Approaching your child’s health naturally is a trend that has been growing in popularity for families of all kinds. Today many health issues are directly related to food sensitivities and vitamin deficiencies. Growing research suggests that by addressing the root of these issues we can begin to naturally correct and prevent learning & behavior challenges.
For many families, diet may be one of the last things to come to mind when approaching behavioral and learning disorders. Most processed and packaged foods contain high amounts of sugars (both artificial and bleached), hybridized grains, modified dairy, and chemical preservatives and colors. Looking at what your kids are eating should be at the top of the list when determining what may be causing a learning or behavioral challenge. Research confirms there is a gut-brain connection that correlates digestive problems and food sensitivities with behavioral and learning disabilities. Listed below are various diets that have been known to address brain balance. Start with the diet place that makes sense for your family and commit to it for at least two weeks. Most people will start to see a change in themselves and their children within the first few days. It is ok to smart small and just choose one food item or additive to remove from your child’s diet, as it can be overwhelming to make large scale food changes for your family. I have added some links throughout the article to help you build shopping lists and meal plan. For additional sources on food additives and how they affect brain health check out the book selection at the World of Nutrition.
Understanding Diets & Their Purpose:
Feingold Program: The Feingold program is an elimination diet. This program eliminates foods from your child’s diet that contain artificial colors (dyes), artificial flavors, and artificial sweeteners (aspartame). Scientific studies suggest that these types of chemical ingredients contribute to learning difficulties and behavioral challenges. BHA, TBHQ, and BHT are three preservatives that also must be eliminated. The latest research links these additives & preservatives to asthma, hyperactivity, chemical disruption of cell communication & ADHD. The Feingold diet requires reading all food labels and avoiding any food items that contain the additives mentioned above. It is helpful to plan a menu for the week when you start a diet that eliminates all process foods. Planning ahead will ensure you have the fresh, whole food ingredients you need at home to make healthy meals and snacks for your children.
Gluten Free Diet: The gluten free diet excludes any products containing or made with wheat, rye and barley. These grains all contain the protein Gluten and Gliadin. These two molecules come into contact and form a bond that can be difficult to digest. You can find gluten free items where wheat, barley and rye are replaced with seed and nut flours such as almond, coconut, and tapioca and rice. Gluten and Gliadin has been associated with digestive inflammation, skin rashes, and autoimmune disorders.
Dairy Free diet: Did you know that more than half the population is lactose intolerant? Babies and young children possess the ability to break down lactose, however the production of enzymes that help digest dairy begins to decrease between the ages of two and five. Difficulty digesting dairy can potentially lead to stomach issues, unhealthy bacteria growth and the production of toxins, leading to intestinal inflammation. Digestive issues have been known to contribute to behavioral and attention issues in children, making a dairy free diet a great starting point when approaching this challenge. A common concern for many parents considering the removal of dairy is where will my child receive their calcium? There are many foods that are higher in calcium than dairy. Dark leafy greens such as spinach, broccoli, kale, bok choy, and collard greens are fantastic sources of calcium, folate, vitamins A, B, C & E. Seafood, Almonds, blackstrap molasses and beans are also rich in calcium. Many non-dairy food sources of calcium are healthier because they also contain other vitamins and minerals that benefit the body.
Paleo Diet: The Paleo diet is also referred to as the caveman diet. It is high in protein, and carries a low glycemic index. Eating Paleo includes fruits, vegetables, and proteins high in omega-3 fatty acids. The Paleo Diet is free of dairy, grain and sugar, the three most common food allergies. Research shows that by eliminating hard to digest foods from the diet, inflammation is reduced and the body functions more efficiently. When your immune system is constantly stimulated there is not adequate energy to provide support to the brain and nervous system. Against All Grain by Danielle Walker is a perfect starter cookbook for Paleo recipes, and cooking tips, the colorful pages with easy to follow recipes are perfect for any beginner or someone who is looking to add flair to the kitchen.
Omega-3 DHA & EPA Benefit Behavior, Mood & Cognitive Development of Children
Omega-3 fatty acids are an extremely important part of our diet. Current research directly links low omega-3 levels with behavioral disorders, developmental delays, and the ability to learn. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid responsible for the development of the brain and nervous system. Its primary function is to aid in the development of neural synapse. The shape of this essential fatty acid works to lay the pathways that allow the brain to function and communicate with the rest of the body properly. DHA is not produced by the body and must be obtained through nutrition. Studies suggest that deficiencies in Omega-3’s, specifically in the brain and nervous system of young children, lead to lower IQ, developmental delays, and behavioral disorders such as ADD & ADHD, depression, and anxiety.
Eating a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids in early stages of development is crucial to brain development. 60% of the brain is fatty acids and is a major component of gray matter. As your child begins to grow the DHA found in Omega-3’s is crucial to the function of brain cell membranes, which are necessary for your child’s brain to send signals throughout the body. During the adolescence years, a fundamental reorganization of the brain takes place. The subcortical brain areas that include the limbic system and the reward system develop earlier than prefrontal areas of the brain that balance risk tasking, emotional and intellectual development. Supplementing with Omega-3’s during these years supports mood, behavior, energy, and cognitive learning. You can obtain Omega-3 fatty acids from fish, nuts, seeds, and algae. A fish oil supplement is also an effective way to meet the body’s need for Omega-3’s. It is important when choosing an Omega-3 supplement that you consider the processing, sustainability, and authenticity of the company. At World of Nutrition we love Nordic Naturals for their high quality omega supplements to support the health of your child’s brain through all stages of life.