3 NATURAL DIETARY ADJUSTMENTS TO MANAGE BACK TO SCHOOL STRESS & IMPROVE LEARNING
Parents are used to juggling it all -- personal commitments, work schedules, their kid’s school, social schedules, helping with homework and preparing meals that hopefully support their children’s learning.
Although it’s a different world now with hybrid learning and limited social engagements to manage, parents are feeling a different kind of stress by having to navigate safety precautions and manage their child’s education in a new way (especially if they have to go back to work this fall).
Even more, safety concerns are prevalent for many parents who worry about their child being exposed to viral threats or potentially acting as a carrier, possibly threatening those at home with weak immune systems that are more at risk.
While managing stress and finding healthy coping mechanisms is a very important part of supporting a strong immune system (and making life less difficult), there are numerous nutritional strategies that can make a big difference.
The good news is that reducing stress can also help with learning capacity and focus for our kids – reducing many symptoms that often affect school performance, behavior issues, and ultimately dampen immune function by adding additional stress.
Some common issues that teachers tend to see from students at school and that parents may start to notice if their child is schooling from home include:
- Fatigue: lethargy, yawning mid-morning lack of focus and drive
- Skin issues: dark circles under the eyes
- Allergies: runny nose
- Mental: brain fog lack of focus and easily distracted
- Energy: inability to sit still
- Behavior: confrontational attitudes, “crankiness,” disruptive behavior
These tendencies can certainly create more difficulty in the home environment as already stressed parents have to conform to a new role, the Teacher – and the children are being forced to accept this new role.
It’s a lot to manage! Parents don’t want to feel like they aren’t doing the best possible thing for their children or feel judged when most people are in psychological survival mode, overwhelmed by the impact of the pandemic (and life in general).
Add the pressure of parenting and teaching, and it can have downstream effects on stress and immune resilience.
So how can we support stress, immunity, and learning for our kids?
Food As Medicine
Naturopathic medicine relies on many key principles, and one of the most important and foundational is using food as medicine.
Cognitive function and behavior are highly reliant on the food our kids eat and how their bodies process the key nutrients that help their bodies and brains prepare for learning, provide energy, and support our healing mechanism and immune systems.
While we have seen many detrimental effects of the pandemic, it has also shed light on what is essential for our safety and resilience: strengthening our immune systems using natural approaches…such as nutrition and supplementation.
The time is ripe to address some of these issues. In fact, with many of our kids schooling from home, it might just be the perfect time to do a simple nutrition upgrade!
3 easy and satisfying ways to use food as medicine for your children (and yourself!)
#1 – Eat a healthy breakfast to boost mental and emotional balance
When our kids start their day and crash mid-morning, it could be from needing to eat (nutrient-dense food, of course).
Dehydration, lack of adequate nutrients, and going too long from their last meal can impact how they function, even if they claim they “aren’t hungry”.
The overnight “fast” we experience while sleeping is necessary for proper digestion, to detoxify, to tap into our healing mechanisms, and to give the body a rest.
Yet breaking that fast is equally as important.
The drop in blood sugar that occurs with the fast leads to mood swings, exhaustion, and cravings and consumption of sweeter foods over the course of the day.
Skipping breakfast and not refueling properly leads to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can cause a lack of focus, dips in energy, anxious behavior, and can make someone generally unpleasant to be around -- and teach in an academic setting!
Make sure to do the following:
- Drink a glass of water upon waking to cleanse and rehydrate the body
- Make sure their morning meal (and yours!) has balanced nutrition: Fat, fiber, and protein. This powerful trio will supply steady energy for the brain and body.
- Choose low glycemic, unprocessed, nutrient-dense, whole real foods such as: eggs and sweet potatoes oatmeal with nuts fruit, and flax; smoothies blended with nut milk, nuts or seed (or nut butter), protein powder, fruit, and greens; chia puddings or nut milk yogurts (or organic unsweetened yogurt if you are not intolerant) topped with nuts, seeds, and fresh fruit.
- Avoid sugary, nutritionally devoid, inflammatory foods like: bagels, pastries, pancakes, donuts, soda, etc. These will only spike blood sugar and cause an immediate crash in energy and brainpower.
#2 – Eat healthy fat, an essential nutrient to fuel your brain:
Healthy fat is essential to brain function, hormonal balance, and total body health.
Since the brain is 60% fat, our cells are made from fat, and our body uses fat to make hormones…we need to fuel it properly to function properly!
The brain actually uses dietary fat for cell membrane integrity, cell permeability, and building the brain at a structural level.
For your kids, brain function is essential to perform well on exams, to understand and process information, have a good memory, think critically, make social connections, and feel happy and less stressed.
The brain is a vulnerable organ affected instantaneously by nutritional deficits and imbalances. It needs good fat to perform at its best.
The good fats include:
- coconut oil
- organic butter from grass-fed cows (if no dairy intolerances)
- ghee (clarified butter)
- olive oil
- unrefined sesame oil
- flax oil (not for cooking)
- hempseed oil (not for cooking)
- And fats from food such as: nuts and seeds (if no intolerances) fats from good quality organic and pastured eggs, animal protein, and full-fat dairy if no tolerances are present*organic is important because pesticides and toxins are stored in animal fat we consume.
Incorporating some of these good-quality fats for breakfast will boost your brainpower and energy.
#3 - Avoid Sugar
Sugar is the main food that contributes to inflammation, irregular mood, digestive problems, asthma, allergies, eczema, and behavioral challenges.
Sugar is everywhere, and not just in obvious forms such as desserts, candy, and soda.
Sugar hides in unsuspecting foods lurking in green juices, sauces, cereals, and more.
It is also disguised under more than 60 different names in different places on the labeling.
- cane juice
- malt syrup
- and the oh-so-problematic high fructose corn syrup
Often times, we don’t realize how much we are consuming until we look at the label and investigate the total grams of sugar…which can sometimes be higher than sweets themselves!
Why is sugar a problem when it comes to brain health, learning, and immunity?
Sugar consumption leads to:
- mineral depletion
- immune system repression
- blood sugar and insulin imbalances
- hormonal dysregulation
- feeding gut infections and contributes to microbiome imbalances
- decreased brain function (including its inhibitory effects on serotonin production)
- heart disease
- tooth decay
Sugar dysregulates the healthy function of multiple areas of the body. Reducing sugar intake could make a major impact on your child and family’s overall health.
We all wired to eat sweet food, but there are healthy to enjoy a treat without putting too much stress on your body.
Start by reading labels for ingredients and making treats with some of the healthier options…but make sure not to use artificial sugar (they act as a neurotoxin in the body).
Fresh fruit, fruit and nut concoctions, energy balls, and smoothies can also act as a satisfying sweet treat.
Make sure to avoid certain kinds of sugar that are particularly inflammatory, and incorporate the more favorable kinds in moderation.
Remember too, that processed, refined quick carbohydrates (think bagels and waffles) are devoid of nutrients and processed like sugar in the body, spiking insulin and blood sugar the same way. Best to avoid those too!
Sugars to avoid:
- beet sugar
- brown sugar
- cane juice crystals
- confectioner’s sugar
- corn sweetener
- corn syrup
- evaporated cane juice
- fruit juice concentrate
- granulated sugar
- high fructose corn syrup
- powdered sugar
- raw sugar
- sugar cane
- turbinado sugar
- white sugar
Sugars to enjoy occasionally:
- raw honey (ideally local)
- grade B organic maple syrup
- coconut or palm sugar
- brown rice syrup
- fruit and dried fruits (dates make a great sweetener)
- pure monk fruit extract (powdered form recommended)
- yacon syrup
These sweeteners have nutritional benefits and help to curb cravings and feelings of deprivation.
Many are whole foods that contain antimicrobial compounds as well as minerals and nutrients (dates, honey, and maple syrup); some are lower glycemic (like coconut sugar, brown rice syrup, yacon syrup, and stevia).
Using them will allow you to satisfy your child’s sweet tooth without compromising their health (or yours!).
Cooking together can also be a therapeutic and connecting experience with your kids.
Try making overnight oats, layering chia pudding parfaits, cooking up some homemade granola, rolling up some energy date balls, or baking gluten-free low glycemic cookies as a special treat.
Kids are more likely to be open to trying new things and actually enjoy them if they’ve participated in the process. Establishing new habits and trying out ways of incorporating healthy routines is more fun and sustainable if it’s a family affair.
Lastly, supplementing with high-quality nutrients can help to support immune resilience, decrease inflammation, and facilitate improved brain function.
Key immune-enhancing supplements include:
- vitamin C
- vitamin D3
- omega-3 fatty acids
- and a foundational multivitamin-mineral for both kids and adults
Along with a plant-rich, nutrient-dense, whole foods, anti-inflammatory, low glycemic way of eating, stress management practices, movement and exercise, hydration, adequate sleep, and relaxation...our immune system can get a much-needed natural boost to reduce the threat of infection.
The ideas and recommendations in this article are for informational purposes only. The contents are not intended to replace the advice of the reader’s own healthcare professional or physician. The treatments described in this article may have known and unknown side effects and health hazards. Each reader is solely responsible for his or her own healthcare choices and decisions. The author advises the reader to discuss these ideas with a healthcare professional or physician before trying them. The author does not accept any responsibility for any positive or adverse effects a person claims to experience, directly or indirectly, from the ideas and contents of this article.