How can you protect your children’s mental health?
More and more children are being diagnosed with anxiety and behavioural issues in the UK.
Of course we know it’s a much broader issue than diet, but our Nutritional Therapist Anna highlights some dietary aspects for good mental and brain health.
Areas you may wish to consider for your family include:
Balancing blood sugars helps regulate emotions
Regular meals with protein and complex carbohydrates can help stabilise blood sugars.
When children eat erratically, miss meals or lack sufficient protein and fats in their diet it can affect their mood.
A high sugar diet, or only eating carbohydrates can affect our blood sugars to fluctuate causing issues with memory, concentration and also increasing anxiety.
Do genetics influnce mental health?
There are genetic mutations or polymorphisms, called SNPs (say snips) which may interfere with your child’s ability to process key nutrients needed for health.
Changes in one particular enzyme, MTHFR, has been linked to low mood and anxiety because it affects how we absorb and create neurotransmitters, and detoxifcation processes.
Genetic testing for this gene mutation is available.
Consider if your child may be low in
- vitamin D
These nutrients have all been linked to low mood and anxiety when insufficient.
Ask a nutritionist about functional testing to identify deficiencies and how to address them.
Magnesium rich foods include green leafy vegetables, beans and pulses.
Gut health affects behaviour and mood
Our microbes and digestive health affect our brain health due to a huge super highway of communication between the gut and the brain.
If your child is open to trying fermented foods you can include sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), kerfir (fermented milk or water), or kombucha (fermented tea) as a food based addition to gut health.
These foods contain live beneficial bacteria that can support a healthy gut microbiome.
Children’s brains are built through their experience of the world, and also the nutritional building blocks available to them.
- Omega 3 is critical to growing brains, especially DHA, a type of omega 3. Aim for oily fish, the best source of omega 3, 2-3 times a week.
- Supplements may be beneficial for those who don’t eat fish, or vegan Omega 3 supplements made from algae are available.
- Choline is vital for building our brains, but we don’t eat enough. Great sources are eggs, peanuts, beef liver, edamame beans, chicken or cod.
Give them protein rich breakfasts before school to aid concentration. Eggs on wholemeal toast, or add 2 tbsp ground seeds and nuts to porridge. Offer high protein natural yoghurt with berries as a snack.
Top Tips For Children’s Mental Health
Gut Brain Connection – There is a big connection between the gut and the brain so improving your child’s digestion process is critical if they are experiencing anxiety or behavioural issues.
Many of our neurotransmitters and hormones are made in the gut, aided by trillions of microbes. If there is an imbalance of these we can get issues with our health, including mental health.
Millions of messages travel between our gut and brain every second including nerves, microbes, nutrients and hormones.
If you have concerns over your child’s diet affecting mood, behaviour or emotions often a good place to start is their gut health.
A stool test may be useful to identify a specific action plan, and areas of concern.
Increasing fibre helps to feed the beneficial bacteria living in our gut, so include whole grains, pulses, vegetables and fruits liberally.
Reduce foods that may irritate the gut, or cause a reaction.
Balanced & varied diet rich in whole foods – offering your child a diet with a balance of proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates will support overall good health.
Aim for a rainbow of colour in different plant based foods every day, supported by good quality protein.
Consider supplementation – if you’re concerned your child doesn’t have a balanced diet then supplements may be an option.
Work with a qualified nutritionist to identify the right nutrients for each child individually.
Whilst there are several nutritional drivers of mood or behaviour disorders in children we must also look at their physical and emotional environment.
Sometimes there are emotional interactions at play in the home or at school that affect their mood. It’s critical to prioritise sleep because when children rest it can help to reset difficult emotions.
Sufficient sleep helps increase our resilience and improve our food choices.
Children must have time to play outside, not only for a deeper connection to nature, but exposure to natural daylight helps with improving sleep.
Insufficient physical exercise, and duration of time on computers or phones can also play a huge part in how our children feel and behave.
What influences your child’s mood and what helps? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Anna Mapson supports busy parents to get family nutrition right, taking away the stress if feeding your family. In Bristol or online via video call
- Weaning Consultations & Group Classes
- Children’s Nutrition Consultations (e.g. fussy eating, constipation, eczema, healthy growth, behaviour)