I recently gave a short presentation with two of my co-workers discussing how food affect focus, mood, and cognition. There were some technical difficulties so parts of it cut in and out, but I've left you with the main bullet points and links to research from my portion.
1. Artificial foods = lower IQ. More specifically artificial colorings and preservatives. Those toaster strudels and carnation instant breakfast drinks I loved as a teen; complete neurotoxins. Everything they served in the ala-cart line in my high school cafeteria, complete junk and brain poison. No wonder so many kids are being diagnosed with ADHD and other learning disabilities, our brains are fried from all the chemicals we feed them starting at breakfast.
2. You need adequate protein to make neurotransmitters for your brain. When we don’t eat enough protein, our DNA doesn’t have enough amino acids to sufficiently carry out this process. "If our cells are going to talk to one another, they need protein. If you don’t eat adequate protein at every meal, you can end up being anxious, depressed, hungry, and tired."
-Dr David Herber.
I would add irritable, irrational, unfocussed, and scatter to that list. The best, most absorbable, and bioavailable source of protein, and therefore amino acids is....meat, dairy, and eggs.
Sorry vegans, this is just how biology works.
"Meat is the single best source of protein. Fulfilling your protein requirements (60 – 90 grams or more for adults) with non-meat foods requires enormous planning and effort, more than most people can manage. You have to eat three cups of beans with 100 grams of carbs to equal the same amount of protein in 6 ounces of animal protein (that contain zero carbs).
Animal protein is our only source of vitamin B12, which is essential for life itself. It contains enzymes that we need to access nutrients, essential amino acids, and cancer-fighting antioxidants like vitamin A, which cannot be obtained directly from vegetables. Vegans often become deficient in B12, iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D and more. Yes, plant foods contain many of these nutrients, but they are more bioavailable in meat."
-Dr. Mark Hyman, What the Heck Should I Eat
But you know who else also becomes deficient in these nutrients? Most kids. They start their day with bagels, toast, donuts, or nothing; and when they eat the school lunch most of what they get is CARBS! with very little protein. Dinner often doesn't look that great these days either. As families race from one activity to the next, I see a lot of fast food, pasta, and PB&J sandwiches on the menu.
3. Lack of Zinc, Iron, B12 can all lead to ADHD symptoms
B12 – Cobalamin, aka Vitamin B12 is a helper vitamin. It helps B9 produce red blood cells, and it helps iron produce hemoglobin for transporting oxygen in the blood.
If you are a Vegan, and even some vegetarians, and many picky kids who eat very little meat need to supplement. Typical doses are: 10 micrograms a day or 2000+ micrograms per week.
Zinc - Studies show it may help with hyperactivity and impulsiveness. But not as effective for inattentiveness. I recommend 20mg/Day for kids and up to 50+mg for adults as supplements.
Iron - Iron is also necessary for making dopamine. One small study1 showed ferritin levels (a measure of iron stores) to be low in 84 percent of children with ADHD compared to 18 percent of the control group. Low iron levels correlate with cognitive deficits and severe ADHD.
However, do not supplement unless you/your child has been diagnosed with a deficiency.
Want to get these nutrients from food? Then grab yourself some OYSTERS and LIVER! Or maybe just some beef and salmon. I love adding smoked oysters to a salad or eating them on a plantain chip/cracker. Braunschweiger is seriously one of my favorite foods. My grandma used to make us sandwiches on wonder bread with miracle whip and mustard. Not what I would recommend, but she didn't know what we know now. These days I simply slice and eat, top it with Hain Safflower Mayo, or even fry it in a little olive oil and eat for breakfast with eggs and greens.
4. Fish oil
Significant evidence across multiple studies show that...
How much to supplement with?
For younger kids up to about age 8, 1,000-1,500 milligrams of EPA and DHA.
(If a product has 750 mg. of EPA and 500 mg of DHA, the total would be 1,250 mg.)
For older children, 2,000-2,500 milligrams.
However, I'm in the camp that when it comes to fish oil, more is often better. You'll want to talk with your health care professional to help you decide on the right dose.
While grabbing a hot drink from Lakewinds Co-op a couple weeks ago I noticed a new product on the counter. I asked the Barista what it was and if it was any good. Apparently it's a coconut butter product you add to coffee. She informed me that it was very tasty, and she really liked the vanilla but..."I'm not ready to give up sugar, so I can't use it".
I must have given her a quizzical look as she proceeded to tell me that it's for keto people and that since she still eats sugar she shouldn't use it. I responded, "do you think if you did use it, it might help with your sugar cravings?"
Barista, "Maybe, but I'm not ready to give up sugar."
As I left the counter I thought, "What you're really saying is I don't want to give up sugar." I was also reminded of the late Charles Poliquin who would have said that she is still prioritizing her taste buds over whatever physical change she wants to see by giving up sugar. To some extent I would agree. But I posed the scenario to two RD friends as well Ryan and here is what they all said.
My friend Katie of the Best You Plan would ask you, "What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of failing yet again...another diet?" She has seen this with many women. Just the mention of "giving up" a food, sugar or processed carbs in particular seems to elicit a look of terror in many of their eyes. While at a networking event, she had women refuse to take her business card after they learned what her program is about.
My friend Lucy from Well Balanced Nutrition would ask you, "What do you mean give up sugar? Are you a moderator being asked to abstain? Is this a temporary or permanent change you are trying to make? Why do you want to give it up, what is the benefit?"
My husband Ryan asked "what are you doing to be/get ready?"
So this coming year, before you make another I'm going to (lose weight, get healthy, exercise, give up _____) resolution maybe you need to ask yourself a few questions first:
1. What change do I want to make and WHY? If you're why isn't good enough, you will never be 'ready' and the changes will never stick. I have found that losing weight for the sake of weight loss is never a good enough why. Focusing on a health benefit such as less joint pain, or better digestion are typically better motivators.
2. Is this a change YOU WANT to make for YOU? Or is it something you think you SHOULD do, or feel guilted into doing? Shame is never a good motivator.
3. What is holding you back from starting now? Why have you waited?
4. What are you afraid of? Failure? Judgement? Struggling? Hunger? Being alone?
5. Are you making excuses and putting off making the change? Or is your reason for not starting valid? Excuse: it's the holiday season so it will be too hard. (Truth: there is always a holiday, birthday, vacation, or other event) Valid reason: Your parent just died, you just had a baby, your house flooded or burned down. (Truth: high stress times, especially when coupled with sleep deprivation are not the time to make a major change. Wait a few weeks or months until the clouds pass and you are sleeping to tackle your change.)
6. Who will support you vs Who will derail you? Are you willing to spend less time with those who will derail your efforts? I know many people who have given up friendships, cut ties with family, and gone through divorces in the name of health & happiness. It may seem extreme, but we only get one life, so why surround yourself with negative people. Also, the reason many people consciously or unconsciously sabotage other's efforts is because of their own fear and insecurity. "If they change, then I have to change... change is hard, and I'm scared of failing if they succeed. I'm not ready! I should buy them a box of their favorite cookies."
What are you willing/wanting/ready to change?
I'm a dietitian with a passion for good nutrition, bold flavors, playing in the dirt, and being with my family.