With the school year, well under way, children (and parents) have fully adjusted to the routine, but for some kids, they struggle with staying focused all day long.
As a Nutritionist, its not uncommon for me to see children in my practice who get themselves into trouble at school, or are diagnosed with Attention Deficit type disorders due to their inability to stay focused. I teach these families that Nutrition plays one of the biggest roles in your child’s ability to concentrate and stay focused on task! Your child’s blood sugar, dietary fat and daily nutrient intake all impact your child’s ability to focus!
The following will help you understand how Diet impacts your child’s cognitive function, and what you can do at home to help them preform better at school.
It’s All About The Blood Sugar!
Blood sugar has the single greatest impact on cognitive function! The reason being is your brains only source of fuel is glucose, and when there are sudden shifts in blood sugar (highs and lows) the brain has a difficult time staying focused!
High Blood sugar results from eating high glycemic foods (fast release carbohydrates). These foods enter the blood stream rapidly, and cause a rise in sugar flooding the brain. In children we may notice that they become hyperactive, have a difficult time listening or sitting still, and there may even be a total shift in their personality or mood! High glycemic foods include foods such as: processed breakfast cereals, juice, soda, granola bars, candy and sweets etc.
These high glycemic foods are also incredibly addicting! Sugar addiction is a serious problem for adults and children alike. We are programmed to search out carbohydrate rich foods as in the Paleolithic days these foods were readily stored in our bodies as reserves for in times of famine. In today’s day and age, we are no longer faced with famine and yet we are still inclined (or programmed) to be attracted to these types of foods. High glycemic foods also have a hormonal reaction in our body, producing hormones such as serotonin, which is a happy, feel good hormone. This reaction for some people can be very addicting and can result in compulsive eating habits and poor food selection in some children.
The problem with high glycemic foods? They are short lived! Often after your child enjoys the ride of sugar rush, they succumb to the despised sugar crash, where they can feel fatigued, moody and craving more sweets! As a Nutritionist, I educate my clients to take a serious look at the processed foods they feed their children as many are specifically formulated to be addictive! Refined sugar, additives and food colourings are not naturally occurring, and all impact your child’s cognitive function!
THE TRICK? STABILIZE THEIR BLOOD SUGAR!
If you want to help your child have steady brainpower you want to provide them with quality nutrition that allows for steady blood sugar levels. The Glycemic Index is a great tool to use to help determine if a food is going to have a short term high followed by a crash (high glycemic) or long term blood sugar stabilization (Low Glycemic) impact. Choose foods in their natural forms, from the Low and Medium Glycemic lists and you are choosing foods that will provide long-term energy for healthy brain function!
Tips for Steady Blood Sugar Levels and Long Term Cognitive Function
YOUR BRAIN IS FAT!!!!
60% fat to be exact. And the fat your child’s diet, becomes the fats in his or her brain. AND…. There are some really bad fats for cognitive function!
Your child requires a healthy dose of dietary fats every day for healthy cognitive function. Healthy fats include:
- Saturated fats like those found in coconut oil
- Omega 3, found in Flax Oil, Hemp Hearts, Chia seeds, Walnuts and cold-water fish.
- Omega 6 Found in organic soybeans, Egg yolks
- Monounsaturated Fats found in Avocados and Olive oil
- Phospholipids found in Egg Yolks, Organic Soybeans and organ meats
Bad dietary fats such as Trans fats (look for the words hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated on labels) can actually enter the brain and block conversion of Essential Fatty Acids (Omega 3 and 6) into vital brain fats and decrease neurological function! Bad fats are found in: Deep-fried foods, processed meats, margarine, chips and some granola bars and children’s cereals!
Now in closing there is one more thing we need to also consider when it comes to your child’s ability to stay focused and that is daily nutrient intake and antioxidants. You see our brains (and frankly our entire bodies) need a large variety of naturally occurring nutrients every single day (90 daily that are essential that we are aware of!). Unfortunately processed foods are often fortified with synthetic nutrients and are poorly recognized and absorbed by the body. Vitamins and minerals found in food are bioavailable, meaning they are easily recognized and made use of by the body! An organic apple has up to 10,000 nutrients, phytonutrients and antioxidants, all of which are easily absorbed and made use of by the body to build health (Lets not forget that apple also have fibre, enzymes and is an excellent source of long term carbohydrates!).
Enriched cereals may only have up to 12 added artificial nutrients, so I am sure you can see the difference! Your child’s brain does not fire or receive messages without nutrients being present! If they are deficient, they will not be meeting their intellectual potential! Eating a wide variety of natural foods (list below) will ensure they are consuming lots of nutrients and ensure their brains have all they need to be happy!
Antioxidants are also very important for healthy brains! Because our brains are 60% fat, and fats are at high risk for oxidation (the reason apples go brown when cut and left to the air) we need to ensure daily antioxidant intake to neutralize this oxidative stress and protect their brains (and ours!). Plants are the best sources (really the only source) of dietary antioxidants. Synthetic antioxidants (as seen in many commercial vitamin supplements) are like the synthetic vitamins added to the “enriching process’ and are poorly absorbed at best. However you can have a significant impact on the amount of antioxidants protecting your child’s entire body by ensuring they are eating a variety of fruits and vegetables every day!!
Based on the responses of more than 150,000 families in the Juice Plus+ Children’s Health Study, taking Juice Plus+ has far-reaching effects on the health and well-being of children. After only one year, parents reported:
Ask me how your children can be a part of the Children’s Health Study!
As a Nutritionist I highly recommend Juice Plus+ for families, as it is a whole food based supplement made entirely from juiced fruits and vegetables! The Children’s capsules contain only concentrated whole food powders without the sugar! Juice Plus+ is not a replacement for healthy dietary choices but helps families bridge the gap between what they are eating and what they should be eating. www.AlisaHerriman.JuicePlus.com
Alisa Herriman has been researching and teaching Nutrition since 2003. Leaving her job in the health care industry to share her passion for healthy living, Alisa travels all over Canada sharing her mission and teaching communities how to prevent and fight disease with Nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.