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Junk Foods Cause Hyperactivity in Special Needs Students

written by: NikkiM•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 1/2/2009

Junk foods provide very few nutrients and expand waistlines, but did you know they also impair learning? Sugar and food additives make it difficult for special needs students to pay attention in class and may even contribute to problem behavior.

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    Junk Food Is a Poor Choice for Special Needs Children

    Most people know that junk food makes a poor choice for children, but many are unaware that it can actually adversely affect the behavior of special needs students. Junk food can cause special needs children to become restless and overly excitable. It can cause children to get out of control and disrupt the classroom environment. Junk foods can even make it hard for children to pay attention and learn in class.

    Why are junk foods so harmful? They contain substances referred to as excitotoxins. Excitotoxins are substances that cause a person's brain to become overexcited, which leads to undesirable behavior. These substances include such things as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and even artificial sweeteners. Also included in this category are food additives, artificial coloring, preservatives, candy, and MSG. All of these substances alter the way the brain works and temporarily render it unable to function optimally.

    Special needs children are particularly vulnerable to toxins and additives in food. In addition to additives and sweeteners, potential allergens like wheat, soy, milk products, and eggs may cause problems as well. Both the digestive system and the brain are vulnerable to the harmful effects of junk food, and the symptoms of food allergies only make matters worse. As such, educators of special needs children should consider the junk food element carefully as well as edibles that may cause an allergic reaction. Hyperactivity and misbehavior may be linked to what students are eating.

    Highly processed, junk foods get to the plate with less of their nutrients still intact. This means children don't benefit as much from the foods they eat and may end up consuming a lot of practically empty calories. Additionally, the more processing a food undergoes, the more additives it is likely to contain. To help in encouraging desirable behavior in the classroom, teachers can encourage the consumption of healthy snacks and foods, both at home and in the classroom. It's a good idea to suggest natural foods, as well as those with a minimal amount of processing, for meals and snacks. To help parents plan at home, teachers may even give out information sheets that list healthy food choices and recipes. They may also get the children involved, if possible, by helping them to learn the difference between a healthy and tasty choice and one that is simply tasty.