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7 Major Nutrients To Help Kids Focus & Foods to Eat

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nutrients-for-focusEvery day we learn more about the importance of our food choices.

Our bodies are constantly up against anti-nutrients, which are natural or synthetic substances that actually interfere with the absorption of any nutrients we may be getting from proper whole-foods.

When our kids consume things like refined sugary treats, fast food, fried food, salty snacks, fizzy drinks, juice, hydrogenated oils, refined flour, processed foods, antibiotics, pesticides and the 3,000 plus food additives allowed in the U.S., they are gobbling up anti-nutrients.

So, first things first – we need to eliminate these anti-nutrients as much as possible.

Next, we should be aware of and eliminate any food allergies or intolerance our kids may have to certain foods they’re eating. Some big culprits are wheat and gluten, dairy, casein, eggs, peanuts, soy, corn, etc. Even some otherwise healthy fruits and vegetables could be causing more harm than good. For instance, my son Milo, who was tested for food allergies, has 11 sensitivities that include bananas and pumpkin.

In addition to food allergies, nutrient deficiencies are a major reason so many kids and even adults are struggling with a variety of health issues today. But not enough people know that symptoms of these deficiencies actually mimic that of their diagnosed health problems.

I truly believe millions of kids could be living healthier lives if we continue to get the word out about the importance of nutrition from the right kinds of food.

When it comes to our children’s brain health – here are seven essential nutrients that play a huge role on memory, focus and learning.

1. Healthy Fats

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Researchers from Purdue University have found that kids with ADHD symptoms typically have an essential fatty acid deficiency. Our brains are made up of at least 60% fat, so it makes sense that it plays a huge role in brain function.

Our Standard American Diet (SAD) has changed so much over the years. Unfortunately, it has taken a turn for the worse.

These days we eat way more saturated and trans fats – or “bad fats” than we do “good fats” – commonly known as DHA, EPA and ALA. This means we’re eating more CAFO animal fats, fried and processed foods than we do fish, avocados, nuts and seeds.

Can you agree?

Our fat imbalances can really affect our brain health in a negative way. Especially in our young children whose brains are still developing.

Behavior problems, learning disorders, dyslexia, inability to focus, depression, hyperactivity, asthma, allergies, eczema could all be signs that your child is suffering from an essential fatty acid deficiency.

Researchers at the University of Oxford studied 493 UK schoolchildren, between ages 7-9, who had below-average reading skills based on national assessments. Co-author of the study, Paul Montgomery, Ph.D. reported that,

“Higher levels of Omega-3 in the blood, and DHA in particular, were associated with better reading and memory, as well as with fewer behavior problems…”

Overall, children who have higher amounts of essential fatty acids in their systems are linked with having better behavior and learning experiences – among other benefits.

What to Eat: Wild, organic salmon | tuna steak | mackerel | sardines | flax seeds | chia seeds | walnuts | sesame seeds | pumpkin seeds | sunflower seeds | avocado

2. B Complex Vitamins

b-vitamins

The entire family of B vitamins is essential to many functions of our bodies – including healthy nerves and proper brain function.

B vitamin deficiency can cause some nasty neurological symptoms. BrainLine.org does a great job of helping us break down the role of B complex regarding brain health – including symptoms of not having enough.

  • Vitamin B1 | Thiamin – Maximizes cognitive activity and brain function and affects learning ability.

B1 deficiency symptoms can include: fatigue, forgetfulness, irritability, nervousness and poor coordination.

  • Vitamin B2 | Riboflavin – Helps metabolize carbs, fats and proteins.

B2 deficiency symptoms can include: Dizziness, fatigue, insomnia and slowed mental response.

  • Vitamin B3 | Niacin – Responsible for nervous system functioning, circulation and memory.

B3 deficiency symptoms can include: Dementia, depression, dizziness, fatigue, headaches and insomnia.

  • Vitamin B4 | Choline – Transmits nerve impulses from the brain through the central nervous system. Vital for normal brain development.

Choline possible deficiency symptoms: Memory loss and dementia.

  • Vitamin B5 | Pantothenic acid – Converts fats, carbs and proteins into energy and produces neurotransmitters and adrenal hormones.

B5 deficiency symptoms can include: Stress, depression, anxiety, fatigue and headaches.

  • Vitamin B6 | Pyridoxine – Helps absorb fats and proteins and maintain the right sodium/potassium balance. Crucial for cell growth, brain function and the nervous system.

B6 deficiency symptoms can include: Convulsions, headaches, depression, dizziness, fatigue, hyper-irritability, learning difficulties and impaired memory.

  • Vitamin B7 | Biotin – Converts food into glucose used to produce energy, fatty acids and amino acids.

B7 deficiency symptoms can include: In infants – cradle cap, neurological disorders and impaired growth.

  • Vitamin B9 | Folate – Crucial for proper brain function and development as well as mental and emotional health.

B9 deficiency symptoms can include: poor growth, loss of appetite, irritability, forgetfulness and mental sluggishness.

  • Vitamin B12 | Methylcobalamin – Has been linked to the production of a neurotransmitter that controls memory and learning.

B12 deficiency symptoms can include: Chronic fatigue, depression, dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, irritability, memory loss, nervousness, mood swings, heightened emotions and neurological damage.

What to EAT: Seeds | beans and lentils | spinach | mushrooms | hummus | organic eggs | asparagus | almonds | tuna | organic salmon | brown rice | avocado | sweet potato | broccoli | onions | carrots | turnips

3. Magnesium

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Magnesium is one of the most important minerals necessary for human survival.

It strengthens our bones, relaxes our muscles, transmits nerve signals, regulates vitamins and minerals in our bodies.

Magnesium deficiency symptoms mimic ADHD symptoms. Similar behaviors like excessive fidgeting, tantrums, social difficulties, restlessness, insomnia, irritability, aggressiveness, poor attention span, coordination problems and learning difficulties (in a person with a normal IQ).

A polish study tested a group of children diagnosed with ADHD, and found that 95% were deficient in magnesium.

Those children with low levels of magnesium were more hyperactive. But after supplementing with magnesium for six months, their hyperactivity levels dropped significantly.

Some research suggests supplementing with vitamin B6 along with magnesium to help see improvement in ADHD symptoms.

What to EAT: Pumpkin seeds | walnuts | watermelon seeds | sunflower seeds | flax seeds | chia seeds | cashews | almonds

4. Vitamin D3

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Vitamin D3 is one of the most crucial nutrients for your body and is especially important to your immune system.

It gives a boost to the antioxidants responsible for good brain health, and produces dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.

D3 also aids in the process of making brain chemicals necessary for our ability to focus – especially for extended periods of time.

The Vitamin D Council estimates 9 out of 10 people are vitamin D deficient.

And Medicinenet.com published recent research that suggests children and teens may need 10 times more than the recommended dose.

What to EAT: Fish | eggs | soak up the sun

5. Zinc

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FHF.org tells us that zinc has a relationship with serotonin receptors.  While Livestrong.com explains how zinc controls brain neurotransmitters that are necessary for focus and memory.

You can find many reputable sources that stress the importance of zinc for brain function and behavior.

The World’s Healthiest Healthiest Foods says there are more than 300 known zinc-dependent enzymes, and even a mild deficiency can have health implications. Some health issues associated with zinc deficiency include declined cognitive and motor development, compromised immunity, vision problems and ADHD-like symptoms.

Progressivehealth.com does a fantastic job of summarizing several clinical studies proving the benefits of zinc supplementation for ADHD therapy.

Many researchers have found that kids with ADHD symptoms are likely to be zinc deficient. However, it’s always smart to first get your children’s levels tested if you believe they could have a deficiency and you plan to supplement. Too much zinc in their system could cause issues as well. It’s definitely a balancing act.

What to EAT: Grass-fed beef | shrimp | crab | lobster | cashews | pumpkin seeds | almonds | lentils | mushrooms

6. Protein

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Brainbalancecenters.com says protein rich food sources are key to increasing attentiveness and focus. You may have heard proteins also referred to as amino acids. And according to psychcentral.com, tryptophan, tyrosine and alanine are amino acids or proteins that are important for attention and learning.

In fact, recent research from Orebro University in Sweden has indicated that children with ADHD symptoms have nearly 50% lower levels of tryptophan, which is responsible for making important brain chemicals like dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin.

Amino acids from proteins are definitely linked to mood and behavior. A deficiency can bring symptoms of irritability, depression, nervousness, anxiety, inability to focus, impulsiveness, hyperactivity and more.

What to EAT: Nuts | seeds | beans | quinoa | tuna | salmon | grass-fed beef | organic poultry | eggs | spinach | asparagus | peas | broccoli | Braggs Amino Acids

7. Iron

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Iron is yet another necessary nutrient that may help your child stay energized and concentrate better in school. Research published on PubMed.gov says iron deficiency causes ADHD.

The Journal of Nutrition explains the importance of iron – especially during infancy. An iron deficiency actually alters brain development and functioning, impacting behavior and cognition in a negative way.

Lack of energy and focus are two key signs your child may have low levels of iron.

What to EAT: Lentils | spinach | beans | olives | dark greens | molasses | raisins | grass-fed beef

Personally, I feel like I’m starting to understand nutrition way better than ever before. I wish it was something that was taught more in school. Even though I understand it and even preach it – I do not stick to it 100% of the time.

But let’s hope the time and effort that we do put into it is doing some good.

Figuring out what sort of supplements you want to give your kidlits in addition to a healthy diet can be a bit overwhelming sometimes. I’ve honestly tried several different things with my boys. But here is the list of supplements that I am currently giving them – and perhaps you’ll want to try some a few of these for your kids too.

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References & further suggested reading

You’ll find great reputable information from these trustworthy sources…

NCIB: Altered tryptophan and alanine transport in fibroblasts from boys with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): an in vitro study

University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)

Nutri-Facts: Vitamin B7 At a Glance

Andrew Weil, M.D.: Choline

Educate Yourself: Nutrition, The Key to Energy

Psych Central: Omega 3 Strongly Linked to Behavior, Learning in Children

Plos One: Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Treatment of Depressive Disorders: A Comprehensive Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials

Bioriginal: Brain Food: Paying Attention to the Right Fats Can Help Your Child Tame ADD

Harvard Health Publications: Diet and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Food for the Brain: The Links Between Diet and Behaviour – The Influence of Nutrition on Mental Health

Food For the Brain: About Autism

Featured image credit: Vince Alongi via Flickr.com

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5 Responses to 7 Major Nutrients To Help Kids Focus & Foods to Eat

  1. hailey rinker November 12, 2014 at 8:37 pm #

    Hi I like your add my son has adhd I would like to learn more

  2. Ana November 15, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

    I love to get more information on seven major nutrients to to help kids focus and food to eat thanks.

  3. Caitlin January 13, 2015 at 4:05 pm #

    I love Barlean’s fish oil (my favorite was mango peach although pina colada is delicious too!) and the Nordic Naturals gummies. I like chewable vitamins better though, and have found Hakuna Matata vitamins as a great chewable gluten-free vitamins that tastes pretty good.

    As for nutrition, I think my biggest struggle is getting enough iron into our diet. Thanks for all your tips!

  4. Mike Harper May 12, 2015 at 10:33 pm #

    There also are foods that are naturally rich in probiotics like yogurt, kimchi, dark chocolates, pickles, soy mil, kefir, and many others. There are kids who don’t really take probiotics supplements even if they’re already chewable. So the natural way is also an option.

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