Intuitive parents have long suspected that in some children, undesirable behavior and poor school performance are linked to poor nutrition. A child with any tendency toward dysregulation in the nervous system & brain needs a diet rich in nutrients that build neurotransmitters. Research supports this idea, specifically:
- A 1996 study of 96 boys found those with lower blood levels of omega 3 fatty acids were significantly more likely to have learning and behavior problems than those whose levels were normal.
The brain is composed of trillions of nerve cells, called neurons. Thought, memory, actions, and many brain functions you’re not even aware of depend on speed-of-light interactions of one cell with another. From each nerve cell tiny feelers called axons and dendrites reach out to connect with similar branches on other cells. The system looks kind of like a map of the interstate highway system, with many roadways connecting different cities. To facilitate the transmission of signals across the gap from one cell to the other, chemicals called neurotransmitters act like biological bridges.
Nutrition affects the brain in three ways:
- The cell itself needs proper nutrition to carry on its functions just like any other cell in the body.
- The myelin sheath covers the axon of the cell like insulation covering electrical wires. It speeds transmission of electrical signals along the axoms, the “wires” of the brain. Deficiencies of nutrients that compose myelin, such as essential fatty acids, delay nerve-impulse transmission.
- The neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, carry messages from one cell to the other and affect mood as well as thoughts and actions. Some of the nutrients in the food we eat become part of the neurotransmitters that help us think. Neurotransmitters are probably the biological explanation for the food-mood connection.
Each one of these three parts needs specific nutrients to enable the whole circuit to function properly. If any of these areas are deficient in nutrients, the circuit, like a defective electrical wire, misfires. Clues that a dietary deficiency may be contributing to your child’s behavior or learning problems are: excessive thirst, frequent urination, dry hair and skin, eczema, and allergies, developmental delay, low muscle tone, dark circles or odd skin coloring. You may even see a change in behavior (hyperactive or aggressive) after eating specific foods.
The brain and body need essential nutrition to perform at their optimal and to heal bodies that are inflamed or stressed. Below is a list of optimal foods to overload in your child’s diet, along with a list of foods to significantly reduce or eliminate.
Foods to ADD to your child’s diet:
- Healthy fats –> avocados, nuts, nut butters, eggs, hummus, olive oil, coconut oil
- Fruits & Vegetables –> every and all fruits & veggies are on the list; raw, sautéed, steamed, grilled, added to smoothies, etc. Be creative and add several servings of vegetables to your child’s diet every day.
- Fermented Foods –> sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and homemade fermented veggies are a perfect snack or addition to any meal.
- Cook with Healthy Oils –> coconut oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil
- Eat Non-Toxic –> use only organic, non-gmo products to reduce ingestion of pesticides in your child’s diet. Reduce use of plastic containers for water, drinks, and food.
- Eat Whole Foods –> eat foods that grow on trees or in the ground (fruits & veggies); meat from organic, pasture-raised animals, organic eggs, and nuts.
Foods to REDUCE in your child’s diet:
- Eliminate artificial ingredients –> artificial colors, High fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, MSG
- Eliminate sodas, fruits juices and other drinks filled with sugar.
- Reduce sugar items –> candies, cookies, etc
- Reduce processed foods –> check your labels! Don’t purchase foods that have more than 5 ingredients and nothing that has ingredients you cannot pronounce.
- Reduce gluten + dairy –> both items are inflammatory for many people; you do not need to eliminate these items but significantly reducing them will improve your child’s health.
Pantry staples: Onions–Garlic–Fresh herbs–Ginger
Smoothie supplies: Spinach–Kale–Bananas–Berries–Avocado
Power salad: Lettuce–Romaine–Arugula–Chard–Mustard Greens–Cucumbers–Carrots–Tomatoes–Mushrooms–Broccoli–Cauliflower–Celery–Bell Peppers–Red Onions–Asparagus–Snap Peas–Radishes–Artichoke–Beets–Avocado
Meals: Sweet Potatoes–Spaghetti Squash–Zucchini–Butternut Squash–Fresh Herbs
Pantry staples: Full-fat coconut milk
Smoothie supplies: Unsweetened plant milk (coconut, almond, rice)–Coconut water–Frozen fruit
Snacks: Unsweetened Plant Yogurt
Smoothie supplies: Flax–Chia–Pumpkin seeds–Organic nut butters
Power salad: Beans (black, pinto, red, navy, pinto, garbanzo)–Nuts & seeds
Snacks: Old-fashioned GF Oats–Almonds/Cashews–Pistachios/Macadamia–Walnuts/Pecans–Sunflower/Pumpkin Seeds
Pantry staples: Braggs Liquid Aminos–Apple Cider Vinegar–Red Wine Vinegar–Balsamic Vinegar–Vegetable Broth–Coconut Oil/Olive Oil–Seasonings–Dried Herbs
Power Salad: GF/DF Dressing–Olives/Banana Peppers–Artichokes/Palm hearts–Sun-dried Tomatoes–Roasted Red Peppers–Water Chestnuts
Quick and Easy Snack Ideas:
Raw veggies, cut and stored in fridge (carrots, cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, cauliflower, snap peas, and more!)
Veggies with hummus or Guacamole
Fresh fruits (apples, cantaloupe, melon, pineapple, pears, plums, grapes, oranges, mangos, berries, peaches, bananas)
Apples or Celery & Peanut Butter (use only natural peanut butter)
Raw nuts or seeds
Homemade Trail Mix (your favorite raw nuts, seeds, and dried fruit)
Dates, figs, raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries
Plain oatmeal topped with berries or fruit
Unsweetened Plant Yogurt (coconut/soy/almond)
Plain air-popped, non-GMO popcorn
Sliced avocado with sea salt or lemon juice
Kale Chips (toss bite-size pieces of kale with sea salt and balsamic vinegar or lemon juice. Bake at 350 degreeF on parchment paper for 7-9 minutes until crispy)
Grilled Peaches (grill on medium heat for 4 minutes per side.)
Cauliflower Popcorn (toss cauliflower pieces lightly with vegetable broth and sea salt. Bake for 45-60 minutes at 425 degreesF on parchment paper turning them 3-4 times)
Roasted Chickpeas (drain and rinse can of chickpeas and toss with 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp garlic powder & 1/2 tsp paprika. Bake on cookie sheet for 45-60 minutes at 400 degreesF)
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