While many think of learning as starting in preschool or kindergarten, in reality, a baby is learning from the moment she is born. And once solid foods are introduced, it is critical that parents provide the most healthful and nutritious choices to optimize their child's brain development and learning ability. This can be a struggle in our fast-food culture, where "fruit snacks" and "juice blends" are the norm, and some teachers and daycare providers offer candy as a reward. In this piece, we offer expert advice on why it is worth the effort to ensure your child is eating a balanced diet.
According to The Centers for Disease Control, "Proper nutrition promotes the optimal growth and development of children...Eating a healthy breakfast is associated with improved cognitive function (especially memory)." Nina Parrish, local education expert and owner of Parrish Learning Zone, agrees, "Diet and exercise can have a huge impact on how your child learns. A diet high in fat and sugar can cause irritability and trouble learning and remembering. In contrast, exercise and healthy eating increases brain activity and contributes to better learning."
Dr. Roxanne Allegretti, M.D., pediatrician and owner of Kids First Pediatrics of Stafford, states, "Nutrition is important at all ages, but especially crucial in the first few years of life when the brain is having its most rapid period of growth and development. So many factors to do with nutrition affect the brain and its development and function."
She goes on to say that excessive sugar consumption is the most common problem she sees in her young patients and strikes a very sobering note with these observations, "I can't tell you how many kids I see who eat, for example, Lucky Charms and juice for breakfast, and for lunch, an "Uncrustables" PB&J with chocolate milk. It's horrifying to watch the childhood obesity rate increasing, and think about all the effects that has: decreased exercise, depression, decreased sleep, decreased lung function, fatty infiltration of the liver, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. Type II diabetes and fatty liver were practically unheard of in pediatrics when I was in medical school, but now I see these things in teenagers and sometimes even younger."
She stresses that children of all ages need to get five servings of fruits and vegetables per day and notes, French fries do not count as a vegetable, no matter what your kids tell you. Parents and guardians, it is up to you to get those healthful foods on your child's plate. Pediatricians such as Dr. Allegretti are trying to get the message out, but it is difficult in a world where, as she puts it, "(Kids) are surrounded by horrible food choices, tons of sugar and processed foods, fast foods full of fat and sugar, teachers giving candy as rewards, sugary drinks everywhere and commercials on TV that make Skittles, Lucky Charms, McDonalds and Coke sound like the coolest things ever."
But parents do have a lot of power over what their children eat, particularly in the early years when brain development is so critical. The United States Department of Agriculture reminds parents, "You are the most important influence on your child. You can do many things to help your children develop healthy eating habits for life." In addition, they provide excellent nutrition information for every age and stage at this site: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/
Mary Becelia lives with her family in southern Stafford County.
Further Resources and Information, Courtesy of Dr. Roxanne Allegretti, MD:
A good study on the relationship between food dyes and hyperactive behavior: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140673607613063/abstract
Other toxins in the news a lot lately are BPA and phthalates. Prenatal exposure to BPA has been associated with hyperactivity in toddlers:
Recommend Reading: Fat Chance, by Robert Lustig http://www.amazon.com/Fat-Chance-Beating-Against-Processed/dp/0142180432/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412436202&sr=1-1&keywords=fat+chance