Could nutrition be the key to increasing your child’s resilience?

As a parent, you may be asking yourself how you can help your children manage the increasing pressures that school life can put upon them. Well, good nutrition and encouraging healthy eating can be one key strategy to help support learning and development, as well as building your child’s resilience to stress.

According to figures released by the Office for National Statistics, 10% of children in Great Britain aged between five and 16 have a mental health problem, with 4% of children suffering from an emotional disorder such as anxiety or depression. With these figures, it’s difficult to ignore how the increasing pressure to perform in exams, social media overload, and peer pressure (like bullying) is impacting young people.

Experts say that prolonged stress can lead to depression and, with rising numbers of adults suffering from chronic stress and heart disease, the future looks bleak for our younger generations if this is not properly addressed now.

Whilst the link between nutrition and stress may not appear to be an obvious one, there is increasing evidence to show how poor diets high in refined sugars and processed foods can lead to poor concentration and emotional instability, which can worsen symptoms of conditions such as ADHD and affect learning.

It’s no surprise that feeding our children the right nutrients at crucial stages of their brain development is important to support their learning and overall long-term mental health.

Here are four key areas that can help children to build their resilience against stress:

1. Balance blood sugar

The brain is particularly sensitive to changes in blood sugar levels as it uses around 25% of the body’s glucose supply, which is our main source of fuel. In order to ensure even and sustainable levels of energy, it’s vital that your child is getting slow-releasing forms of complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, wholemeal bread and pasta, oats, quinoa and rye, rather than refined sugar like fizzy drinks and confectionary, which do nothing more than spike blood sugar levels, only to leave your child feeling tired and craving more sugar after.

2. Essential fatty acids

Approximately 60% of the human brain consists of fats that create all the cell membranes in your body. This means that the healthier sources of fats you eat (such as essential fatty acids like omega-3), the better the nerve cells will function in your brain. Omega-3 can be found mostly in oily fish such as wild salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring as well as in nuts and seeds like flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds.

3. Vitamins and minerals

It’s important your children are getting the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals in their diet. These nutrients play vital roles in our body such as in cell energy production and renewal which are key to keeping the brain healthy. This means eating a varied diet that is rich in vegetables and fruit.

4. Avoid anti-nutrients and eliminate allergies

Finally, a key factor in preventing damage to the brain is to avoid anti-nutrients, which are substances that use up brain-friendly nutrients. These are refined sugars found in processed food, damaged fats in fried food and hydrogenated fats and chemical food additives. Addressing underlying issues like allergies and intolerances which could be preventing your child from absorbing the right nutrients is also important in optimising brain function.

If you’re interested in learning more about nutritional solutions to children’s learning and development, visit our schoolchildren and teenagers fact-sheet.

This article was updated on 12th September 2023.

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Written by Kat Nicholls
Kat is a Content Producer for Memiah and writer for Nutritionist Resource and Happiful magazine.
Written by Kat Nicholls
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