Organization: Erin Falco RDN, Inc.
Author: Dara Ledwitz, RDN
Publish Date: 09-13-22
Does nutrition really impact focus?
There is a reason they say breakfast is "the most important meal of the day" before sending your child off to school. Consuming nutrient-rich balanced meals/snacks, along with sufficient sleep, will help your child have improved energy, focus, and concentration. Here are some tips we recommend to ensure your child is zoned in this year at school:
Balancing meals and snacks:
A balanced meal/snack consists of three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Ensuring all three macronutrients are in your child's meals, helps to increase satiety after eating and prevents blood sugar crashes which lead to brain fog, irritability, fatigue, and a lack of concentration.
Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate that helps with digestion, keeps blood sugar stable, and decreases feelings of hunger in between meal times. Children need 25-35 grams of fiber a day. Fiber is found in things such as whole grains, legumes, nuts/seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Make sure when you are looking for fiber it has at least a minimum of 3 grams of fiber per serving. Here are some tips for increasing fiber:
Include a fruit and/or vegetable at every meal and snack. You can increase fruit intake by eating the whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juices!
Replace white and refined crackers, pasta, and bread with whole grain options.
Be mindful about cereals. Choose cereals with at least 3 grams of fiber/serving, and less than 6 grams of added sugar. Remember, for a balanced breakfast, add fat and protein!
Pack in a fiber crunch! Try adding pumpkin/sunflower seeds, and pistachios in between sandwiches. Or, for a secret addition of fiber your child will never know about, add flax meal or chia seeds!
Legumes are also a great source of fiber. Try to include chickpeas, black beans, or lentils in lunches for an additional fiber boost. If your child doesn't like beans or lentils, try a black bean, chickpea, or lentil pasta!
Incorporate Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids are essential to brain health and development. Foods that contain high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, cold water fish (like sardines, salmon, herring, anchovies, and mackerel), and seaweed.
We recommend adding an omega-3 supplement to ensure your child is getting a sufficient amount of omega-3 fatty acids!
Intentionally pack nutrient-dense foods in their lunchbox:
Nutrients that have been specifically shown to help with concentration include zinc, iron, B vitamins, vitamin C, and omega-3 fatty acids. Here are some food sources to incorporate into the lunch box this year:
Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, arugula, lettuce, Swiss chard, collard greens, and bok choy contain high amounts of B vitamins, magnesium, and iron, along with important vitamins and minerals.
Some snack ideas: kale chips, add to a smoothie (*however fiber benefits will not be the same as eating), add in wraps/sandwiches, sauteé in pasta, or blend in pasta sauce!
Vitamin C-rich foods include oranges and lemons, green leafy vegetables, strawberries, and bell peppers. These are especially important because vitamin C helps your body absorb iron.
Add peppers and hummus as a snack, squeeze lemon onto protein, or add a handful of strawberries & orange slices as a side for lunch!
Eggs are a great source of Vitamin B6 and B12, important for energy & mood. Eggs also contain high amounts of the nutrient choline, which creates acetylcholine, the most abundant neuro-messenger in the body that plays a role in learning, memory & attention.
Seafood like salmon, shrimp, herring, and trout are low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, and zinc.
Canned/packet wild salmon is a great option to put in a sandwich or wrap for lunch! Or, make salmon burgers!
Pasture-raised animal products such as chicken, turkey, eggs, or beef have high traces of vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and iron. Iron carries oxygen to our brains & cells to function.
Proteins from animal sources like (chicken, turkey, eggs, beef, dairy & fish), or from plants (edamame, tempeh, tofu, quinoa, buckwheat, and rice+beans ) provide complete proteins, which are essential macronutrients that build our cells, muscles & neurotransmitters!
A multivitamin is strongly encouraged for your child to take to make sure they are receiving all essential vitamins and nutrients that may be missed in the diet.
Getting sufficient sleep:
An adequate amount of sleep for a child ranges from 8-12 hours. Studies have demonstrated that children who receive adequate sleep daily have improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health. A restful sleep promotes something called autophagy of the brain & body’s cells. Autophagy is the “clean up” of the brain & body when the immune system & brain cells remove unhealthy viruses/bacteria and debris (damaged or unwanted cells). This helps the brain stay sharp, healthy & focused!
Also, avoid products with dyes close to nighttime! Dyes found in packaged foods, sports drinks/beverages, hand soaps, play-doh, shampoos, detergent, dish soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, and body wash can have a stimulatory effect that can keep them awake at night.
How can we wind down? Set a bedtime routine that promotes restful sleep by limiting electronics an hour and a half before bedtime, keep electronics away from the bed, turn off wifi, dim lights in the home, use a weighted blanket and/or an eye mask in bed, drink chamomile tea or try one of our favorite sleepytime supplements- Mg Calm.
For links to our recommended Omega-3, Multivitamin, and Magnesium supplements, check out our back-to-school basics, there are multiple options for each!
If you need more support for your child's concentration and focus, or if you have other concerns, visit us at www.erinfalcordn.com for more posts and webinars. Contact us for a discovery call to become a patient. Apply here.