Focus Foods: Helping your children concentrate

food and focus

We all know ADD and ADHD are a very real, and very prevalent psychiatric disorder. But it’s not only children with this disorder that have trouble focusing at school. Children everywhere, can struggle without the proper nutrition.

Research has shown links between essential fatty acids and vitamin D deficiency and ADHD. Although much more research needs to be done, I believe a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats has the potential to help kids focus.

fruits and vegetablesWe’ve all done it. Gone to work without breakfast, coffee in hand. Hours go by and we don’t even think about eating. And then we find ourselves snapping at a coworker or becoming so hungry we reach for a donut. And then what happens? The vicious cycle of blood sugar levels rising and plunging, leaving our energy levels in the gutter and our focus is…well, non-existant.

It’s the same for our kids! Without the proper nutrition to feed their bodies and their MINDS, we’re doing them a disservice. We need to set our children up for success with real, whole foods that will nourish their ever-growing minds.

Some food choices to help your kids focus at school (and at home!):

Fibre and protein.

To keep energy levels stable and keep your focus, try adding fibre and lean protein to meals. Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down and digest, so they’ll help control blood sugar. For breakfast, this could be eggs and whole grain toast, yogurt, fruit and granola, peanut butter and banana wrapped in a whole grain tortilla, a smoothie made with milk-there are a million combinations. But take care of the belly so it’s not on their mind when they should be focusing on school.

Blueberriesblueberries

The recent connection between blueberries and concentration makes me so happy! I love blueberries and we’ve known about the benefits of antioxidants for years. Now, studies show blueberries to be big brain boosters, too. Blueberry supplements were found to improve brain function and memory in seniors with dementia as well as boosting memory in school-aged children. Woohoo! Eat all the blueberries!

Some vitamins and minerals that have shown to help children focus (BRAIN FOODS) are:

Essential fatty acids

EPA and DHA. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is one of the two main types of fish oil and has been shown in studies to have the power to stabilize mood swings and generally improve concentration, behaviour and learning abilities of children with ADHD. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a physiologically-essential omega-3 fatty acid found in high concentrations in brain tissue where it mediates and supports optimal brain functioning. The principal omega-3 is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is then converted into EPA and DHA by the body. Doesn’t hurt to get all three!

Where can you find omega-3 fatty acids?

Salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, and wheat germ are your best options through food. If you or your children are not fans of these foods, you can always supplement with a good fish oil or flaxseed oil daily.

Vitamin D

The sunshine vitamin! Here in Canada, sunshine is not so prevalent in the winter months and it’s REALLY important to supplement. Vitamin D can improve immune function as well as enhance nerve conduction. Helping your belly and your brain will result in…you guessed it-FOCUS. You can get some vitamin D from foods such as salmon, fish oil, and egg yolks plus fortified products like milk and yogurt. Just remember, when you’re getting your vitamin D out in the sun, you still need sunscreen!

Vitamins B1, B6 and B12

These vitamins improve brain function by maintaining a healthy nervous system among other critical bodily functions. Although these vitamins will not turn you into a genius, they are essential for normal memory, focus and concentration. You can find B vitamins in animal products such as chicken, meat, dairy and eggs, and also in soy and rice milk. Supplements can be helpful for people who do not eat meat or animal products.

Iron

This mineral can improve cognitive function and development. Iron deficiency has been linked to a lower IQ and can quickly be reversed with a diet rich in iron. It is easily found in leafy green vegetables, meat, sunflower seeds, beans and nuts.

Foods to Avoid:

There are not going to be any surprises here. Avoiding these foods can help children focus by regulating blood sugar levels and keeping chemicals and fake foods out of their bodies. This goes for all of us-a diet without processed foods can benefit us all in the short and long term.

Additives

Preservatives, artificial colours, artificial flavourings. A great number of synthetic food additives remain in use that have been linked to asthma, allergies, migraines and hyperactivity in children. When you read the food labels, if there is something you can’t pronounce, it probably shouldn’t be in your body. The worst are additives that use the colour as a name (i.e. blue #2, red #40), sodium benzoate, and tartrazine.

sugar donutsSugar

Treats are treats and children deserve to have them. But keep them to every once in a while. If you’re feeding your children refined sugar every day, focus becomes difficult because their body is constantly trying to regulate their blood sugar levels. Consider this: You eat a sugary treat. Your blood sugar spikes, energy is through the roof. Your body releases insulin in an attempt to regulate levels and your blood sugar drops, sometimes to a very low level (this is the sugar “crash”). Think it ends there? Nope! Your body, again, tries to regulate and brings out the big guns-adrenaline-which can cause hyperactivity. When snack time comes around, the process begins all over again. How can children concentrate between all those highs and lows? It’s nearly impossible.

White, refined flours and processed foods.

White flour can spike blood sugar levels just like sugar. Stick to whole grains as much as possible to keep levels and moods even. Processed foods can contain ALL of these “bad” foods including sugar, white flour and preservatives. Stay out of the box as much as possible and I mean this literally. If it comes out of a box, chances are-it’s more processed than something you find in the produce section.

We are all trying to do our best and changes take time. As your run out of items in your cupboard, try replacing them with a healthier option. Don’t try to do it all at once. Slowly make the changes and by next September, when your children are back in school, after the summer, you’ll be ready to help them really focus by providing them with the nutritious tools they need.

Always feel free to contact me with any questions you may have! And please join my Nutritionnaire Community on facebook where we can have open and honest discussions about food, family and fun.