Joey Shulman, DC, RNCP
Most psychologists now acknowledge the connection between diet and behavioural or learning disorder.
Most psychologists now acknowledge the connection between diet and behavioural or learning disorders.
As many as eight to 22 million young people in North America suffer from some sort of learning disorder such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or dyslexia. Countless others face learning challenges including difficulty with focus and memory. Drugs like Ritalin may help with the symptoms, but they also lead to some unpleasant side-effects, including difficulty sleeping, nausea, nervousness, and stomach ache. What’s a parent to do? The answer lies in uncovering and dealing with the cause of the problem.
Search for Clues
Most psychologists now acknowledge the connection between diet and behavioural or learning disorders. Recent studies indicate that learning disabilities may be caused by factors including genetic influences, nutrient depletions, food additives, food allergies or intolerances, environmental toxins, and brain dysfunction. Uncover what triggers your child’s particular challenges by watching for a connection between food and behaviour, and eliminate problem foods from your family’s diet.
The Elimination Diet
Detecting a food allergy in a child can often feel like detecting a “needle in a haystack” First, with the help of a health-care practitioner, remove offending foods through an elimination diet. Food sensitivities to dairy, chocolate, wheat, corn, sugars and sweeteners, food additives, and colourings are the most common. With dairy products, many have a reaction to large protein molecules found in cow’s milk. Many people with sensitivities can also react to the protein gluten found in wheat and corn products. Sensitivities can also develop from eating too much of one food. For example, a child who consumes soy three times per day may eventually develop a sensitivity to soy products.
When the entire family commits to a healthy diet, your child won’t feel singled out. As a family, say goodbye to prepared cookies, cereals, and pop. Welcome raw nuts and seeds, brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
As a rule of thumb, if the product’s label contains ingredients you cannot pronounce or ingredients that are numbered (i.e., red dye no. 5), it may cause troublesome allergic reactions. Food colouring is often used to enhance the visual appeal of food. It can be found in a variety of processed and baked goods. Food colourings fall into the anti-nutrient category, meaning they have zero nutritional value and can be hazardous to health. Of all the food dyes, tartrazine (yellow dye no. 5) is one of the most problematic in children.
Eliminate pop, sugary juices, and substitute water or watered-down natural fruit juice. Avoid processed foods that contain trans-fatty acids, such as margarine, and substitute butter, ghee (clarified butter), or olive oil. Avoid flour products that are refined, bleached, white, or processed. Look for whole-grain products to feed your child such as bread, pasta, and pancake mixes made from kamut, spelt, flax, rye, and whole-grain whole wheat. Save the fast-food meal for occasional treat. If you do visit a fast-food restaurant, order “healthier fast-food” items such as veggie burgers, salads, and wraps.
Crack the Code
Learn to read labels, and decipher the secret language of ingredients. Sucrose, glucose, and fructose are common sugars, but so are caramel, rice syrup, and malt syrup. Consumption of monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a health concern because it crosses a safety net called the blood-brain barrier, which separates the brain from the rest of the body.
Visit your local health store to sample some of nature’s brain-building foods. Organic Nova Scotia dulse (a sea vegetable) and European bilberry both improve brain function. Dulse can be added to soups, stews, and spaghetti sauces. Sprouted alfalfa, barley, and wheat grass offer vital nutrients without the allergens commonly found in wheat.
Essential fatty acids, such as omega-3, from fish oil provide the building blocks necessary to support proper brain function and learning. Research shows that children who suffer from ADD/ADHD are often deficient in omega-3. Including fish oils in a morning smoothie is an excellent way to ensure your child is receiving enough EFAs. Also make sure your child’s diet includes B vitamins, magnesium, and nutritional enzymes to help with digestion and healing. Remember that learning is a lifelong process. Give your kids the nutritional tools they need to help them today and in the future.