Child aggression and diet

Child aggression and diet

You know when your child has issues with aggression.

There will be biting, kicking and hitting.

Not only will this happen within your own family, but also at school and preschool.

And it sucks to be the parent of the biter.  Even if preschool staff can remain tight lipped about the offender, it is likely the child who has been bitten will not!

It is much better to work out the root cause and address it early, before your child gets type-cast as the angry or violent kid.

There are dietary changes you can make to reduce aggression, and that is where you need to start.  If you don’t see the improvements after making dietary changes you can look for deeper underlying causes like infections, but often, just changing the diet is all that is needed.

So what dietary changes can reduce aggression in kids?

Move to a low salicylate diet (or improve tolerance to salicylates!)

Cutting out salicylates is not fun.  Salicylates are found in berries, apples, grapes, tomatoes, almonds, honey, avocado, spinach, rock melon, water melon, dates, herbs and spices.  As you can see from this list, people who have what I would call a very healthy diet would be eating a lot of salicylates.  So if you (and your child!) are banging your head against a brick wall with confusion about why your healthy diet isn’t helping, maybe the issue is salicylates?  The other clues that salicylates are a problem can actually be head-banging, hyperactivity, red cheeks or ears and sleep issues.

Check for amines

Amines are a naturally occurring food chemical which is high in bananas, cheese, chocolate, wine, fermented foods, soy sauce, bone broth and aged meat.  Adults who have an issue with amines will present with migraines, but in kids it can be aggression, irritability, hyperactivity, defiance and headaches.  Again, you might be giving your child fermented foods and bone broth because you heard they are great health foods, but it really does demonstrate that there isn’t one perfect diet for everyone.  It is so important to work with a qualified nutritionist to determine exactly what will work for your child.

Remove glutamates

Glutamates are in vegemite and marmite, which is why I recommend we break up with this Aussie staple and replace it with something less reactive like tahini.  Other ways this chemical will sneak into your child’s diet is through MSG (super nasty flavour enhancer found in processed food and some takeaway food), sauerkraut, bone broth, gelatin, peas, corn and tomatoes.  Glutamates will also cause irritability and aggression, whether they are naturally occurring or artificially added.

These three food chemicals (salicylates, amines and glutamates) are all part of a bigger food chemical group called phenols.  If your child isn’t tolerating these foods well, it is because there is a biochemical pathway in their body called sulfation which isn’t working as well as it should be.  So in the short-term, cutting out the phenols might make your child less aggressive, but my goal when working with families is to restrict the diet for as short a time as is necessary.  In the long term the goal is to improve the pathways in your child’s body so that they don’t react to the phenols.

Cut out soy

There are some studies in monkeys to show that when boy monkeys eat too much soy, it makes them more aggressive and less sociable.  Soy mimics oestrogen in the body, so soy might not be such an important food to cut out for girls, but for boys it can be.  So if your boy was told to cut out dairy, and you put him on soy milk or formula, cut it out and see what happens.  Soy is one of the most common allergens, so even for girls, you can experiment with removing soy.

Don’t buy food with additives

There is no doubt that there are food additives which are associated with aggression in children.  Toddlers who drink juice full of colours and preservatives are more likely to lose their temper than toddlers who don’t.  All children will do better with no additives in their diet.   If you aren’t ready to take the additive-free plunge, these are the worst of the bad guys that you need to avoid:

Artificial Colours

  • 102 tartrazine,
  • 104 quinoline yellow,
  • 107 yellow 2G,
  • 110 sunset yellow,
  • 122 azorubine,
  • 123 amaranth,
  • 124 ponceau red,
  • 127 erythrosine,
  • 128 red 2G,
  • 129 allura red,
  • 132 indigotine,
  • 133 brilliant blue,
  • 142 green S,
  • 151 brilliant black,
  • 155 chocolate brown natural colour,
  • 160b annatto


  • Preservatives 200-203 sorbates (in margarine, dips, cakes, fruit products)
  • 210-213 benzoates (in juices, soft drinks, cordials, syrups, medications)
  • 220-228 sulphites (in dried fruit, fruit drinks, sausages, and many others)
  • 280-283 propionates (in bread, crumpets, bakery products)
  • 249-252 nitrates, nitrites (in processed meats like ham)
  • Synthetic antioxidants – in margarines, vegetable oils, fried foods, snacks, biscuits, etc
  • 310-312 Gallates 319-320 TBHQ, BHA, BHT (306-309 are safe alternatives)
  • Flavour enhancers – in flavoured crackers, snacks, takeaways, instant noodles, soups 621 MSG 627, 631, 635 disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, ribonucleotides

Identify allergens

There are allergens that cause an immediate effect on a child, like hives or anaphylaxis.  This will happen within about 30 minute of the child having the problematic food.  These allergies are pretty easy to spot.  Your child eats the food, your child gets a reaction.  There are other food allergies that are a bit more sneaky and they can give a delayed reaction.  So your child could have a tantrum today because of a food they ate yesterday.  That makes it really hard to work out what the problem food is.  I often organise blood tests for children to help parents identify what the problem foods are.  You can book an appointment to organise testing here.  These food allergies are called IgG reactions, and they make your child’s body release inflammatory chemicals call cytokines.  These cytokines will cause inflammation in your child’s gut, brain and lungs, and can make them act aggressively.

Reduce gut pain

A child with a constant pain in the belly will not be happy, and in some kids this might make them act aggressively.  I often get children in clinic who have complained of tummy pain as long as they have been able to talk.  Either by taking a really good diet history, or by doing a blood test, I can pinpoint the problem foods and remove them.  And as if by magic, the child isn’t cranky or in pain anymore! Of course, it isn’t always going to be just one or two problem foods, sometimes more intense gut healing is required, like doing the GAPS diet.  Ultimately, your child should not live with gut pain.

And one last thing….

Electromagnetic fields – if you child is aggressive and has trouble sleeping, remove all electrical devices from their bedroom at night and see what happens.  If they have an electrical device on the other side of the wall from their bed, move their bed.  Some sensitive children need to have their exposure to EMFs seriously curtailed for optimum health.

My online program will help ease the transition for your family to a diet and lifestyle that will reduce aggressive behaviour, get started today!

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