teaspoon, twice daily is the recommended daily amount for children and adolescents.