Does nutrition affect your child’s ability to focus and be mindful?
Which is better, a banana or a bag of chips? Is it better to go to McDonald’s or bring a healthy lunch from home?
Obviously, we do our best to teach our kids how to make healthier food choices and lead them in the right direction by setting a good example.
When we’re teaching our children about everyday nutrition choices, we emphasize the physical benefits for their health and appearance. But there’s something else you may want them to consider when choosing foods…
How do the foods they eat affect their moods, emotions, and mindfulness?
Science is beginning to realize that proper nutrition isn’t just about preventing physical illness or maintaining a healthy weight.
Our daily food choices also have a direct impact on our moods and emotions, our ability to focus and be present, and even on mental health concerns like depression.
Let’s take a look at how your child’s nutrition affects their mindfulness and how you can guide them in a healthier direction.
How Nutrition Affects Your Child’s Mindfulness, Mood, and Focus
Nutrients affect brain health and neurotransmitters
- Complex carbohydrates from foods like whole grains, beans, and sweet potatoes are essential for producing the feel-good chemical called serotonin.
- Your child’s body uses certain nutrients to make important brain chemicals that affect focus, attention, and mood.
- In addition, lean protein from sources like chicken, fish, soybeans, eggs, legumes, and dairy can increase dopamine and norepinephrine levels. These are two neurotransmitters that play a direct role in concentration, motivation, mood, and emotions.
- Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and taking a high-quality organic multivitamin every day also ensures that the body has the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants it needs to support neurotransmitter production, increase focus, and improve mood.
More on that in a moment!
The Connection Between Mindfulness and Your Child’s Gut Health
It’s also important to realize that your child’s gut health, mood, and emotions are directly connected.
That’s because the gut is home to billions of bacteria that play a key role in producing brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which carry messages from the gut to the brain.
When your child eats a healthy diet that promotes the growth of good bacteria in the gut, it improves the production of these mood and focus-boosting chemicals. On the other hand, a diet that’s full of sugar and processed foods leads to inflammation in the gut, which hampers their production.
When there’s an abundance of these chemicals, the brain receives positive messages from the gut, which is reflected in focus, mood, and emotions.
On the other hand, when production slows down, mood, emotions, and mental focus suffer.
Sugar and refined carbohydrates are especially problematic for gut health because they feed the “bad bacteria” in the gut and promote inflammation. Ironically, these foods cause a short-lived spike in feel-good brain chemicals, which is why many people turn to these foods for a mental and emotional boost.
Unfortunately, that temporary rush followed by a crash is terrible for the mood, emotions, and mental focus.
Following a healthy diet reduces mood fluctuations and promotes mindfulness by improving mental outlook and focus. A proper diet can dramatically improve the symptoms of anxiety and depression as well.
Optimizing Your Child’s Nutrition for Improved Mindfulness and Mental Health
Your child’s brain runs on the nutrition he or she puts into their body. It is also directly impacted by hormonal changes, fluctuations in blood sugar, and many other biological processes related to diet and nutrition.
Although research is ongoing, there is a lot we do know about how nutrition affects mindfulness.
In general, teaching your children to avoid processed food and sugar is a great place to start. Many Americans eat these foods every day, turning to sugary treats and junk food to cheer us up when we’re feeling down.
But it turns out these foods have the exact opposite effect on mental health, including emotional stability, moods, and focus.
Choosing a whole-food diet that includes lots of fruits, veggies, healthy fats, unprocessed protein, and complex carbohydrates is equally important.
This type of diet not only boosts energy levels but also lifts the mood and supports emotional stability by regulating blood sugar and helps protect us from depression and anxiety.
Here are some specific steps your child can take to improve mindfulness and overall mental health.
- Take a multivitamin every day: Giving your child a reputable organic multivitamin for babies or kids – and starting young – is important for preventing nutritional deficiencies that could impact mindfulness and mental health.
- Avoid Processed Foods: Processed foods contain preservatives, food coloring, and other chemicals that can affect mental focus, energy levels, and mood.
- Prioritize Fiber: Plant-based foods that are high in fiber help the body absorb glucose more slowly. This prevents blood sugar highs and lows, which can dramatically impact mood, emotional stability, and attention span.
- Increase Antioxidant and Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake: Antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation throughout the body, including in the gut. Berries and leafy greens are great sources of antioxidants, while fatty fish, seeds, beans, and nuts are good sources of omega-3s.
- Promote Dopamine Production: Folate is an important B vitamin that the body uses to produce dopamine without the negative effects of sugar and refined carbs. Look for it in your child’s vitamin and encourage them to eat folate-rich foods like lentils, cantaloupe, and leafy greens.
- Promote Serotonin Production: The body uses vitamin D to produce serotonin. Our bodies can produce vitamin D with ample exposure to sunlight. But, in the wintertime and in climates without a lot of sun, taking a multivitamin with vitamin D is key for boosting the mood and stabilizing emotions.
- Increase Magnesium Intake: Magnesium plays a vital role in the mood-nutrition connection. When the body is deficient in magnesium, it can be harmful to the good bacteria in the gut, leading to low moods and depression. Magnesium is also key for nerve and muscle function, including regulating the heartbeat. Magnesium can be found in dark chocolate, nuts, dark leafy greens, beans, and daily multivitamins.
- Eat Fermented Foods: Fermented foods are rich in probiotics, which are the good bacteria that live in the digestive tract. Good examples of fermented foods include yogurt, kombucha, miso, and sauerkraut.
Some Final Tips for Incorporating Mindfulness-Boosting Nutrients into Your Child’s Diet
Children aren’t known for their willingness to try new foods, so making changes to their diet may require some extra effort at first. We suggest having healthy snacks readily available that they can grab on the go without assistance.
When preparing meals, try making healthy food swaps like brown rice for white rice or whole-grain bread for white bread. Or include an extra serving of vegetables at dinner. Making gradual changes without asking your child to give up certain foods can make the transition easier.
Ask your child how the food tastes and smells when they eat it. How do they feel after eating nutritious foods instead of junk foods? Encouraging mindful eating is a great way to get them to make healthier choices on their own.
It may take a few weeks or more before your child notices the mindfulness and mood-boosting effects of better nutrition, but we promise the results will be worth it!