Dr Marike de Klerk M.Tech Hom (UJ)
How is your child’s brain connected to what they eat? It is quite simple, your child is what they eat.
Have you noticed a change in your child’s behaviour with what they eat?
I sure have with my children and mom's often comment on remarkable changes in their children’s behaviour with a change to a healthy diet.
The brain is the most energy dependent organ in the body, therefore what we feed our children will directly impact on their brain function i.e. their ability to focus, their ability to perform mental tasks and their ability for emotional regulation.
When you put junk into your body, you will get junk out, i.e. “junky" behaviour or “junky" “attention.
Many specific nutrients are connected to how our brains function.
Whole foods vs processed or packaged foods?
Whole foods are foods like wholegrains, fruits, vegetables and clean proteins that are in their natural form and does not have multiple ingredients added to it, altered or changed. These are the foods that the brain thrives on. These foods are packed with nutrients, vitamins, minerals, fats and antioxidants.
There is a huge difference between nutrients from whole foods vs packaged foods. The rule of thumb is when you look at the ingredients label, the longer the list is the more processed and the less dense the nutrient value is. These processed foods will also contain more chemicals and additives that has been shown in studies to really affect brain function negatively. Children that eat a better diet are more able to emotionally and intellectually manage themselves.
Sugar is a big evil ingredient in lots of junk foods or processed foods. The body and brain burns through sugar quickly and this results in a sugar crash. This can look like many mental disorders. Sugar metabolites can mimic conditions like ADD, ADHD, anxiety and mood instability.
Being mindful of this can make a huge breakthrough and very often parents are astounded by the results of such a seemingly unimportant change.
Breakfast containing a protein is so important to stabilize blood sugar as it will release energy slowly into the system and keep their bodies and brains nourished for longer.
Children needs carbohydrates in their diet to fuel their brain development, but once again wholegrains and not processed foods. Fruits and vegetables are important, full of fibre and phytonutrients.
If you can start an awareness with your kids to eat veggies, they will continue this into adulthood with huge benefit to their health. Start by introducing whole fruits into their diet and build upon that. Some children will be resistant from the very beginning to new foods. It takes their brains at least 10 exposures to get used to a new taste. Give your child at least that many occasions to try a new food, to develop a taste palate for new foods.
If you have a child with anxiety or rigidity surrounding food, do not focus on what they are putting in their mouths , but rather focus on exposing them to new foods by making them familiar with foods by buying, cooking or growing these foods.
Research says that 4 out of 10 kids these days are overweight, 1 out of 7 has ADD which has been linked to poor diets and Type 2 diabetes has increased 1000% over the last 10 years. One out of 3 babies are born diabetic and one in four teenagers will develop type 2 diabetes. This is frightening! Let’s stop the vicious cycle and let our kids fall in love with food.
Involve your kids in food preparation. Your children will not only perceive having purpose and meaning in their household but it will also enhance their brain function. They will learns maths, planning, creativity, science, culture, reading as well as history when they learn to cook!
Brainstorm with your kids about the menu for meals. Look at different menus and help them to compose a healthy plate of food. Let them help compose a shopping list. Teach them what the healthier options are. Show them to rather shop at the perimeter of the shop for food since the middle aisle will usually contain all the processed foods.
From age 2 or 3 your kids can start to help with the cooking of a meal. They can help with measuring, breaking eggs, making a simple salad etc.
Kids eating solid foods should eat the same foods as the adults and not from a kiddies menu. Food on the kiddies menu is food that we as adults do not want to eat, things like chicken nuggets, chips and pizza. Why do this to them?
Explain healthy nutrition to your children and get them enthusiastic about feeding their body with healthy foods and explain how foods can affect their body functions i.e. their brains, energy and skin. Watch documentaries with them like “Supersize me” so they can see what processed foods to to your body.
Changing the diet in your household can be a daunting an intimidating but remember to not try to change it all in one day, small steps at a time will culminate in huge a huge improvement over time. And remember to have fun!