Yep! We all do it!
Every January, adults the world over make resolutions to eat better, get more exercise, and appreciate themselves and others more.
We seem to inherently know that these things are important to our health. Did you know these things are exactly what kids need, too?
What is frequently overlooked is the tremendous impact that diet, movement, and feelings of appreciation have on attention, and learning. As a parent or teacher, it isn’t too late to think about adding these things to your student’s daily routine. Some small changes today could bring about major changes in your students’ lives.
Food For Thought
Studies have shown that what we eat affects how we feel, how we think, and how much energy we have. Memory, thinking, and attention are strongly influenced by food.
Believe it or not, the most important nutrient for the brain is fat because the brain is actually made up of fat. The problem is, if we eat a lot of unhealthy fats, we end up with an unhealthy brain.
Fats that support brain health are monounsaturated fats (found in foods like olive oil, canola oil, nuts, and avocados), and some forms of polyunsaturated fats, including the Omega 3 essential fatty acids, which are particularly important for brain function. Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in cold-water fatty fish, deep green leafy vegetables, some grains, and pumpkin seeds. Many people find it helpful to supplement their intake of these essential Omega 3s by taking fish oil capsules.
The fats to stay away from are saturated fats and trans-fatty acids. Saturated fats are found in meat and full-fat dairy products. We need protein in our diet, much of which comes from these sources, but limiting the amount of saturated fat to about 10 percent of our daily caloric intake is wise as saturated fat makes the brain cells sluggish. According to Dr. Permutter, a diet high in saturated fats can result in memory problems and mood disorders for individuals of any age. It is not just seniors who are having “senior moments” these days.
Trans-fatty acids are probably the worst fats for our brains and should be on our diet black list. These are found in nearly all processed foods (partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil or partially-hydrogenated vegetable shortening) and fried foods.
Trans-fatty acids are used to increase the shelf life of food, but inhibit our learning and performance because they make our brain cells rigid, tough, and slow. They keep cells from being able to get nutrients, make energy, and communicate with other cells.
Carbohydrates are important foods for providing energy for the body. But just as with fats, there are good and bad choices. Sugar and white flour are two of the worst. They are simple carbohydrates so they enter the bloodstream very quickly. They rapidly raise blood sugar levels (which is associated with memory problems). Sugar robs our bodies of B vitamins and nutrients needed to support a stable nervous system and blood sugar balance, affecting health, mood, attention, memory, and behavior. Be aware that there is an extremely high sugar content in juice (eating the whole fruit is better) and that our bodies react to artificial sweeteners other than Stevia in the same way as sugar.
Maintaining consistent blood sugar levels allows the brain to get the steady flow of sugar (glucose) needed to keep it fit and functioning. Spikes and fluctuations in blood sugar cause sugar overload which can cause an individual to have very high, sometimes excessive energy, followed by low energy, sleepiness, or moodiness. Over time, chronic sugar overload can lead to serious illnesses. William Duffy, in his article, REFINED SUGAR The Sweetest Poison of All, says, “Excessive sugar has a strong mal-effect on the functioning of the brain. Too much sugar makes one sleepy; our ability to calculate and remember is lost.” This is definitely not a good prescription for learning!
Since we do need carbohydrates for energy and to help protein (in the form of tryptophan) enter the brain cells, complex carbohydrates will be the better choices. These digest more slowly, enter the bloodstream more gradually, and create a gentler rise in blood sugar. Whole grains, fruits, legumes, and vegetables are complex carbohydrates.
Protein is extremely important to our brain function and learning. It helps increase serotonin in the brain which improves feelings of well-being, hopefulness, organization, and concentration.
Many children go to school after having a sugary carbohydrate breakfast and many teens choose to go to school with no breakfast at all. A low sugar breakfast and lunch with 12-20 grams of protein can make a vast difference in a learner’s performance.
When bright students struggle in school, a thoughtful, healthy diet may help. However, there are students who struggle in spite of having good support and seemingly doing all the right things.
Most ongoing learning and attention challenges are the result of weak or inefficient underlying processing/learning skills (such as memory, auditory and visual processing, processing speed, and sensorimotor skills). The great news is that these underlying skills can be developed so that learning and attention challenges, including dyslexia and learning disabilities, can be dramatically improved or completely corrected.
Students do not have to spend their lives finding ways to cope with or compensate for their learning challenges. Need to learn more? Are you ready for real changes in the New Year?
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