There are countless reasons to feed your children nutritious food. In addition to reducing the risk for obesity, diabetes and other chronic illness, nutrition impacts growth and development from the womb and beyond. Scientists recognize that poor nutrition not only affects the body physically, but also mentally. Children suffering from malnutrition at an early age are at higher risk for learning disabilities. For example, iron deficiency can reduce dopamine transmission and negatively impact brain function and cognition. 1 B vitamin deficiencies (thiamine, B6) as well as mineral deficiencies (zinc, iodine) can also affect concentration and learning. 2 It’s no secret that kids that eat breakfast score higher on exams than those that don’t as their focus is on learning and not a growling stomach. Thankfully, free breakfast and lunch programs in schools have gained popularity over the years, but the quality of the food makes a difference.
New research suggests that certain dietary components may also impact the risk for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a psychiatric condition that affects approximately 3-4% of children and teens globally. ADHD is one of the most common neurobiologic disorders and scientist believe its consequences can span into adulthood. Symptoms include impulsiveness, hyperactivity and attention- deficit. Currently, the most effective treatments include medical and psychological treatments as well as educational psychology intervention. 3
According to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, Mediterranean diet patterns have been linked with a lower diagnosis of ADHD. Researchers in Spain are investigating how poor quality diet (higher in processed foods and lower in fruits and vegetables) affects the risk for ADHD. The authors theorize that poor quality diets are more likely to be deficient in iron, zinc, magnesium and other nutrients that may be protective of the development of ADHD.
A poor quality diet contains more processed foods such as fast food, fried snacks, pastries, soda, and other foods that offer little nutritionally. Scientists also believe that the impulsiveness of children with ADHD may lead them to a vicious cycle of poor food choices, potential nutrient deficiencies and poor behavior.3
A Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, low fat dairy, whole grains and minimal sugar, red meat and processed foods. Switch from white to whole wheat bread or pasta and add leafy vegetables or tomatoes to sandwiches, casseroles and soup. Snack on fruit, unsalted nuts or seeds or light string cheese and yogurt. This dietary pattern has been found to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease and may also play a role in reduction in mental health disorders such as dementia. More research in this area is needed to prove cause and effect. 3
1. Pollitt E. (1993). Iron deficiency and cognitive function. Annual Review of Nutrition, 13, 521–537.
2. Chenoweth, W. (2007). Vitamin B complex deficiency and excess. In R. Kliegman, H. Jenson, R. Behrman, & B. Stanton (Eds.), Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th edition. Philadelphia: Saunders
Alejandra Ríos-Hernández, José A. Alda, Andreu Farran-Codina, Estrella Ferreira-García, Maria Izquierdo-Pulido. The Mediterranean Diet and ADHD in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics, 2017; 139 (2): e20162027 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-2027
By: Lisa Andrews, MED, RD, LD
Judy’s passion for cooking began with helping her grandmother make raisin oatmeal for breakfast. From there she earned her first food service job at 15, was accepted to the world-famous Culinary Institute of America at 18 (where she graduated second in her class), and went on to the Fachschule Richemont in Switzerland where she focused on pastry arts and baking. After a decade in food service for Hyatt Hotels, Judy launched Food and Health Communications to focus on flavor and health. She graduated with Summa Cum Laude distinction from Johnson and Wales University with a BS in Culinary Art, holds a master’s degree in Food Business from the Culinary Institute of America, 2 art certificates from UC Berkeley Extension, and runs a food photography studio where her love is creating fun recipes.
Judy received The Culinary Institute of America’s Pro Chef II certification, the American Culinary Federation Bronze Medal, Gold Medal, and ACF Chef of the Year. Her enthusiasm for eating nutritiously and deliciously leads her to constantly innovate and use the latest in nutritional science and Dietary Guidelines to guide her creativity, from putting new twists on fajitas to adapting Italian brownies to include ingredients like toasted nuts and cooked honey. Judy’s publishing company, Food and Health Communications, is dedicated to her vision that everyone can make food that tastes as good as it is for you.