Nutrition Deficit Disorder: What It Is, And 5 Things You Can Do Today To Improve Your Child's Brain Health

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD),  Opposition Defiant Disorder (ODD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Bipolar Disorder (BD), Depression, and Diabetes. At the very least, most of us are familiar with these terms, and many of us have personal experience with at least one of them. Dr. Sears has coined this list of disorders "Epidemic D". We are seeing patients, many of whom are children, being diagnosed with these disorders at an alarming rate.  ADHD, the most commonly diagnosed disorder by pediatricians, affects 5.4 million school-aged kids, 2/3 of whom on currently medicated for it. 

I grew up in a household where three of my family members have ADHD.  I assure you that disorders like ADHD and the rest of the above mentioned are, in fact, family diagnoses. They are real, and they affect everyone! I have also seen first hand how diet can change, for better or worse, existing conditions. And I am not alone; new research is consistently linking nutrition and lifestyle to the severity of many of these "D's".  Enter Nutrition Deficit Disorder, or as Dr. Sears likes to call it: NDD. 

So, what role does nutrition play in Brain health, you ask? Food's role in our brain's health is immense, and the answer is complicated. For the sake of this post, I am going to keep it short and straightforward. 

Our children grow because their cells are growing and multiplying, and their overall health is dependent on the health of their cells. For our cells to be healthy, they need food! They have an absorbent wall around them (membranes) that lets the good stuff in and keeps the yucky stuff out.  A malnourished cell's membrane becomes stiff and the ridge which prevents it from becoming fed and allows dangerous things (pollutants like pesticides, food additives, or dyes) in. This malnourishment is a big problem for our brains!

Our brains are the most food sensitive organ in our body and are made up of 60% fat. It stores pollutants and food additives in the fat. Fat also insulates the pathways (acting as a conductor) that send messages from cell to cell and without the right fats these channels become frayed and inefficient. You know that fuzzy brain feeling? That's your brain cells not being able to communicate well with each other. When properly insulted these conductor routes can send messages faster and easier. A poorly fed brain a concern for anyone, but it's especially a concern for our kiddos.

A child's brain undergoes such rapid development during the first six years of life that it's critical they are eating nutrient dense foods (we'll discuss these in a future post). By age two the brain triples in size, by age five it's 90% of its total adult size, and at age six it is firing more messages (synapses) than at any other stage of life.  Also, the means by which the brain protects itself (the blood-brain barrier) is underdeveloped, leaving the brain especially vulnerable to pollutants. 

Let's discuss what some common traits of NDD look like mood swings, tantrums, dry thin and brittle nails, dry and brittle hair, pale skin, behavioral issues, allergies, trouble sleeping, learning disabilities, a diagnosis of one or more of the "D's", and much more. If any of these symptoms sound familiar don't worry. According to Dr. Sears, and the L.E.A.N lifestyle, there is quite a bit we can do to improve our family's brain health, or aid current treatment plans for any of the "D's", by focusing on nutrition. 

5 Things You Can Do To Improve NDD:

1. Rule Out Allergies

The following items are very common allergens for people. Pay attention to how to you or someone you love feels when consuming these: dairy, junk foods, processed foods, food additives and colorings, chocolate (some of the junky chocolate has as many as 200 chemicals in it!), sugar, processed meat, and contaminated fish. If you suspect your child's body is reacting to one of the above, remove it and take note of any improvement.  

2. Avoid the Dirty Dozen

Most of us are familiar with the dirty dozen list that helps us avoid heavily pesticide-treated foods. This dirty dozen list refers to food additives. Read the labels folks, and avoid these toxic ingredients at all cost! 

1. Hydrogenated Oil/Partially Hydrogenated Oil (Trans fats)
2. Artificial Sweeteners
3. MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)
4. HVP (hydrolyzed vegetable oil)
5. BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole)
6. BTH (butylated hydroxytoluene)
7. Acesulfame Potassium ( acesulfame K)
8. Potassium Bromate
9. Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite
10. PropylGallate
11. SodiumBenzoate
12.ArtificialColors/Flavors

This list is overwhelming, and my best advice for not having to remember it or reference it is to eat unprocessed food. These are all man-made, laboratory made ingredients that wreck havoc on our children's brains (grown up brains too!), and are ingredients only found in processed, fake, food. 

4. Avoid Sugar

According to Yale School of Medicine, sugar lessens our body's ability to self-regulate blood sugar levels leaving us vulnerable to low blood sugar related behavioral challenges (Think: Being HANGRY!).  It's also linked to lower scores on tests measuring learning and attention. Lastly, sugar addiction is common for individuals with ADHD. Bear in mind that sugar is detrimental to many of the systems in the body. However, we are only touching how it affects the brain. 

5. Eat Real Food

In my experience, the easiest way to improve our nutrition is to focus on bringing more of the healthy food into our diets. It's discouraging when we have to worry about a list of "can't eat" or "avoid" foods. Instead, let's make adding more of what our bodies need and want the focal point. There is less room in the day for the fake food when we concentrate on adding more real foods. Commit to adding more lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, phytonutrients, and right fats daily. I recognize this one is vague, but stay tuned for future posts, and we'll discuss, specifically, what these foods are and how to implement them. 

The exciting part about adding more real food into your family's diet is that you will see and feel the benefits quickly. More so, when you and your family do have treats, you will notice how they make you feel instantly. If you are interested in learning more about these topics and how to implement the L.E.A.N principals in your family's life, I invite you to register for the LEAN START workshop series. Through this fun, and interactive workshop series we will discuss and empower you with the tools needed to teach your children how to live L.E.A.N. 

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