Ask Elsa: Diet and behaviour

Elsa Jones

Q I have a six-year-old boy who is not a good eater. He can be lethargic and cranky at times and I wonder if his diet affects his behaviour — can you suggest some changes to improve his mood and energy?

A Absolutely. I would suggest that you start gradually, as you'd be surprised how small changes can make a really big difference.

Children can behave very badly when they are hungry because hunger disrupts their hormones if the blood sugar falls too low, so it's important that he eats at regular intervals.

A good way to start is by switching to wholemeal, so swap all white pasta, rice, bread and crackers for wholemeal varieties. You can start off doing half and half to begin with.

Try to include protein with every meal and snack to keep blood sugar levels balanced and avoid mood swings, low concentration or energy slumps. Protein sources include fish, poultry, meat, eggs, beans or nuts. A child's portion of protein should roughly equal the size of the palm of their hand.

Watch out for additives -- artificial colourings, sweeteners, preservatives and flavourings can all contribute to adverse behaviour in children, particularly the orange colouring tartrazine (E102) found in some orange squashes and sweets.

See my website for simple recipes for kids.

Q I’ve had mild asthma all of my life but it seems to have got worse lately, forcing me to use my inhaler more than I would like. Are there certain foods that help or worsen asthma symptoms?

A There are a number of ways to treat asthma but, from a nutrition point of view, I would focus on a diet that would help build up your immunity and reduce respiratory inflammation.

For some people, food additives such as sulphites can trigger asthma symptoms. Sulphites can be found in wine, dried fruits, pickles, salad dressings and many other foods. Pay attention to whether foods that contain sulphites or other additives seem to trigger or aggravate your asthma and avoid them where possible.

Removing acidic foods such as dairy and wheat from the diet can often improve asthmatic symptoms and boost general immunity.

Foods that may help to reduce congestion and alkalise (make less acidic) the system are brown rice, fish, alfalfa sprouts, lemon juice, water, nuts and seeds. Foods which are acidic and promote inflammation in the body are sugar, tea, coffee, alcohol, processed foods as well as deep-fried foods.

Add chillies, garlic, ginger, turmeric and onions to your cooking as these have anti-inflammatory effects and help to reduce respiratory congestion as well as promoting circulation.

Consider taking a vitamin C and bioflavonoid supplements to improve immunity and reduce allergic responses.

Elsa Jones is a nutritional therapist and presenter of How Healthy Are You? on TV3. Elsa offers one-to-one consultations to meet your individual health requirements as well as group nutrition courses. www.elsa jonesnutri