We hear so much about how good food affects our mood, focus and attention, but what foods are best for our children?
Nine essential guidelines for good mood and focus for the whole family
- No one diet is right for everyone. Each person has different genetics and therefore a different metabolism. Even people in the same family may need to eat somewhat differently. Some of us require more fat and others more carbohydrates. At one end of the spectrum are people who require mostly fat from meat and fish, and the other end, the biological vegetarians, who do well on a predominance of legumes, vegetables and fruits. Most people require a mix. Know your ancestral and genetic heritage and try to eat for your individual metabolic type.
- Eat only when relaxed. Digestion occurs when the autonomic nervous system is switched on. The juices containing digestive enzymes flow in a state of relaxation. Eating under stress is like putting a pot of food on the stove to cook, not lighting the fire and letting it sit there for two days—it bubbles, ferments and becomes gaseous.
- Mood follows food: Eat breakfast. Avoid artificial sweeteners. Science demonstrates that aspartame causes mood fluctuations. Eating protein and healthy fat stabilizes your mood. Protein is made up of amino acids which become brain chemicals that support mood and focus. Eating fats provides a sense of feeling full. So, what are the best breakfast foods? Eggs, a handful of almonds and a sweet potato topped with organic butter. Eggs are rich in acetylcholine, which enhances memory.
- Eliminate as many refined carbohydrates as possible. White sugar, white flour and other refined carbohydrates cause spikes and drops in blood sugar. These blood sugar highs and lows cause a spike and then drop in mood and attention. Swap refined carbohydrates for natural sweeteners and whole grains if you can.
- Avoid exposure to additives, preservatives, hormones, toxic pesticides and fertilizers on food. Health is affected negatively by dietary exposure to food toxins and allergens. Use wild foods and organic foods are best. If you can’t obtain these foods all the time, focus your attention on organic eggs and meat products and fruits and vegetables that naturally detoxify your body like apples, grapefruit, pineapples, avocados, broccoli, carrots, kale and spinach.
- Nourish the First Brain. The “first brain” is the one in your skull. It is made up of 60% fat. To function properly, it needs enough good quality fat to replenish itself. Your family should eat plenty of good fats like virgin olive oil, eggs, avocados, walnuts and coconut oil. And reduce poor quality fats and trans-fats—like those used in pizza, French fries and fats (partially hydrogenated oils) added to canned and packaged foods.
- Nourish the Second Brain. The “second brain” is the digestive system—the “gut” where food is digested and absorbed. Nourish your digestive system with fiber and fermented foods. The second brain generates the healthy bacteria and neurotransmitters that support efficient “first brain” chemistry.
- Eat all the colors of the “brain-bow.” Eat whole, nutrient-dense foods from the whole color spectrum to obtain the nutrients that will keep your body and mind healthy and strong.
- Diet is essential, but not sufficient. A healthy diet is essential for good mood, stable energy and focused attention. However, it is not generally sufficient to treat imbalances. It is essential to choose a healthy diet along with exercise, relaxation and the daily use of specific vitamins and minerals. Ask your pediatrician for the best vitamins for your child or teen.
Explore these ideas and demonstrate for yourself what works best for your mood focus and well-being. Want to jump-start your “Good Food Good Mood?” The “Proof is in the pudding” (A sugar-free pudding)!
Try this Recipe to Enhance Sleep
Make this smoothie an hour or two before you want to go to sleep. Cherries and chamomile tea help induce sleep, while the mango’s, seeds and coconut will support blood sugar throughout the night so you can rest peacefully. Blueberries or frozen bananas make a good substitute for mangoes.
1 cup almond or coconut milk
1 cup cold chamomile tea
1 cup frozen (or fresh) cherries
1 cup frozen mangos
1 tsp. flax seeds (or flax seed oil or lemon flavored fish oil)
1 tsp. chia seeds
1 Tbs. coconut cream or coconut oil
3 drops liquid stevia
1 drop vanilla extract (optional)
Place all ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. Keep a quart of strong chamomile tea in the fridge or make “chamomile tea ice cubes” to add to evening smoothies.
Leslie Korn, PhD, MPH, LMHC is a clinician and author of The Good Mood Kitchen and Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health. She uses diet, nutritional therapies and herbal medicine, to support focus attention and mood in children and adults.