I often hear (and see) from parents, teacher friends and clients about the behaviour of kids. And most of the time they are referring to bad behaviour. Whether it’s going through the terrible twos, throwing tantrums or simply not listening to a word said to them. We see it all the time and just assume that its kids being kids and that its normal. Well what if I told you that it didn’t have to be that way, that we could greatly improve our child’s mood, behaviour and possibly learning by simply improving their nutrition?
Being in this industry, you have the advantage of understanding how nutrition impacts not just the body but also the mind.
Most people associate food whether it be good or bad, mainly with the effects that it has on our body image.
But what about its effects on the organ that serves as the centre of our nervous system, the organ that is responsible for improving our intelligence, focus, alertness, memory and ultimately our behaviour/mood. The brain. I know what your thinking, how on earth can what my kid eats effect its brain?
Well there’s this thing we call a microbiome.
Our microbiome is all of the bacteria, both good and bad, found throughout our body. Roughly 85% of the microbiomes are probiotics, working for us to help digest food, regulate our immune system, absorb nutrients, balance our blood sugar and help determine our emotions. Within our whole-body microbiome there are also several smaller microbiomes, but the one I want to talk mostly about is the gut microbiome.
Because when it comes to our emotions and behaviour, the microbiome that matters the most is the one that is found in our digestive tract. The microbiomes in our gut communicate with our brain via the Vagus nerve. Our beneficial gut bacteria help to produce and regulate many of the neurotransmitters that our brain needs to relay signals throughout our body.
These beneficial bacteria can also produce serotonin and GABA, chemicals which are responsible for making us feel happy and calm.
Now that you have covered why these microbiomes are important, we can start to understand how they relate back to our children.
The first couple of years in our childs life are crucial to the development of their gut microbiome.
We know that baby’s gut is mostly sterile in the womb and that they will pick up most of their microbial as they pass through the birthing canal.
Breastmilk will then provide tons more microbes and as your child gets older and begins to eat solid food, their microbiomes continue to develop based on their dietary, lifestyle and environmental factors.
Between the ages of two-three a childs microbiome resembles that of an adult.
So what can we do to keep our child’s microbiome – and behaviour- in good working order?
Here are some tips to help;
- Introduce them to fermented foods and prebiotics. Fermented foods can be a tricky one for our fussy little eaters, so early introduction is crucial. Focus on prebiotic, indigestible fibres that are a stellar food source for friendly microbes, such as bananas, honey and asparagus, you can also include a scoop of prebiotic powder into their smoothie.
- Give probiotics. Even though you are doing everything you can to support your child’s gut flora, there are probiotic killing environmental factors such as airborne toxins and chlorine infused water, that are too hard to avoid. A high quality, multi strain kids probiotic can work very well to continually replenish this essential flora, helping them feel and function at their best.
- Avoid unnecessary medication. Certain medications and antibiotics can wipe out good bacteria in the gut, leaving your child’s microbiome out of balance and depleted.
- Let them play. Too many of our kids are stuck indoors either in front of the tv are glued to iPad or other forms of technology, meaning they are missing out on vital unstructured playtime. Not only does plenty of play time help to alleviate stress, but studies show that increased physical activity can also lead to a more balanced microbiome.
Now that we understand the importance of our child’s microbiome and the effect that it can have on their emotions and behaviours, we can start to make the necessary changes to help them keep a happy and healthy gut environment.
We can now take a look at the long term effects of a poor diet. In this day and age, lifestyle diseases such as type II diabetes and fatty liver disease are starting to show in people of younger ages, even kids.
Childhood obesity is also growing at a rapid rate. Kids are having too much junk food and sugar, which is resulting in these diseases to manifest a lot quicker.
So, what can we do to help prevent them before they start?
Here is a basic guide to building a healthy meal
- Lots of vegetables
- A moderate amount of protein (eggs, fish, meat)
- Healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, nuts, coconut oil)
- A small amount of fruit
- A small amount of grains (or I prefer starchy vegetables, such as sweet potato)
These foods are as good for kids as they are for adults for these important reasons;
- Low in gut irritants
- High in nutrients
- Low in sugar which means no spike to blood sugar or the crash that follows
- Will contribute to better focus, therefore potential for better leaning.
I know what your all thinking, how am I going to get my kids eating this?
Below are some tips to help you along the way.
- Involving kids in the cooking process, let them help with making their meals.
- Lead by example. Eat good food in front of them and make it clear that you enjoy it. Don’t treat vegetables as a food that they have to eat in order to “earn” dessert.
- Early and frequent exposure. We usually have to offer foods several times before they are willing to try it. Offering different foods from an early age, right when solids are being introduced, increases the childs willingness to try them later.
- Flexible rules. Making junk food/sugar an absolutely forbidden food. Will just make it more attractive. Studies have shown that prohibiting foods will only make kids eat more of it when they finally get their hands on it. The key here is balance and allowing them flexibility.
Let them find out for themselves how food effects their bodies and talk about it together.
The foods/drinks we chose to give our children will have a direct impact on their gut environment, therefore a direct impact on their behaviour. So chose wisely because these years are vital to your child’s devotement.
Article Written by
Level 2 Senior Coach
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