I find I am hearing these words more and more – ‘my child has been diagnosed with ADHD, learning and behavioural issues, hyperactivity, inability to regulate emotions’ … and so on.
To be clear, we are not Ritalin deficient, which is regularly prescribed to children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), referred to as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Most children these days are in fact nutrient deficient or have an overload of stimulants like sugar.
In addition, they are struggling with mental health more than ever before. In fact, a recent government report in the UK said that mental health issues have gone up by an average of over 50% over the COVID years.
It is really important to support your child’s mental and physical health, we cannot treat the body in isolation, we have to treat the whole person.
This is often where medication fails us, we need to take a different approach to correcting these imbalances. It needs to start with our foods with sugar as a major concern.
As adults, most of us know how sugar is so bad for our health but in children it is harmful to their growing organs including their brains so that long term damage can begin early.
Being a mom myself, I know how hard it is to navigate this space. It is super challenging plus kids’ foods and snacks are filled with sugar (even the savoury one’s).
MY GUIDE TO NUTRITION FOR KIDS
Understand this, that children have an innate preference for sweet food.
Science shows that it’s not just modern diets that have done this, it’s in their biology. The preference for sweet foods and drinks comes from infancy to ensure they accept sweet-tasting foods, firstly, their mother’s milk … and then fruit, etc when they move onto solid food.
So, with super-processed or refined modern food, we need to navigate this space of our children’s preference for sweet foods so that they get the nutritional quality their body’s need to grow healthily.
Step 1: No additives or added sugar
Aside from the effect of sugar on our children’s growing bodies, sugar creates imbalances in energy which leads to behavioural issues like hyperactivity and mood swings.
If you take a look at the ingredients in drinks, yoghurts, cereals, biscuits etc, they all contain sugar in some way which leads to a sugar imbalance, then added to this are the additives such colourings, sweeteners, preservatives, flavourings and even caffeine, which also impact behaviour.
Studies show that sugary drinks can increase adrenaline levels in children by 5 times higher than normal and for 5 hours with increased irritability and anxiety.
Step 2: Cook from scratch and go whole food
Aim for a whole real food diet with an abundance of vegetables, fruit and fibre. Ideally seasonal and organic too to get all the nutrients and vitamins they need. Avoid processed food altogether.
It is important to cook from scratch, then you know what ingredients are going into your dishes.
Cooking with your children can be fun too and make their plates presentable and enticing – cutting shapes, having healthy dips, finger sized bites. If they love chicken nuggets, make your own.
Sweet healthy alternatives are raw quality honey or maple syrup, dates and bananas.
My daughter and I love to make healthy pancakes and muffins sometimes, and if she wants something sweet after dinner she usually has some apple with cinnamon and yoghurt or frozen blueberries.
Step 3: Remove gluten and allergens
Wheat, gluten, dairy and their products, and eggs are common food intolerances. Aside from a physical reaction, like skin rash, children may react badly when eating them or even crave them more. Rather eliminate from their diet to see if there is a change and if not, slowly reintroduce.
Step 4: Optimise these essential nutrients
Evidence shows that just eating a good wholesome diet may not give the right amount of nutrients. These are my recommended added nutrients:
- OMEGA 3
Essential fatty acids for the brain and nervous system. My daughter chews her Natroceutics Omega 3 as it tastes pleasant.
The most nutrient dense food around. I recommend Marcus Rohrer Spirulina.
- BEEF LIVER
Rich in micronutrients including vitamin B. We take Ancestral Nourishment’s Beef Liver capsules.
- VITAMIN D3
Essential for healthy bones and muscles but food cannot always give the required effective amount. I recommend BetterYou Dlux1000 Spray.
TIPS TO OPTIMISE DAILY NUTRITION
Children learn from you. What you teach and show them now, will hold them for their healthy future.
It can be done, one just need to invest the time and energy into changing certain habits
Go to farmers markets together, show and explain what different foods there are and what they offer. Explain to them the why’s vs telling them what to do. Involve them in the cooking, eat together as a family at the table and make your own treats for special occasions.
Never skip. A good healthy breakfast is important to provide the right energy, blood sugar levels, concentration and focus in your child’s morning.
I recommend adding protein to their breakfast, it’s a game changer, in fact it is importan to have some element at every meal.
Avoid sugary cereals and opt for oat based cereals such as porridge (sweetened with grated apple) or grain free homemade granola, fresh fruit smoothies (fruit blended with yoghurt and seeds or whole organic milk/keffir) poached or boiled egg on sourdough, pumpkin pancakes or banana bread with almond butter.
A burger patty with sweet potato chips, a sandwich made with sourdough bread with a tasty filling (e.g. tuna, egg, cheese, hummus, chicken, avo) hunks of cheese, cherry tomatoes, vegetable sticks, a slice of quiche, jacket potatoes, soups, scrambled or poached egg.
For packed lunches: Biltong, nuts and seeds, eggs, fresh whole fruit, carrots, sourdough with butter or avo, hummus, chicken strips made from leftover roast, some seaweed, home made banana bread.
They should eat what you eat. Protein should be fresh (not processed) meat, fish or lentils with fresh vegetables, spelt spaghetti with a fresh tomato sauce, some rice with chicken and peas and carrots. Introduce a variety of vegetables and observe what they like or prefer.
For fussy eaters, it helps to cut food into bite size pieces and place them on the table in front of them. They will start to eat it without noticing.
Fresh fruit, biltong, smoothies, oat cakes or sourdough bread with peanut butter, almonds and pumpkin seeds, oat cakes or carrot sticks with hummus. Maybe homemade healthy muffins or pancakes with honey.
Further reading on child nutrition and sugar
If you want to read more on why it is important to get your child’s diet right plus other information around it, these are some interesting articles to read along with studies.
- Kids have a stronger built-in preference for sweet flavors compared to adults
Ventura, AK and Mennella, JA. “Innate and learned preferences for sweet taste during childhood”. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 2011. 14(4): p. 379-384.
- They are more attracted to both real sugar and low-calorie sweetener
Bobowski, N and Mennella, JA. “Personal Variation in Preference for Sweetness: Effects of Age and Obesity”. Child Obes, 2017. 13(5): p. 369-376.
- During the American colonial period, the amount of sugar consumed by the average person in 1750 was just 4 pounds per year, which is just over 1 teaspoon per day
Bray, GA. “Energy and fructose from beverages sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup pose a health risk for some people”. Adv Nutr, 2013. 4(2): p. 220-5.
- Over the last century, daily fructose intake in the U. S. increased from just 12 grams per day to about 75 grams per day
Marriott, BP, Cole, N, and Lee, E. “National estimates of dietary fructose intake increased from 1977 to 2004 in the United States”. J Nutr, 2009. 139(6): p. 1228S-1235S.
- At the start of this millennium, fewer than 10 percent of American children were consuming LCS in any form on any given day. A decade later, this number had increased to one in four
Sylvetsky, AC, Jin, Y, Clark, EJ, Welsh, JA, Rother, KI, and Talegawkar, SA. “Consumption of Low-Calorie Sweeteners among Children and Adults in the United States”. J Acad Nutr Diet, 2017. 117(3): p. 441-448 e2.
- Kids today, especially young children, are consuming more sugar in liquid form than ever before
Duffey, KJ and Popkin, BM. “Shifts in patterns and consumption of beverages between 1965 and 2002”. Obesity (Silver Spring), 2007. 15(11): p. 2739-47.
- A 2010 study of American toddlers ages twelve to twenty-four months found that added sugar contributed 8.4 percent of their total daily calories; this sugar came mostly from juices and flavored drinks
Welsh, JA and Figueroa, J. “Intake of Added Sugars During the Early Toddler Period”. Nutrition Today, 2017. 52(Supplement): p. S60-S68.
- More than half the toddlers drank fruit juice as their only beverage on any given day
Moshfegh, AJ, Rhodes, DG, Goldman, JD, and Clemens, JC. “Characterizing the Dietary Landscape of Children, 12 to 35 Months Old”. Nutrition Today, 2017. 52(Supplement): p. S52-S59.
- The generational rise in juice consumption and its potential impact on health was alarming enough for the American Academy of Pediatrics to recommend limits for fruit juice consumption in 2017
Heyman, MB and Abrams, SA. “Fruit Juice in Infants, Children, and Adolescents: Current Recommendations”. Pediatrics, 2017. 139(6).
- In September 2019, these recommendations were updated in a joint consensus statement released by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Heart Association
“Consensus Statement. Healthy Beverage Consumption in Early Childhood: Recommendations from National Health and Nutrition Organizations”.
- A recent analysis of 240 of the most popular baby and toddler foods in the United States showed that 100 percent of baby food desserts, 92 percent of fruit snacks, 86 percent of cereal bars, and 57 percent of teething biscuits and cookies contained more than 20 percent of their calories from sugar
Elliott, CD and Conlon, MJ. “Packaged baby and toddler foods: questions of sugar and sodium”. Pediatr Obes, 2015. 10(2): p. 149-55.
- A recent report from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that in 2017, 86 percent of television advertising on programs targeted to African Americans and 82 percent of ads on programs targeted to Hispanics were focused on junk food, sugary drinks, or other high-sugar snacks and candy
Harris, JL, Frazier, W, Kumanyika, S, and Ramirez, AG, “Increasing Disparities in Unhealthy Food Advertising Targeted to Hispanic and Black Youth”. 2019, Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.
- If a pregnant mother consumes excessive sugar or sweetness in any form, it can reach the unborn baby, who will then develop an even greater than usual preference for more sweetness
Bayol, SA, Farrington, SJ, and Stickland, NC. “A maternal ‘junk food’ diet in pregnancy and lactation promotes an exacerbated taste for ‘junk food’ and a greater propensity for obesity in rat offspring”. Br J Nutr, 2007. 98(4): p. 843-51.
- Sugars or sweeteners consumed by a breastfeeding mother can be transmitted to the baby through breast milk; and; Studies from my research team were the first to document that fructose from a mother’s diet can be transmitted to her baby via breast milk
Berger, PK, Fields, DA, Demerath, EW, Fujiwara, H, and Goran, MI. “High-Fructose Corn-Syrup-Sweetened Beverage Intake Increases 5-Hour Breast Milk Fructose Concentrations in Lactating Women”. Nutrients, 2018. 10(6).
- Exposure to fructose makes it more likely that developing cells will become fat cells
Du, L and Heaney, AP. “Regulation of Adipose Differentiation by Fructose and GluT5”. Mol Endocrinol, 2012.
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