We love our children. We protect them from the dangers of drugs, strangers, illnesses – anything that may cause them harm. But what about protecting the development of their brains? Most children are not getting the required nutrients they need for proper cognitive growth. More than half of children I see with learning or behavioral problems have histories of poor nutrition.
I have seen firsthand many children’s behavior and concentration problems show remarkable improvements with proper brain nutrition. So if your children are having these kinds of problems, your first step should be to examine their diet so that you can rule out what I call Nutritional Deficit Disorder (N.D.D.).
The brain, more than any other organ, is affected for better or worse by what we eat. If a child is a junk food addict, her brain is the first thing that will be affected. A growing body of research points to the impact of nutritional deficiencies – especially with essential fatty acids – on the brain’s ability to affect learning and behavior. Studies continue to cite Omega-3 as the single most important nutrient in the cognitive development of children.
There are more than 10,000 medical studies showing the health benefits of Omega-3s. A recent one is the Oxford Durham study published in Pediatrics in 2005, which revealed that school children who were given Omega-3 supplements showed improved reading and spelling scores. After the study was published, many teachers suggested that school-age children routinely be given Omega-3 supplements.
Since the brain is 60 percent fat, it stands to reason that growing brains need high-quality fats. Smart fats make the brain grow and perform better. Smart fats are the Omega-3 fatty acids that are found in especially high amounts in seafood. Researchers believe that the high levels of Omega-3 fats in breast milk help to explain the differences in IQ between children who received human milk in infancy and those who did not.
Omega-3 is rich in DHA, which naturally supports healthy brain development, focus and learning. To give your child’s brain the nutrition it requires, make these simple changes and watch the difference:
• Feed fish
(or the next best thing): Kids who eat plenty of Omega-3 fats and protein are almost guaranteed to have better school performance. Since it is nearly impossible to get kids to eat enough fish to meet this demand, supplements can fill in the gaps.
• Feed a brainy breakfast.
Dozens of research studies have proven without a doubt that children eating a high protein breakfast perform better in school.
• Raise a grazer:
Grazing is good for the brain because it helps to steady blood sugar levels. I call it the rule of twos: eat twice as often, half as much and chew twice as long. • Feed smart carbs:
The brain prefers carbs that are naturally packaged with protein and fiber. Something as simple as whole wheat toast with peanut butter is an excellent choice. Or, serve whole grain cereal and yogurt.
• Eat blue food:
Blueberries are a great brain food. Their deep blue skin is full of flavonoids and antioxidants. Other ‘smart foods’ include nuts, wild salmon and spinach. Discourage your child from eating too many ‘dumb foods’ that include foods with MSG, aspartame and preservatives on the label, foods containing hydrogenated oils, fiber-poor carbs, and “liquid candy” (sodas and other sweet drinks).
• Run, play and have fun:
Exercise improves blood flow to the brain. Consider movement another brain food. Improving blood flow to any organ, especially the brain, is like watering and fertilizing a garden. More blood means more nutrients. When you move your muscles, especially the large muscles in your arms and legs, your heart works harder to pump blood through your veins and arteries.
You should also keep a food/mood record for your child. Record everything they eat, and their resulting moods and activity levels. For example, when your child drinks several glasses of artificially-colored punch, does he have trouble sitting still for the rest of the day? Once a child with N.D.D. is given a healthier diet, parents and teachers often notice marked improvement in behavior and learning in about three weeks.DR. BILL SEARS, or Dr. Bill as his “little patients” call him, is the author of over 30 books on childcare, most notably the Baby Book considered by many to be the ultimate “how to” guide to raising your child. Dr. Bill is an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, and a consultant for BabyTalk and Parenting magazines. For more info about Dr. Sears and his children’s Omega-3 DHA supplements: AskDrSears.com.