By Dr. Kathleen Regan, ND
September is a big month for kids! New school year, new teachers, new friends, new subjects and new routines. This can be exciting, distracting and sometimes anxiety provoking. Many challenges come with a new school year that requires attention, memory and calm. How can parents help their children to balance excitement with focus as the school year approaches?
Balance breakfast with more protein.
Protein has many benefits
- It keeps us feeling full. When kids feel full – they are calmer and more focused.
- It supports healthy brain function. Protein is full of amino acids that are required for balanced mood, memory and concentration.
- It supports the immune system. Protein is an important part of immune cells. Low protein = poor immune function. Increasing protein ahead of cold and flu season is one of the best things you can do to keep your child healthy.
- Breakfast cereals are often full of carbohydrates and sugars – they are NOT part of a complete breakfast. However, if your child loves cereal try a more complex mixture with whole grains, nuts, seeds and fruits. Add fruits that are low glycemic index like berries. Try this with a nut milk which is tasty, rich in nutrients and less inflammatory than cows milk. Or skip the milk and add in Greek yogurt which has a higher protein count.
- Consider adding a tasty protein smoothie (with berries, avocado, Greek yogurt or kefir, crushed flax seed, protein powder and nut or rice milk).
- Alternate ‘cereal days’ with ‘eggs and fruit days’.
Start the day with water, send a water bottle to school and finish the day with water
Water, water, water. Children are very susceptible to the cognitive deficits of dehydration due to their smaller body size. They sometimes need to be encouraged to drink. Dehydration has been linked to memory and concentration deficits as well as depression and anxiety. As an added benefit, a glass of water before meals has been found to lower a child’s risk of obesity by up to 30%. If your child doesn’t ‘like’ water – dilute juice with half a cup of water. This can help to reduce sugar cravings, balance appetite & calm the nervous system.
High EPA Fish Oil
The benefits of fish oils are endless. The impact of fish oil, especially high EPA, on focus/concentration, memory and mood is well established. Fish oils reduce inflammation in the body and brain. Inflammation impacts our ability to think, act and regulate mood. As well, fish oils form part of the structure of our brain cells and nervous tissue. Our brain cells needs these fats to communicate with each other and to form new neural connections. Neural communication is the basis of learning and behavior. A little fish oil can go a long way to help your child with both creative and analytical subjects. Some children will tolerate capsules – others are best given liquid fish oil in smoothies or foods. I prefer liquid fish oil as the digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard to digest the capsule and you can easily get a higher dose.
Probiotics are one way to keep the gut & brain balanced. Gut bacteria stimulate the brain via the Vagus nerve. Through this mechanism, gut microbes impact our sleep and stress reactivity via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. They influence memory, mood, and cognition. Research has found that imbalances in gut bacteria are related to neurological and cognitive deficits such as nervousness, memory loss, forgetfulness, and confusion. I prefer human-strained gut bacteria. Many companies don’t provide human grade bacteria, which is more appropriate for our human guts. As well, using a professional brand of probiotics is very important because of the quality control process – it ensures that your child will be getting a clean probiotic source with the proper bacterial strains. These can easily be done in capsules or as a powder added to foods.
TIP: Start the day with a smoothie for the whole family. Along with the other ingredients add a good quality protein powder, liquid fish oil, powdered probiotic and additional water. This way you will be hitting all of the above tips in one glass. Try our FAMILY BREAKFAST SMOOTHIE RECIPE