The foods we eat can have a huge impact on how we feel and behave, which can be much more apparent in children. Understanding factors that can support optimal concentration and behaviour such as planning for a well balanced diet high in nutrients and reducing factors, which may be detrimental can be hugely beneficial.
Follow my 5-point plan to help improve your child’s concentration and behaviour:
Research around the importance and impact of breakfast highlights children’s improved focus, concentration, cognition and overall behaviour. Breakfast is important primarily to provide a regular supply of essential nutrients to children’s growing bodies and brains and to also help to control blood sugar levels. After a night’s sleep blood sugar levels are likely to be at their lowest point and will rise after eating. To maintain a stable mood and focus we need to choose foods that will support a gradual rise in blood sugar rather than provide a ‘quick spike’. This gradual rise will help to sustain our energy levels and concentration until the next meal-time. The key to blood sugar levels and a ‘healthy’ breakfast is including protein and fibre. Protein and fibre are key to reducing the absorption of the sugar, therefore helping to keep blood sugar levels more even. Some breakfast choices, such as processed cereals and fruit yoghurts can be very high in sugar and contribute to that ‘quick spike’, so opt for eggs, fruit and Greek yoghurt, porridge, pancakes with yoghurt, mini frittatas or home made smoothies.
The importance of essential fats for both brain development and nervous system function should not be underestimated and research around the importance of omega-3 fats and their impact on mood, concentration, behaviour and learning ability is plentiful. 25% of the brains fat is made up of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is also needed for our metabolism of glucose and for reducing oxidative stress. There has been a huge increase in childhood learning and behaviour disorders, which have been associated with low levels of omega-3 in the modern day diet. The key to improving levels of omega-3 fatty acids is to increase oily fish consumption, eggs, nuts and seeds. As the body relies on dietary sources it may also be worth considering an omega-3 fatty acid supplement high in DHA.
It is not uncommon for children to be deficient in specific nutrients, which are essential for optimal functioning of the body and can have a specific effect on their mental performance. There is a consistent link between children’s behaviour and iron deficiency and low levels have been implicated in language development, motor coordination, attention and mood. A simple iron test is something a GP can
organise and if low levels are found supplementation can be prescribed. Zinc is another crucial nutrient and with regard to behaviour it’s needed for the metabolism of essential fatty acids and is found in the brains hippocampus region where it plays a role in memory and learning and also helps to regulate emotions. Magnesium is also an important nutrient and deficiency has been linked to excitability, tension, personality changes and agitation. Therefore ensuring your child has a well balanced diet eating a range of different foods including a rainbow of vegetables, especially the dark green leafy variety can help provide these specific essential nutrients.
Aside from the impact of sugar on a child’s behaviour and mood the impact of additives such as artificial colourings, sweeteners, preservatives and flavourings have been linked to asthma, allergies and hyperactivity in children. Many countries have banned several of the well-studied additives but many continue to remain in our foods such as in fizzy drinks, ice cream, jam, yoghurt, jelly, soups, tinned fruit and dressings. Reading labels and looking out for additives such as ‘E’ numbers may help to eliminate/reduce these from your family’s diet and the impact may improve both behaviour and concentration.
Behaviour and concentration can also be affected by possible food intolerances. If you suspect your child may be reacting to a specific type of food or common allergen such as wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs, chocolate or soya you could try a 2 week elimination and keep note of behaviour, concentration, mood and any other symptoms that were causing concern. After 2 weeks you could reintroduce the food and see if there is a specific reaction. A nutritional therapist, such as myself, will also support you with this process and can also suggests tests for specific food intolerances/allergens.
Many of these factors such as planning breakfast, an awareness of additives, potential allergens and key nutrients can be hugely insightful for parents to support both increased concentration and behaviour.
The next Food Teacher events for parents includes:
- ‘Feed your Child’s Brain’ at London’s Jewish Cultural Centre on 2nd March 2016, 8-9.30pm and will include a talk, questions time, food demo’s, tastings and recipes.
- ‘Nutrition Know How for Parents‘ on Saturday 12th March 2016, 9.30-12.30 and will include talks about building the brain, boosting immunity and energy and sleep. The session will also include question time, food tastings, demo’s, recipes and handouts.Further information can be obtained by contacting Katharine via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 07802 894997.