Compiled by Dr Henry West (deceased); Jason West contributions

The effects of diet on behavior.

Sugar, diet and depression. They are all linked. It has been clearly demonstrated in many ways that additives to food have a dire effect on behavior. In 1982, students at the Canyon Verde School, a private school in Hermosa Beach, California, performed a study. They kept four groups of rats in four separate cages and fed each group different foods. The rats in the first cage ate natural food and drank clean water. Those in the second cage ate the same natural foods plus frankfurt­ers. The rats in the third cage ate only sugar‑coated cereal and drank fruit punch. In the fourth cage, the rats got only sugar doughnuts and cola.

For three months the students, all of whom had behavioral problems including autism and marginal retardation, watched the rats. The school nutritionist, Pam Mobley, set up the study to show the children why the school had strict nutritional guidelines and how profoundly their behavior could be influenced by their food and beverage decisions.

Throughout the study, the rats in the first cage remained alert, curious, calm, and social. The rats in the rest of the cages exhibited different types of behavior. The sugar, diet and depression becomes evident.

The rats that were fed hot dogs became violent. They fought aggres­sively and bit off their own tails. In some instances, the rats even severed their own tongues.

The rats that ate sugar‑coated cereal and fruit punch ran around and around the cage. They were nervous, hyperactive, and aimless. Some hung upside down from the ceilings of their little homes.

Trouble sleeping

The rats that ate sugar doughnuts and drank cola had trouble sleeping. They did not

huddle together as rats normally would but chose instead to hunker quivering in corners, unable to function as a social unit.  When approached from outside the cage, they became extremely fearful.

Some of the mother rats had pups, and their offspring showed similar behavioral traits. Some of the pups immediately displayed antisocial traits. Others were fearful. Still others experienced constant sleeplessness. Some pups were born without hair; others’ coats quickly became greasy, matted, and knotted.

No wonder!  Perhaps the pups were genetically damaged, or they may have been imitating their mothers’ behavior. Another theory is that the nursing mothers may have passed chemicals from their diet on to their newborns in their milk.

Sugar and Rat separation

Finally, the rats in cages two, three, and four were switched to the same natural foods and pure water given the cage‑one rats. After several weeks, the rest of the animals became sociable and interacted in a more normal manner. They improved in appearance as their bodies became sleek with full, furry coats and gleaming tails. They were rats. Sure. But they were civilized rats.

The experiment provided the students a model for their own behavior. The study was able to demonstrate to the students that, in part, the knot that bound them to unhealthy behaviors was of biological origin‑-food.

At Canyon Verde School, the students’ switch from chemical foods to natural foods without additives produced miracles in some cases, and in other cases it was a certain factor in helping students cope better with life. Badly ‑ behaved children underwent profound and positive behavioral changes. After changing their diet, some stopped punching their teachers and throwing chairs.

Canyon Verde children began to assert their own needs for wholesome food and they began to demand good food at home and in restaurants, too. They stood up for their safe food rights!

Depression and Student Commentary

Here are some comments from the children of the Canyon Verde School, as reported in the Pritikin Foundation newsletter:

“If you fed a sixteen‑year‑old boy the junk we fed to the rats, it would make him go crazy. I ate sugar a lot, and sometimes I’d act hypnotized, sometimes confused. I was argumentative‑not the way I am when I eat healthy food.”

“Me and my mom have fewer arguments now that I’m eating healthy food, I’m not so hyper and I’m easier to get along with.”

“Some of the additives in the food can cause brain damage. For the rats to go crazy, to bite off their tongues from eating hot dogs, well . We should shop at health food stores. I mean, what’s a few dollars more if you’re healthy instead of like a test rat? Who wants to be like a test rat?

This school experiment is just one example of the many studies demon­strating very clearly that behavioral problems are indeed linked to our food. Are you struggling with sugar, diet and depression? Let’s clean up your food intake.

For patient success stories:

For original articles:


Diet for a Poisoned Planet

Steinman Ballantine Bookds, N.Y.  1990

Other articles available:

Why iron is bad for you.

Calcium, friend or enemy

Women reboot therapy

Nerve disease and what to do about it