By Dr. Marika Berni, ND
Is your child living on coffee drinks with sugar and whipped cream, pizza and burgers? Are they skipping meals, making the wrong choices, binging on junk food? Do they claim that they are full when presented with a healthy meal? Do they bring back their healthy lunches uneaten? If any of this sounds familiar then you probably have a teen or preteen in the house. It is normal at this age for children to want to make their own choices. As they strive for independence and spend more time on their own or with friends, they are inundated with tempting food choices. I know that my teen spends an inordinate amount of time with his friends at Tim Hortons. Now, this is the point at which all of your hard work trying to teach them about healthy dietary choices kicks in right? Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Hunger, peer pressure, a strong craving for sugar and the need for immediate energy can often lead to the wrong choices.
Why does that sweet little child who happily ate anything that was placed in front of them change? Well, one explanation can be puberty. Around the age of 10 in girls and 12 in boys there is a surge in appetite in preparation for the growth spurt of puberty. Anyone who has had a teenager in the house can attest to the difficulty in keeping the fridge stocked! Their growing bodies require more calories during adolescence than at any other time in their lives.
- Boys require an average of 2,800 calories per day.
- Girls require an average of 2,200 calories per day.
Typically, the ravenous hunger starts to wane once a child has stopped growing, though not always. Kids who are big and tall or who participate in physical activity will still need increased amounts of energy into late adolescence.
The importance of a healthy diet cannot be emphasized enough.
Multiple studies show that nutritional status can directly affect mental performance among school-aged children. For example, iron deficiency, even in early stages, can negatively impact cognition. Deficiencies in other vitamins and minerals, specifically thiamine, vitamin E, B vitamins, iodine, and zinc, are shown to inhibit cognitive abilities and mental concentration. Additionally, amino acid and carbohydrate supplementation can improve perception, intuition, and reasoning. Studies also show that a healthy diet can influence the cognitive ability and improve IQ levels of school aged children. (1)
If your child eats a healthy diet they will have sustained energy levels and an improved immune system, which will result in fewer absences and reduce tardiness.
Mood is another important area affected by dietary intake. Anger (or being “hangry”) , irritability, depression and anxiety can all be related to diet. Nutrient deficiencies, dehydration, and hunger all have an influence on how your child behaves. Studies show that a reduction of sugar in the diet will result in improved behaviour. (2) At a time where hormones are changing and affecting mood, eating a healthy diet can help to control some of the inevitable mood swings. By stabilizing your child’s blood sugar levels you can help them to maintain a steady level of energy and balance mood.
At this point you are probably thinking that this is all well and good, but how am I supposed to get my child to eat a healthy diet?
Control – I tell the parents of my patients that while they may not be able to control what their child does away from the home, they DO have control over what comes into their house. If cookies, soda, chips etc, are in the house then the odds are pretty high that they will be your child’s first choice when reaching for something to eat. Stocking the cupboards and fridge with appropriate nutritious meals and snacks is a great way to start. Kids will often eat healthy foods if they are prepared ahead of time or are easy to grab ie. Raw veggies or fruit already washed and cut with a healthy greek yogurt or hummus dip, homemade protein balls (recipe below) or bars, nuts and seeds, almond butter on whole grain bread, cups of greek yogurt.
Educate – I believe that if you teach your children about how food affects their energy, mood and health they will inevitably make the right choices. They are so smart. They will learn to eat the foods which satisfy them. This is why I teach my preteen and teenage patients what a healthy diet is. This is one of the most important things you can impart to your child to ensure that they have a physically and mentally healthy, disease free life.
Be prepared – Another tool is to teach your child how to make healthy choices before they go out. Go through the options at their favourite restaurants/ coffee shops. Most list their menus with nutritional information online. Help them to choose the best option. For instance, encourage them to opt for an herbal tea at the local coffee shop instead of a sugar and fat laden frappuccino.
Send them out satisfied – Be sure that they eat a healthy breakfast, including adequate protein, fiber and healthy fat. By starting their day off right they are less likely to have blood sugar drops, which would result in poor choices and binging. Encourage a mid morning and mid afternoon snack to also maintain blood sugar levels through out the day. The more good food you can get into them the less likely they are to be hungry and have cravings.
Sleep – Now you may be thinking what does sleep have to do with this? Not getting adequate sleep, or having an interrupted sleep disrupts multiple hormones. This results in increased cravings and blood sugar imbalances. If your child is not getting enough sleep they will make poor choices. Ensure that they get the recommended amount of uninterrupted sleep every night.
Even the most vigilant parent will still struggle to make sure their child is getting a balanced diet. To fill in the gaps I typically recommend a multimineral/vitamin, extra vitamin C, omega 3 oils, Vitamin D, a probiotic and doing blood work to check iron levels, especially in girls.
Look at your child’s diet as work in progress. Even if you can implement only some of these ideas you are still having a positive effect on your child’s health.
To get more nutritional support for your child book a visit with Marika Berni ND.
KID’S SUPER POWER PROTEIN BALLS
Keep these handy! They’re perfect for a for a hungry child’s snack.
*Each ball contains 3-4g of protein.
- 1/2 cup of nut butter (cashew, almond, organic, natural peanut)
- 2 tablespoon of honey
- 2 tablespoon of cocoa nibs
- 2 tablespoon of shredded coconut
- 3/4 cup of protein powder ( natural, not sweetened)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 tablespoon crushed nuts (raw almonds)
- Mix nut butter, protein powder, honey and vanilla until smooth. Then add remainder of ingredients. Rill into 1 inch balls and place in an airtight container in the fridge for storage.
- These can be made with many different ingredients to create custom protein balls to satisfy your child’s palate.
(1) Poor childhood diet linked to low IQ, suggests study. By Nathan Gray, 08-Feb-2011. A diet high in fats, sugars, and processed foods in early childhood may result in lower IQ scores, while a diet rich in healthy foods packed with vitamins and nutrients may work in reverse, suggests new research. http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science/Poor-childhood-diet-linked-to-low-IQ-suggests-study
(2) Jones, T., Borg, W., Boulware, S., McCarthy, G., Sherwin, R., Tamborlane, W. (1995). Enhanced adrenomedullary response and increased susceptibility to neuroglygopenia: Mechanisms underlying the adverse effect of sugar ingestion in children. Journal of Pediatrics, 126, 171–177.