How food could improve your kids attention span

Here’s what I ask at the start of most of my workshops:

How many of you in the X generation or older remember a friend who had ADHD, asthma, dermatitis, psoriasis, hives, eczema, food allergies or chronic illness of some description when you were a kid? In a room of 50-100, 1-2 hands go up at most.

Now, how many of you know of YOUR children today in 2019 and their classmates, MORE THAN 10 KIDS with one of these challenges?  3/4 of the room’s hands go up. 

Houston we have a problem.

Many children are suffering from behavioural and learning difficulties and every 3rd child has eczema, asthma, an allergy or intolerance of some kind.

We parents, teachers, carers and guardians have the power and knowledge to reverse many of these issues for our kids and future generations beyond.

It all starts with nutrition.

Food plays a huge role in our body’s resilience building blocks, which is why getting your kids into healthy habits and eating whole, nutritious foods is key to helping them thrive in their fundamental years. I spoke to the fabulously knowledgeable paediatrician Dr Leila Masson in episode 125 of the podcast about how best to support your child’s learning difficulties and improve their attention span through food and lifestyle support. Here are some key takeaways – plus a few extras from our in-house naturopath, Stephanie Hinton.

Tips for coping with hyperactivity/lack of ability to focus in kids

 

GET THEM OUTDOORS AND MOVING

If your kids are literally bouncing off the walls at all hours of the day, then Dr Leila believes the first port of call is to get them out and exercising off that energy. Too often we just want them to plonk on the couch and settle down after a long day. Instead, where time permits, get them running around, taking part in team sports and using up excess energy in a productive way, away from a screen. Maggie Dent shares a wonderful dopamine producing strategy for kids – especially boys – to bend and flex their feet a few times under the desk to wake their brains up again. Works a treat! For my little guy, it’s as simple as a few star jumps after a homework task before moving onto the next. 

WIND DOWN NATURALLY

The key here is ensuring your kids get a really solid night’s sleep so that they’re rested and not tapping into adrenal reserves that they just don’t have. Look at herbal teas like chamomile in cold or hot infusions before bed and throughout the afternoon. Magnesium citrate is also a fantastic sleep supportive supplement and great for growing little muscles. Nightly Epsom salt baths can also support restful sleep and a gentle wind down before bed. Dr Leila also believes that short pulse doses of melatonin may be necessary for some children (always administered by a GP or paediatrician).

NUTRITION IS KEY

This is a no-brainer. If your child is struggling with learning, behavioural challenges, anti-social behaviour and low focus then switching to an additive-free wholefood diet is absolutely key! Studies have found that diets high in artificial colours and certain preservatives may increase the severity and incidence of hyperactivity and ADHD in children. Dr Leila believes that avoiding these foods will directly and positively impact the mood, focus and energy of children suffering from ADHD and behavioural issues.

What a healthy plate of food looks like

Our in-house naturopath, Steph, says ‘a good rule of thumb for kids is a kids’ palm-sized serving of lean organic/pasture-raised protein, plenty of colourful (starchy and non-starchy) vegetables, ¼ plate complex carbohydrates (quinoa, buckwheat, sweet potato) and 2-3 tbs of good healthy fats (avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil) is a great and balanced way to approach main meals.

CUT THE SUGAR, STAT (most of the time) 

Avoiding sugar is also paramount to helping out little humans maintain focus and modulate their energy. Say for example, you’re feeding them a bowl of sweetened cereal for breakfast, a muesli bar and berry yoghurt for morning tea, coupled with some dried fruit in their lunch box and an afternoon muffin… safe to say by dinner time they’ve already had multiple sugar spikes and their either grumpy, tired, hyper or all of the above. By switching to savoury snacks like carrot and hummus, whole fruits and unsweetened yoghurts that you can add fruit and a little honey to that YOU control the amount of, not the food companies, your kids will have a much lower added sugar diet and thus a more even energy kiel. Now this isn’t about depriving them of the slice of cake at a party or a delicious homemade treat for the lunchbox. It’s about raising our awareness in general about how much added sugar is in our child’s day and reigning it in. 

LOW IRON = GRUMPY KIDS

Iron deficiency is easily missed in many young children yet the tell-tale signs are clear as day. If your little human is grumpy, exhausted, mopey and lacking that vital energy and focus that they should have, then look to iron for what could be quite an easy fix! Symptoms of low iron include pale and/or dark circles under eyes, allergies, easy bruising, food sensitivities and for older girls (pre-teen to teen) menstrual issues or a missing menstrual cycle.

COULD IT BE CANDIDA? 

Candida is yeast overgrowth in the bowel which can result in thrush (white coating) of the tongue and genitalia, an inflamed/red anus, constipation and an insatiable appetite for sugars and carbohydrates. Candida often occurs due to a diet rich in yeast or too many antibiotics.

The reason candida can become an issue, aside from the obvious physical discomfort it causes, is that the overgrowth sends chemical messages to the brain to encourage the body to consume more sugars and carbohydrates. This alone can result in depleted energy, poor focus and behavioural issues in our kids.

Dr Leila Masson says that kids with candida overgrowth can almost act silly and giggle like they’re a little drunk. You might even notice them walking strangely! This is all due to consuming way too much sugar for their little digestive systems.

So how to fix it? It all starts with starving our the candida in the gut under the supervision of a practitioner. Think plenty of whole foods, bitter veggies, low-to-no sugars, reduced starches, lots of sour lemon squeezed over dishes, garlic and ginger in recipes, and good quality Bifidobacteria probiotics. It can take a little time and a lot of resistance by your kids who’ll be asking for certain foods, but eventually, they will stop craving those sugars and sweets and the symptoms will subside.

NEED MORE SUPPORT?

So hopefully that’s helped you to understand the vital role a healthy whole-food diet can play in totally transforming your child’s life. If you’re reading all of this and thinking, “Yeah that’s great but HOW do I make these changes, it all feels too hard”… then I encourage you to check out my eCourse, THRIVE: Raising Kids Who Love Real Food co-created with Health Coach and beautiful mum of two happy, healthy kids, Brenda Janschek.

In 21-days you’ll completely transform your kitchen and your families approach to healthy food! Hopefully see you there!

Alexx

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