As children go back to school this Fall, thoughts turn to new classrooms and teachers, friends, school supplies, and the latest back-to-school fashions. One vitally important topic that is often overlooked is nutrition. Good nutrition plays an important part in brain health, and will go a long way in helping children be more successful in school.
Optimal brain function requires specific nutrients which many children lack due to a typical Western diet of processed food and few fruits and vegetables. Many foods are damaged by pesticides, processing, and refining. Processed food also contains high amounts of preservatives, dyes and sugar which may lead to hyperactivity, irritability, inability to focus and fatigue in some children. Supplementing a child’s diet with a high-potency multivitamin, essential fatty acids and encouraging the consumption of simple nutritious food will help minimize the adverse effect of a Western diet, optimize brain health and give a child the building blocks for success in school.
Eat Breakfast- Consume a nutritious, protein rich meal in the morning before school. Protein in the morning helps regulate blood sugar levels and reduce hunger pangs. Try eggs, yogurt, or oatmeal with nuts. Avoid the expensive, high sugar cereals!
Water- Hydrate throughout the day. Send a bottle of water to school with your child instead of juice or soda.
Healthy School Snacks- Send healthy snacks to school. Whole fruit, applesauce, yogurt, carrot sticks, celery sticks or apple slices with almond butter, and trail mix are delicious nutritious choices. Avoid sugary and heavily processed snacks.
Plan Lunch- Offer healthy choices and let them create their own lunch. Teaching your children to make informed choices about nutrition will help them through-out life.
Magnesium, Vitamin B6 and Zinc are common nutrients found in multivitamins, and each play a role in brain health. Magnesium is a calming mineral that helps to relax the body and enhance concentration. Vitamin B6 is required for the production of neurotransmitters that affect mental processes such as mood and concentration. Vitamin B6 also helps to support the body’s ability to cope with stress. Zinc improves concentration, mood, and alertness, and can help children with behavioral problems. Most multivitamins contain Magnesium, Vitamin B6, Zinc and other essential vitamins and minerals. A high-potency liquid or chewable vitamin for children is ideal. They are usually found in your local health food store, are easy to swallow and contain the most absorbable and useable forms of vitamins.
Essential Fatty Acids
Omega 3 and Omega 6 polyunsaturated essential fatty acids (PUFA) are required for growth and neurological development. Many children with attention disorders and learning disabilities are deficient in these essential fatty acids. The important factor surrounding PUFA’s is balancing the Omega 3 to 6 ratio. Omega 3’s are found in wild cold-water fish (not farm-raised) such as salmon, and in certain nuts and seeds, such as almonds and flax seeds. Omega 6’s are found mostly in vegetable oils. Children who consume a Western diet are typically deficient in Omega 3, but not Omega 6. An essential fatty acid supplement will provide the necessary fats for growth and brain function.
Multivitamins, essential fatty acids and nutritious food choices are the core to optimal brain health. Children with specific challenges may need additional supplementation of amino acids or herbal medicine to address their health concerns. Supplements are not a replacement for food and should be kept out of reach of children. It is important to consider appropriate doses for children, the possibility of allergies and drug interactions. As with any modifications relating to health, consult a healthcare professional before implementing dietary changes or nutritional supplementation. Dr. Kenney, Fairfield, CT