How Food Effects Learning And Behavior

Behavior, memory and learning disabilities are on the rise. One in six children now suffers from a disability that affects their behavior, memory, or ability to learn. It’s easy to blame the children, or their parents, when they cannot control their behavior.

In many cases, parents are even pushed to give their kids prescription medication in order to control their child’s behavior.

But is that the best course of action?

There Are Alternatives

Doesn’t it make sense to try to figure out the underlying causes for this change? Why are behavior, memory and learning disabilities on the rise?

One reason linked to this change in our children is they are no longer consuming the vital nutrients they need.

For example, numerous studies show that children with symptoms related to hyperactivity disorders have low levels of DHA, an essential fatty acid. If a child is deficient in DHA, the brain does not function optimally.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acid and is a major structural fat in the brain. Omega-3 fats play a vital role in the developing brain of a child. DHA is such an important nutrient it is included in infant formulas.

Some of the best sources of DHA are cold-water fish (e.g. mackerel, salmon, herring and sardines), cod liver oil, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil and egg yolks (just to name a few). DHA is not found in processed breakfast bars, or in energy drinks or in fast food. It’s also not found in sugary cereals, processed snack foods, or soda.

Iron is another nutrient important for kid’s mental alertness and energy levels. Lean sources of red meat, poultry, spinach, beans, dried fruits and whole grains are excellent sources.

Adults are not the only ones who need antioxidants. Kids do too. Antioxidants like Vitamins C & E are important. Work in fresh fruits and vegetables as well as nuts, beans and legumes for an antioxidant packed diet.

Additives Can Be A Problem

Another reason linked to the change in our children’s behavior, memory and learning is that they are being given foods that chemically alter their behavior. Many studies support the damaging effects artificial colors and preservatives have on children.

Most recently, a team of researchers in England published their research on children given drinks containing artificial colorings and preservatives. They concluded that artificial colors or a sodium benzoate preservative (or both) included in the children’s diet resulted in increased hyperactivity.

Sodium benzoate is primarily used as a preservative, effectively killing most yeasts, bacteria, and fungi, therefore preventing spoilage and extending shelf-life. It is most prevalent in foods and beverages.

Sodium benzoate is also used as a preservative in cosmetic products and as a corrosion inhibitor in automotive products.

In some countries, the artificial colorings included in our children’s daily drink choices are banned.

We need to look at our children’s diets and consider the link between what they consume and their behavior and ability to learn. For example, while sodium benzoate is listed by the FDA as Generally Regarded as Safe (“GRAS”) consider their guidelines.

According to the FDA website regarding sodium benzoate, “The ingredient is used in food at levels not to exceed good manufacturing practice. Current usage results in a maximum level of 0.1 percent in food. (The Food and Drug Administration has not determined whether the use of sodium benzoate at higher levels would still be considered GRAS)”

If a child’s diet consists mainly of processed refined foods, then are they consuming far more than the 0.1 percent considered safe?

What happens when the safe limit has been exceeded?

As parents who want the best for our children it is best we keep it real. Include in your child’s diet fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, beans, legumes, nuts and dairy. Remove the processed foods.

If packaged food is consumed, look for items that say on the package no artificial colors or preservatives.

This article was submitted by Jennifer Minihan

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Isa Marrs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. She is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in pragmatic language (social skills) disorders in children. Read More