Q: How can a healthy diet affect my child’s development?
A: Proper nutrition promotes growth and healthy brain development in children. When parents are selective in the foods they feed their children, there is a marked improvement in behavior and physical and mental development. This is especially true for children with special needs.
As 2019 approaches, many of us will start to think about resolutions to be healthier in the new year. For parents, it is important to remember that every change we make in our own lifestyles can only enhance our children’s health.
Here are some tips parents can consider implementing in 2019 to encourage healthy brain development for their children:
Choose organic whenever possible. Organic products have fewer additives and pesticides, which are harmful for a growing brain. If going completely organic isn’t possible for your family, try to substitute these products for organic: meats, fruit, and vegetables. Also, wash all produce, organic or not, before eating.
Drink plenty of water. Water should be your child’s go-to drink (as well as yours). Water promotes detoxification and dilutes harmful substances in the body. Sports drinks, juices, and sodas should be avoided. Instead of soda, consider steeping some fresh mint in water and adding a little stevia for sweetness.
Eat more fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, and plant nutrients that are crucial for a child’s well-being. Children’s diets that include at least five servings per day of fruits and vegetables have been shown to support and improve brain function. The more colorful the fruits and vegetables, the better.
Consume the right fats. Consuming healthy fats helps lay the foundation for healthy brain development. Healthy fats are found in nuts and seeds, as well as sardines and avocados. Organic and cold-pressed nut and seed oils, such as avocado, flax, hemp, or pumpkin, are perfect for drizzling on foods, but do not cook with them, as heat damages their cellular structure, making them less healthy. Vegetable oils (soy, canola, peanut, margarine, etc.) have no place in a brain-healthy lifestyle because they’ve been processed at high heat and thus are oxidized and harmful to our cells.
Eliminate sugar. In an ideal world, there would be no refined sugars in our children’s diets. Sugar wreaks havoc on a child’s mood and disrupts the developing brain, leading to impaired memory and shortened attention span. If eliminating refined sugars isn’t possible for your family, do your best to reduce the amount of refined-sugar products your child consumes, such as candy, soda, and sweet desserts.
Get physical. Having your child engage in one hour of physical activity for every hour of screen time encourages healthy brain development. When children exercise, brain-derived neurotrophic factor — a chemical that promotes brain growth — is released.
Kristin Reihman, M.D., is the medical director of the Family Hope Center, an international center dedicated to the development of children diagnosed with special needs and developmental delays.