Foods That Negatively Affect a Toddler's Behavior & Mood

Many parents know not to feed their toddlers unhealthy foods, including candy, soda and processed snacks. Unfortunately, it isn't easy to completely eliminate artificial ingredients, preservatives and sugar from a child's diet. Any processed food may contain ingredients that can affect a child's mood and cause negative health effects. Learning about these ingredients and foods will make it easier to make healthy choices at the grocery store.

Artificial Colorings

Artificial colorings are banned in many European countries because studies suggest a negative effect on children, but American companies continue to use chemical dyes, anyway, according to an article from CNN Health. Companies use dyes for aesthetic purposes in hundreds of foods, including candy, juice, soda and snack foods. Surprisingly, artificial coloring can also be found in foods such as bread, yogurt, canned goods and crackers. Several studies point to artificial colors as causing or influencing the development of ADHD, anxiety, hyperactivity, migraines and even cancer, as the Feingold organization notes 4. Check ingredient lists before buying any food, even ones that seem safe at first glance. Look for dyes, such as yellow No. 5, red No. 40 and blue No 1. Organic foods don't contain any artificial coloring.


Many parents blame sugar as the reason for their child's hyperactivity. Candy and ice cream are typical culprits, but companies put sugar into an alarming number of processed foods, including fruit juice, breads, pizza crust, ketchup and peanut butter. Even organic foods may contain copious amounts of sugar. Sugary foods may cause hyperactivity, cavities and weight gain. They also promote heart disease, diabetes, depressed immune systems and cravings for more sugar, according to the Ask Dr. Sears website. Just because an ingredient label doesn't list plain sugar, don't assume that the food doesn't contain any. Manufacturers often disguise sugar by calling it another name, such as sucrose, corn syrup, barley malt or maltodextrin.


You'd probably never consider handing your toddler a cup of coffee. Even so, avoiding caffeine isn't that simple. Caffeine is found naturally in chocolate and iced tea, and many companies add it to soda and cold medications. For example, a typical can of cola may contain between 36 and 46 milligrams of caffeine, according to the article "Nutrition Matters" from Toronto's Public Health organization. Kids' smaller bodies are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine, which can cause jumpiness, nervousness, sleep loss, hyperactivity, headache or stomachache, notes Mary L. Gavin, M.D., in an article in KidsHealth 6.

Preservatives and Other Additives

Many processed foods contain preservatives to give them a longer shelf life in stores. Such preservatives may include sodium nitrite and nitrate, sulfur dioxide and sodium benzoate. Nitrites and nitrates are found in almost all processed meats, and sodium benzoate is typically added to soda, fruit juices and margarine. According to a 2007 study by "The Lancet", children who drank juice that contained sodium benzoate showed increased hyperactivity. Jim Janna, M.A., notes that nitrates and nitrites can cause allergic reactions, vomiting, headaches and asthma, in an article on the Puristat website.