Improve learning potential with nutrition

By Tracy Thomas

Why nutrition matters 

Did you know that how you eat affects how you learn? We’ve probably all heard the adage that “food is medicine,” but how much of the food you eat is actually serving as medicine vs. adding a burden to your health?

Our “normal” has slowly shifted over the last 50 years. The Standard American Diet of heavily processed, chemical-infused, starch-heavy, laboratory-made food is all that we really know these days. Our grandparents diets and ways of cooking are a thing of the past. Today we see what’s available, and choose what tastes good because, well, everyone is doing it!

But when we eat according to today’s new normal, we also end up with another new normal: Cranky kids with an inability to focus or maintain attention on a subject for more than a couple minutes. Kids with poor memory or cognition problems. Kids who are anxious, depressed, or lackadaisical. Kids who are obese or sick all the time. 

This does not have to be your children’s fate and is certainly not how we were meant to live! Rejecting the new normal of how you feed your family is an empowering step to rejecting the new normal in children's health.

How much does food matter? The short answer is: a lot! All of those conditions can dramatically improve with different food choices and eating habits. The medical literature shows that chemicals and excess sugar in our food affect mood, cognition, attention, immunity, disease state, growth and development and many other areas of our well-being. 

Three Simple Steps

Where’s the best place to start? To set your children up for the best learning potential and physical health, begin with these three simple steps.

1) Choose foods as close to nature as possible

The more processed the food, the more chemicals are added to increase shelf life and flavoring. We know that repeated exposure to these chemicals can have long term effects that are now widespread.

Excitotoxins, for example, are a family of flavor-enhancing additives that include MSG and aspartame. They overstimulate nerves and can lead to conditions like brain fog, ADHD or Parkinson's Disease.

Preservatives are another family of additives that extend the shelf life of packaged foods. They are designed to kill microbes on your food, but when you eat them, they can kill the friendly microbes in your gut, often leading to food allergies and widespread inflammation.

In addition, foods made in a lab are foreign to our bodies and it can take hundreds of generations for our systems to "learn" these foods are not invaders, requiring an inflammatory immune attack. The best rule of thumb is to avoid packages as much as possible and if you do need packaged foods, choose those with the fewest chemical ingredients.

2) Reduce daily amounts of sugar

Our bodies need sugar for energy, however most of us eat 5-6x more sugar per day than our ancestors ate in the early 1900’s before widespread chronic diseases or obesity became a thing. Sugar - even in small amounts of excess - excites the brain, causing children to lose their ability to concentrate or focus, weakens the immune system and converts itself to fat for long term storage.

Try replacing sweet treats, drinks and foods with less sweet alternatives and move in baby steps so your family doesn’t get overwhelmed with the changes.

3) Know your fats and choose the good ones

The wrong kinds of fats have the unique ability to cause massive inflammation to the brain and body. Yet, interestingly, most of us are actually deficient in the good fats! Children’s brains require enormous amounts of fat to think clearly and their cells need fat in order to replicate so kids can grow. Good fats include those that have not been adulterated by heat.

While some oils claim they have a high smoke point, that is less important than changing their chemical structure with the heating process. Old oils that have been in your pantry have also been affected by exposure to oxygen. Both turn the oil from something healthy into an inflammatory agent contributing to brain fog and disease.

Our recommendation is to only cook with coconut oil, grass fed butter or ghee, or a high quality olive oil. And avoid altogether canola, grapeseed, vegetable or other seed oils that have required high heat and chemical solvents to extract the oil, long before it hits the bottle.

Our Solution

At Enriched at Home, we give members a different pillar of nutrition each month, delivered in kid-friendly language and with tips and challenges for integrating it into your family. We help kids to understand why certain eating habits are important so they want to participate. They get to help in food choices and we even provide family food recipes that incorporate the month’s lesson. 

Our monthly program adds a layer of fun edu-tainment to any K-6 curriculum. In addition to nutrition, our enrichment delivery also includes a selection of inspiring books, nature studies and several engaging activities and discussion prompts. Everything is specially designed for families to grow closer and experience life even more richly. 

We hope to see you soon!

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