Aggressive Behavior in Children & Nutrition

There are many causes of aggressive behavior in children; however, a common culprit is often food and poor nutrition 3. Teaching Expertise notes that studies repeatedly prove that modifications of diet sometimes dramatically improve aggressive and unwanted behaviors in children. Sugar, additives, saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and caffeine may all contribute to aggression.

Aggression Defined

The American Academy of Pediatrics defines aggression as violent behavior in elementary school-aged children and older 3. Some younger children have a tendency to bite, hit and destroy property, but for them, the behavior is developmentally appropriate. Aggression is a characteristic of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, according to the AAP, which may also be diagnosed starting around age six. Not all aggressive children have ADHD, however, and in both cases, boys are affected more than girls.

Nutrition Today

Processed foods are more prevalent today than ever before. Oatmeal now comes in individual packets and turns colors when cooked. Children often reach for sugary juices and sodas before they reach for water. Busy lifestyles call for convenience. Not many people have time to whip cream anymore, so they reach for imitation whipped cream instead. Even farming has changed: small organic farms are the notable exceptions to industrialized farms that rely on chemicals.

Feingold Diet

The Feingold Diet is a popular diet for children diagnosed with aggression or ADHD 4. Developed by Dr. Benjamin Feingold in the early 1970s, the regimen eliminates artificial coloring, flavoring and sweeteners, as well as preservatives and foods high in salicylates from the diet. The Feingold Association boasts an 80 percent success rate, and research backs up that finding. A list of studies connecting the diet to an improvement in aggression and ADHD symptoms may be found at The Feingold Association of America 4.

Gluten-free/ Casein-free Diet

A gluten-free/casein-free diet is another popular diet for children diagnosed with aggression or ADHD. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and some oats, and casein is a protein found in milk. Success rates, at this point, are more anecdotal, as research has yet to find a strong link between this diet and an improvement in aggressive behavior.


Aggression and ADHD are on the rise, but even the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions parents against early or quick diagnosis 3. While there is a connection between diet and behavior, parents do not necessarily need to resort to medication if symptoms do not improve upon diet modification. It is important to look at other factors that may contribute to the undesired behavior such as any recent major transitions like a new baby in the family, attending a new school or a residential move. Perhaps the child is simply over-scheduled and tired. It is imperative to discuss any symptoms, concerns and treatments with a pediatrician.