“Life Will Get Better” Part 2 — Nutrition

Part 2: Nutrition

Ch 2 — Nutrition Matters

Ch 3 — Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners

Ch 4 — Chemicals and Allergens

Ch 5 — Back to Basics

Ch 6 — Specific Nutrients

Ch 7 — Involve Your Child in Food Related Activities

This is a summary of the book “Life Will Get Better: Simple Solutions for Parents of Children with Attention, Anxiety, Mood, and Behavioral Challenges” by Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D. These are her ideas, and I’m simply picking what I think to be the high points of each chapter to make it a quicker read for parents that would find this information useful, but have busy schedules and can’t find the time to read the book in its entirety.

Ch 2 — Nutrition Matters

This Chapter establishes the well-known reality that there is a connection between food, mood, and behavior. Nutrition has significant effects on the brain and body and how it functions. More specifically, if your child is struggling with inattention, irritability, anxiety, hyperactivity, oppositional behavior, learning disorders, aggression, or any other related challenges, taking a look at your child’s diet and nutrition intake would be a wise decision. According to the book, there are also less visible signs that could lead you to believe there may be food related problems. That list includes dark circles under eyes, mood swings, sleep problems, frequent illness, and fatigue. There is overwhelming new science coming out suggesting the health of the gut and the health of the brain are interrelated. They are now referencing to the gut as “the second brain, “ and it is a significant player with the immune system, which is why it is so important to keep your gut and digestive system working properly with a nutritious diet. Think good nutrition, leading to good gut health, which leads to good brain health. It’s important to eat well at any stage of life, but it is vital to have a healthy diet throughout childhood because that’s when your body and brain is growing and developing. This is the most important time to have optimum “fuel” to grow.

Ch 3 — Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners

It is important to be able to decipher foods that are marketed as healthy but are packed full of sugar. Things like flavored milk, fruit snacks, juice, sports drink, and yogurt (I’m looking at you, Trix Yogurt) may seem to be a valid, healthy option but in reality, are loaded with preservatives and sweeteners. For such a long fat got a bad rap but it is sugar and other artificial sweeteners that are the main culprit for obesity, diabetes, and other inflammatory health conditions. Increased sugar intake leads to sharply rising and lowering of blood sugar, which is commonly known as sugar highs and sugar crashes. This is a significant contributor to mood. One tip for steering your kids clear of these kinds of snacks is, kids can’t eat what’s not provided to them. If you simply don’t buy it and don’t have it in the house, it’s not an option to eat. I encourage people to read food labels, but not necessarily the top part where it lists calories, fat, etc. But read the bottom part where the ingredients are listed. Sugar and artificial sweeteners should not be one of the first three ingredients listed. Their names for these are endless, but some of the common ones are high fructose corn syrup, Splenda, aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium, neotame, and saccharin. These odd-sounding names are often found in “lite” and “diet” options. If you must use sweeteners, the book says to check options like stevia, xylitol, and erythritol. Like anything else, using sparingly is the game.

Ch 4 — Chemicals and Allergens

Now that everything in the store is packaged, it has to have a shelf life to stay at the grocery store long enough to sell. Enter in, artificial additives. The most basic rule you could follow when grocery shopping is, look at the ingredients, if you cannot pronounce the words, don’t buy it. How simple is that? You can also ask, would I use these ingredients in my own kitchen? These two rules will give you a pretty good indication of what to buy and what not to buy. Because most things are multifactorial in the causation of symptoms and disease (remember chapter 1), there’s no evidence that these chemicals and allergens CAUSE hyperactivity, irritability, attention issues, and the like. But there is enough evidence to show it negatively impacts these symptoms.

There are artificial dyes put in food to make it look more appealing. The most common ones are Blue #1 & #2, Green #3, Red #3 & #40, yellow #5, and #6, and citrus red #2. These can have a large impact on your child’s mood and behavior. Once again, it is important to read the bottom half of the nutrition label and look at the ingredients in your food. In my opinion, it is more important than reading the top half which is what is most commonly looked at by people. It can be hard to change your child’s diet, and you may be thinking there’s no way they will cut out this processed food in exchange for fruits and vegetables. Most of the struggle will be in the first couple days, but once they realize processed foods are no longer an option (or at the least, will be used much more sparingly), it will be easier to introduce healthier foods.

Ch 5 — Back to Basics

The power combination: protein, fruit, vegetables, and water. These are the ingredients for more brain alertness and steady energy all day (fewer sugar highs and crashes). The first meal of the day, breakfast, seems to have the most options for high glycemic load foods. These are foods that are high in sugar and lead to sugar highs and sugar crashes. Muffins, pancakes and syrup, high sugar yogurt, juice, bagels, etc. If your child is showing constant fatigue despite getting enough sleep, look into if they’re eating high glycemic foods, especially at breakfast. Good things to try for breakfast are eggs, a small amount of cheese, fruit, and vegetables with almond butter, sun butter, or another dip. Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber (which helps you stay fuller, longer). The goal is to eat all colors of the rainbow.

Personally, I’ve never been a big “breakfast food” eater; I’ve always preferred leftovers from last night’s dinner. This can also be a good option because dinner foods tend to have less of a glycemic load and less sugar.

Possibly the most overlooked thing in one’s diet is drinking enough water. Being well hydrated will do wonders for your health. Without enough water, it has adverse effects on your brain and body. I’ve always enjoyed water. It’s never been something that I disliked or had trouble drinking enough of. But I realize many kids and adults don’t like drinking water. You can always try to make it more fun by adding fresh or frozen fruit to your child’s water. Tell them why they should drink more water. It’s not punishment; it’s because it helps their brain and body work better! The book lists a water intake recommendation for kids per day. It is as follows:

5–8 years old: 5 glasses/1 liter

9–12 years old: 7 glasses/1.5 liters

13+ years old: 8–10 glasses/2liters

Side note: For adults, I’ve also been taught to drink half your body weight (pounds) in ounces. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, take 150/2 = 75. Thus, you should be drinking at least 75 ounces of water per day. Increasing water consumption is an easy way to have a positive impact on mood, behavior, learning, and physical health.

Ch 6 — Specific Nutrients

If you’re trying to pick out one or two things to implement out of this entire nutrition section of the book, I would increase water consumption, and I would increase your Omega 3 intake. I don’t use the word “super food” or “super supplement” often, but I would for Omega 3 (fish oil). If there were one thing I was confident 99% of Americans were not getting enough of, it would be fish oil. That’s why virtually every single person should have a quality Omega 3 supplement. It is essential for brain health. You get Omega 3 from things like fish, seafood, grass fed meat (less inflammatory than grain fed meat), free-range eggs (less inflammatory than grain fed chickens), and avocados. Even if you are eating all these things, it is tough to get enough Omega 3 in a standard diet. Fish oil a supplement where you get what you pay for. Fish oil A, is not fish oil B, is not fish oil C. It is best not to go cheap when buying your fish oil. There are also flavored, liquid, fish oil supplements that taste great and don’t have the fishy taste or fishy burps which are perfect for kids (and adults). I use the orange flavored S03+D3 bottle of fish oil sold by SFH.

Ch 7 — Involve Your Child in Food Related Activities

The most common thing parents are afraid of when making these changes is that their kids won’t like it, and they won’t eat the new foods. You want to involve them in as many food-related activities as you possibly can. This lets the kids feel a part of what’s going on and gives them exposure to all the different types of foods. If they go grocery shopping with you, let them help pick out what you’re getting and let them see all the varieties of foods there are. Take them to a farmers market and let the feel all the different foods and pick out what looks intriguing to them. Look through recipe books and decide what to make together. There are cook books geared toward children that are perfect for this. Prepare snacks together by having them help count out and sort the snack into containers. (Safely) Cooking dishes together will make them more inclined to try it because they contributed in the process. Let them serve the food at the table onto everyone else’s plate. The more you expose them to, the more comfortable they’ll be with the new menu options. Don’t force them to eat something they refuse to eat; this will lead to them not enjoying that food forever. Let them come around. It is a process, and it is important you persevere through it. Any small changes you can make will be a step in the right direction.

Tomorrow’s section is on Part 3: SLEEP!

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