Naturally, as parents, we all want our children to be smart, do well in school and achieve their best in life. It is also obvious that to accomplish any task children need to be able to focus their attention for a certain period of time, process the information given in the most efficient way, listen and be able to follow instructions. We have all been through this process and know that sometimes it is not as straight forward as it sounds. Nowadays especially, more and more kids find this learning process challenging, a fact which depends on many different factors! If children are over-tired, over-stimulated, over-loaded with information; if they are not sufficiently motivated or interested, they are not going to focus well on the task of learning. As adults we also experience this very often! However, some children due to their physiology, psychology and life style habits have more pronounced difficulties with concentration and the ability to follow a certain task. And this is the reality of our modern life. On average, there are 3 children who have an attention deficit disorder in every classroom of 30 students (10-11%). And this number is getting bigger every year. There are even many children who do not have an official diagnosis, but nevertheless find it difficult to cope with the learning process. Luckily, there are many things that can be done at home to improve your children’s concentration and to support their learning process, so that they can enjoy it rather than suffer through it. In fact, adults also benefit hugely from these adjustments.
Obviously, sleep is a huge factor. If we do not sleep enough, do not restore our energy during the night and our body doesn’t have enough time to rest, detox and regenerate itself, we will not be able to focus and perform well the next day! This is even more true for children! They need at least 9 hours of quality sleep to restore themselves. Certainly, exercise is super important. It helps to normalise children’s emotional state, allows them to relax, oxygenates their body and brain and improve the metabolism and the absorption of good nutrients from food. Of course, you need to understand which activities help your child to focus and process information better. It can be a visual or a listening activity, hands-on activity or a combination of all of them.
However, I want to focus on nutritional support for your child, which is the FUNDAMENTAL CAUSE OF BEHAVIOR including the whole learning process. From birth and until three years old, a child’s brain undergoes phenomenal changes, producing 700 new neuronal connections every second! By the age of six the brain is 95% of its adult weight and is at the peak of its energy consumption. During the teenage period, the brain is shaping itself, neuronal connections are being established, the fatty tissue surrounding neurons is increasing and determines a certain speed for electrical impulses and communications in the brain. All of these development processes, which are so vital for brain, require huge energy and nutritional recourses! If any of these fundamental biochemical activities in the developing brain are compromised due to lack of “building material” which comes from food, the child’s concentration, memory and mental capacity in general will be negatively affected. Therefore, NOURISHING FOOD FOR THE BRAIN IS EESENTIAL. Our brain is the hungriest organ, using 20% of the body’s total energy, and the fattiest organ, consisting of 60% fat, in our body! That is why smart fats are absolutely essential for healthy brain development and function. I can still remember from my childhood the brown bottle with a yellow cartoon character on it, containing a fish oil which we had to take every day. I simply hated it, but now I really appreciate this habit we had, and thank you to my parents who insisted on my taking it every day. Fish oil is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which play a key role in cognitive functions such as memory, concentration and behavior in both children and adults. Low levels of DHA have been linked to brain developmental disorders in children. Therefore, unless your children eat a good portion of organic, wild, fatty fish 2-3 times a week, it would be wise to supplement them with fish oil. Other fats are also crucial for keeping the brain working. A diverse healthy diet should contain good quality olive oil, coconut oil, organic butter or ghee, seeds and nuts and avocado.
The brain and the body of your children require a sufficient amount of proteins to build and repair cells and chemical messengers in the brain. Protein-rich food such as meat, poultry, fish, legume and dairy products supply amino acids, the building blocks for enzymes, neurotransmitters, other chemical messengers and many other molecules and tissues. The brain development can be severely effected in malnourished children with a protein deficiency.
Fruits and vegetables are an absolute MUST food for brain health and overall well-being. They fill the body of our children with vital vitamins, micronutrients and antioxidants for healthy brain function. Make sure that your children consume a variety of different vegetables, fruits and berries every day. Each colour represents the presence of a unique set of phytonutrients in the food that are required by the brain to develop and work properly. So, the more colours, then more different essential phytonutrients your children will receive and benefit from. My favorites for brain function are avocado, beetroot, broccoli, kale, blueberries, apples and plums.
Seeds and nuts need to be a part of your children’s daily eating plan. Many parents are actually afraid of giving nuts to their kids as they belong to a group of food which often causes allergies. However, before excluding anything from a diet, I really would advise you to be certain of any specific allergies and then eliminating allergens from your children’s diet.
YOU SHOULD ONLY ELIMINATE PRODUCTS THAT CAUSE ALLERGIC REACTIONS IN YOUR CHILD! Do not leave out other nuts, a very important source of protein, essential fatty acids vitamins and microelements that boost healthy development and function of the nervous system.
Whole grains regulate your children’s glucose level and keep it steady so that kids can focus and concentrate better. So, brown and wild rice, oats, barley, millet, buckwheat, quinoa will provide a good meal that will keep your child in good learning shape.
Vitamin B12 plays an especially important role in healthy brain and nerve development in infants. Research shows that a deficiency of this nutrient can lead to behavior and development problems in children and depression in adults. Vitamin B12 is present in animal food sources and that is why a vegetarian diet is not recommended for young children.
I also want to separately mention iron. An iron deficiency is very common nowadays, yet, iron is an absolutely vital nutrient that helps your children to focus and perform well. Iron is found in food like red meat, liver, beans, spinach, egg yolk, prunes and artichokes.
And of course, eating breakfast and drinking enough water are MUST steps for your children.
But what we simply do not realise, is that even when we follow a good, healthy diet, our body may not benefit from it in full. Our children may simply not digest and absorb the vital nutrients from the healthy food we provide them well enough. So, it is crucial to make sure that your children’s digestive system works well! Notice if your kids have any discomfort or even pain after a meal or certain food, if they refuse to eat specific products or develop a habit of picky eating! Closely monitor the state and consistency of your children’s stool. Observe if there is any bloating or particularly smelly gases; any particular dry skin conditions or eczema. All those symptoms may suggest dysbiosis, a lack of gut microflora diversity which is necessary for the health and integrity of the digestive system, the support of the immune system and normal brain function. In this case, you need to consider introducing a probiotic to your children and master the art of making delicious fermented foods like, homemade yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables or fish.
All of these tips will work for sure, especially if at the same time you eliminate inflammation provoking, glucose level unbalancing and immune system downregulating food like sugary, processed foods containing additives and colourants. All of the products that can be found in the front rows of our supermarkets, that cry for our attention, that come in bright colourful packaging and shout about how healthy they are, are,in fact, triggering brain blockage in your children, causing a lack of concentration and are simply leading to many health issues and learning difficulties in your children! The more colourful the processed food is, the more sugar, artificial colourants and additives it normally contains.
So, the golden rules to follow are:
- NEVER BUY AND GIVE TO YOUR CHILDREN COLOURFUL PROCESSED FOOD! It always contains dangerous additives, preservatives and other unhealthy ingredients. Here is the list of dangerous additives to KEEP AWAY FROM:
COLOURANTS with E Codes: 102, 104, 110, 122, 124, 129
PRESERVATIVES with E Codes: 200-203, 210-213, 220-228, 249-252, 280-283
ANTIOXIDANTS with E Codes: 310-312, 319-321
FLAVOUR ENHANCERS WITH E Codes: 620-625, 627, 631, 635 and also
Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein (HVT) and Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
- AVOID TO BUY AND EAT WHITE FOOD! Forget about buying products like white bread, white pasta, white rice, white sugar, white salt and products containing these ingredients! This is EMPTY food! White means highly processed! These products do not contain any nutrients rather empty calories and lots of hidden harmful ingredients. That being said, products such as natural yogurts, coconut, cashews are exceptions. By implementing this simple rule, you will already be helping your children to stay healthier and focused!
And of course, it is not easy to change eating habits and to find time to spend more time in the kitchen especially if you work and face many other challenges in your life. However, luckily, as parents, we have such great motivation – to give our children great health, help them to learn well and achieve their full potential in life! The best vehicle for achieving this fantastic goal is DIVERSE, FRESH FOOD! It is time to go into the kitchen and to make something wonderful!
As usual, I look forward to receiving your ever valuable questions, comments and feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org