Episode 8: How To Improve Your Kids’ Learning & Concentration
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Today’s episode is all about the things to consider or you want to improve your kids’ learning and concentration. I know this is something that can come up early in the year as kids adjust back to school.
In this episode, we discuss 3 things that you can do to improve your kids’ learning and concentration with nutrition and naturopathic principles.
- Improve the balance of macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats) in their diet.
- Enhance your child’s vitamin and mineral intake. We’ll discuss the specific vitamins and minerals that are crucial for healthy brain function.
- How maintaining good gut health can improve learning and concentration through the gut-brain connection.
- Download our free Kids Gut Health e-book
- DM me on Instagram
- Read or watch – How learning difficulties can begin in the gut
- Read about Dr. Natasha Mcbride and the GAPS protocol
Hello, hello! Welcome back to the podcast.
School is back here in Australia. It’s been back for a few weeks and hopefully your kids, if they’ve just started school or they’re starting a new year, have settled back into school really well. Hopefully you’re enjoying the back to normal routine as well. I know I certainly am.
Today, I wanted to talk about some factors that you might want to consider if you’re concerned or you want to improve your kids’ learning and concentration. I know this is something that can come up early in the year. When kids have a new teacher, or they kind of expect a bit more as expected of them, because they’re in the next year of school. So I thought it would be a good time to talk about some of the things that can affect our kids’ learning and behaviour.
There’s 3 main things I want to sort of talk about:
- Nutrition, specifically want to talk about Macro Nutrition. I’ll explain more about that in a moment.
- Another aspect of nutrition – the Vitamins and Minerals. Which potentially could be lacking in your child, if they are having issues with concentration and learning.
- Gut health and how our kids’ gut can influence their learning and behaviour as well.
The first point I want to talk about is the macronutrient nutrition. Macronutrients are the big nutrients as the name suggests. We’re talking here about protein, carbohydrates, and fats. The balance that kids have in these macronutrients has a big impact on not just their learning and concentration, but also their mood. Their behaviour, and their energy levels. It’s really an important thing to be thinking about. And generally, the pattern that I see is kids are having too many carbohydrates in their diet, their lack of proteins and healthy fats, is particularly at breakfast time.
We think about that standard Australian breakfast and it mostly consists of cereal, which can have lots of sugar. It’s definitely high in carbohydrates. Our kids do need a significant amount of carbohydrates, because they’re growing and they’re active. But we do need to be careful that they’re not getting too many of these carbohydrates. The other thing about breakfast cereal is it’s totally lacking often in protein, and healthy fats. Even the so called high protein breakfast cereals that you might see on the front of a breakfast cereal are fairly low compared to other breakfast options that our kids can have.
The other common breakfast for kids, of course, is toast. Again, it’s high in carbohydrates and it’s lacking in those proteins and healthy fat. So we want to think about that macronutrient balance that our kids are having at breakfast. Also at lunch to get them through the afternoon. You talked to a lot of teachers who say kids’ concentration declines after lunch. This can really be helped by making sure that their lunch is a good balance of macronutrients of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
Generally speaking, we want to try and get about a palm sized portion of protein in at each of our kids’ meals. This will keep them fuller for longer, and will help to balance and stabilise their blood sugar levels. There’s less ups and downs in their concentration and their energy. That could look like some nuts and seeds, some eggs at breakfast time. If your kids are cereal eaters, and there’s no way that you’re going to be able to move them away from that just yet, then you might just want to add some protein to what they’re already having. That could definitely be a first step.
You could introduce some nuts and seeds on top of the cereal. Or some nuts and seeds next to their cereal as an example. Nuts, seeds and eggs are really great protein and healthy fat sources for breakfast. Then in their lunchbox, we also want to make sure we’re including some protein. So that could be some leftover meat from the night before. Some chicken, meatballs or some fish patties that we might have cooked up for dinner the night before. We can include those in their lunchbox. Eggs are a really good option in the lunchbox as well. Whether that’s in a sandwich or wrap, a quiche, or frittata. So we want to be making sure that protein is contained within their breakfast and lunch. Really important to keep their concentration levels stable throughout the day.
The next thing I want to talk about is the vitamins and minerals. The ones that you particularly want to be thinking about when it comes to concentration and learning in our kids. We need to understand that there’s a lot of nutrients that are needed for neurological health. For learning and memory, for brain development and function in our kids. Some of the important ones are zinc, and omega-3, iodine, selenium, B6, folic acid, and B12. These are some really important nutrients that are needed for proper brain function, brain development, neurological function and health as well.
I do commonly see kids that are deficient in one or more of these nutrients in terms of their diet. It just doesn’t have the amount of these nutrients that they need. Omega-3 is probably the first one to think about. A lot of kids are just lacking omega-3 in their diet. We need to eat fish three to four times a week. Oily fish three to four times a week to meet our omega-3 needs. Most kids are not doing that. So one thing you can definitely do is increase fish and seafood in the diet. That can certainly be a combination of fresh fish and seafood. But also, you can consider one or two servings of tinned fish a week as well to really make it more achievable to try and get these omega-3s in.
Tuna’s not a great source of omega-3. Sardines, mackerel and even tinned salmon are much better than tuna. So that’s a little practical note. If your kids are fans of tuna, first step can be to replace tinned tuna with tinned salmon. It is going to be a better option for those omega-3s. If you can, tinned sardines or tinned mackerel are even better. They’re really great options when it comes to omega-3s. They’re also very high in iodine. Iodine is a really crucial nutrient when it comes to our kids’ brain function. Lots of kids are lacking in iodine. The food here in Australia where we get the majority of our iodine comes from the sea.
So it’s fish, seafood, sea vegetables such as seaweeds, nori, or wakame. We want to be thinking about how to get more of these foods into our kids’ diets. As I said, we also want to be thinking about B vitamins, about zinc and selenium as well. A good way to get more of these nutrients into our kids’ diet is to think about a good quality multivitamin for our kids. I will link in the show notes a blog that I have written and a Facebook Live that I’ve done on choosing a good multivitamin for your kids. This is a good foundation to make sure that your kids are getting enough B vitamins. Enough zinc, selenium, and iodine in their diet, so that could be a good place to start.
Lastly, I want to talk about gut health. This is really an important aspect and an often overlooked aspect when it comes down to our kids’ learning and concentration. But when we’re talking about these micronutrients, and potential deficiencies in these micronutrients that might be negatively affecting our kids’ learning and concentration and behaviour, then we need to be thinking about gut health. The absorption of these nutrients is dependent on healthy gut function. This is only one reason that we want to be thinking about gut health when it comes to learning and concentration.
We need good gut function to be absorbed. Absorbing these really important nutrients from the food that our kids are eating. So that is one reason we want to be thinking about gut health when it comes to learning and concentration. There is definitely more to it. Scientists are now talking about the gut as the second brain and there’s really good reason for that. The gut and the brain communicate and work together. You may have heard about this concept. I’ve certainly talked about it a lot before in the gut-brain connection. The gut and the brain are connected by a nerve called the vagus nerve. And we know that the gut and brain communicate with each other.
They work together for the well-being of our kids and us as well. That is, if we’ve got a good healthy microbiome, it will definitely benefit our kids’ learning and their concentration. The gut actually produces a lot of our neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain and they affect all kinds of things, our mood and sleep. Also our memory and concentration, and certainly kids’ behaviour as well. These neurotransmitters are often thought about in terms of the brain. But what a lot of people don’t understand is the majority of them are actually produced within the gut.
Some examples of neurotransmitters are things like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, glutamate and GABA. These definitely have an effect on our kids’ memory, their learning, and on their concentration. Although there is still more research that needs to be done in this area, we know that the microbiome, the health of the microbiome, can affect the production of these neurotransmitters. In any kind of mood, behaviour or sleep issue, we definitely want to be looking at the gut. The same is true when it comes to learning and concentration as we’re talking about today in our kids.
I think a really good example of this is a lady you may have heard of, Dr. Natasha McBride. She is the founder of GAPS, and I’m sure you’ve heard about GAPS or read about it. GAPS stands for Gut And Psychology Syndrome. Dr. Natasha McBride is the creator of this protocol, and it’s a protocol to help heal the gut. This protocol came about because Dr. Natasha’s child had severe learning disabilities. She was a doctor and she came up with this protocol that was all about gut healing, and promoting a healthy microbiome. Her child recovered from the severe learning disability and went on to thrive. It’s a very popular protocol now. And I think this illustrates how important that gut is when it comes to learning disabilities, behavioural challenges and mood imbalances in kids.
There are a lot of kids that have had great results from the GAPS protocol, particularly kids with learning disabilities. Kids that are on the spectrum, with ADHD, dyslexia.So that is what the GAPS protocol is all about, to benefit kids with these kinds of conditions and symptoms. If you want to know more, definitely look up Dr. Natasha McBride. She’s got some great videos on YouTube. Her book GAPS is amazing as well, if you want to learn more in this area. I think that really just highlights how important gut health is for our kids learning and concentration.
Now, I just want to go into a few specifics in terms of how the gut and the microbiome can affect our kids’ learning and behaviour. When we’re talking about the microbiome, it’s basically all of the different microbes that are located within the gut. There can be healthy, good bacteria within the gut microbiome. Also, there can be pathogenic bacteria within the gut microbiome and it really all is about balance. Everyone is going to have some pathogenic bacteria within their microbiome. But if you’ve got enough of the good guys, then that keeps the bad guys in check.
However, there’s a situation called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is an imbalance in the microbiome where there’s an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria or pathogenic microbes. Candida is a great example of that, a fairly commonly known term. But there’s a whole range of different imbalances and different pathogenic bacteria that can overgrow within the microbiome. This will generally be a product of diet, lifestyle, medication, and stress that can all affect the growth of the good bacteria. It can allow the pathogenic bacteria to overgrow. It’s a fairly common situation in our kids. But when there is an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, there is also the production of toxic substances.
Basically, the pathogenic bacteria create or produce toxic substances. It’s a byproduct of their metabolism but a lot of these toxic substances can affect our kids’ behaviour. Our kids’ learning and much more. If your child is beginning to go downhill in terms of their learning and concentration, or if they have a diagnosed learning disability, or they’re struggling with learning and concentration at school, then dysbiosis is definitely something you want to consider. You might want to look at getting some help from a qualified practitioner to help (1) diagnose dysbiosis, and (2) correct dysbiosis.
This is not something you want to do alone. You definitely want to get some professional help from a naturopath or someone else that is qualified and experienced to help in this area. And if you are, it’s certainly something that we can help you with here at Natural Super Kids. You can head on over to our website and find details of our consultation options. We offer online consultations, so it doesn’t matter where in the world you are. We can certainly look at helping. So the microbiome and that dysbiosis is an important consideration when we’re talking about learning and concentration in kids.
I also wanted to mention gluten and casein. Gluten and casein are proteins from certain foods that we eat. Casein is the protein in dairy products. All dairy products will have casein in them and gluten is the protein in a lot of grains. Wheat, particularly, but there’s lots of other grains that contain gluten as well. In some kids, particularly kids with neurodevelopmental conditions, kids that are on the spectrum, diagnosed with ADHD or some unknown reason, don’t break down the proteins – the gluten and casein protein properly. These big proteins circulate around in the blood and they are thought to cross the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier is like a filter and what it does is it keeps anything nasty out of the brain.
Obviously, the brain is very important and also very vulnerable. The blood-brain barrier is there to protect the brain but in some people, some kids, some general people as well (adults are included in this), these proteins from gluten and casein that don’t get broken down properly. Can cross into the blood-brain barrier and once in there, they can affect brain function. I wanted to mention this because it is definitely part of gut health in general that these proteins aren’t being broken down adequately. And I think a lot of kids that do have gut symptoms, do have problems with gluten and or casein. If your child does have digestive symptoms, or one of these neurodevelopmental conditions, you might want to just look at even trialing a period where you cut out gluten and dairy from their diet.
I know from my experience as a naturopath, I have seen a lot of clients that have been transformed by removing gluten and/or dairy from their diet. Not only does it improve their digestive symptoms, but in a lot of kids that can really improve their brain function, their sleep, behaviour, their learning and concentration. I know this is not an easy feat to cut gluten and dairy out of the diet. It’s definitely challenging, particularly for fussy kids and that tends to go hand in hand with kids that are on the spectrum as well. It is a challenge, I understand. But it is definitely something worth looking into, in terms of improving the concentration and learning in our kids.
So to recap what we’ve talked about, those 3 main areas you want to be looking at when it comes to improving learning and concentration in your kids. I’m going to give you an action step for each of those to finish off.
- Macronutrient balance. Getting the balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Correct. So we want to be including more proteins, and healthy fats. They often go hand in hand together in food sources in our kids’ breakfast and in our kids’ lunchbox. To get started, I would choose either breakfast or lunch and focus on increasing the protein and healthy fats. Adding some eggs or some nuts and seeds to their breakfast, then adding some protein to their lunchbox. Leftover protein, meat protein from the night before or something egg-based are good options.
- Vitamins and Minerals, potential deficiencies or even insufficiencies in these. In kids with learning issues or concentration problems. We want to be thinking about zinc, omega-3, iodine and the B vitamins – B6, folic acid, B12, and selenium. First of all, I would really focus on increasing the amount of omega-3 your child is consuming. Whether that be through fish and seafood. We want to be aiming for three to four servings a week. If that is totally not doable for you, then you might want to look at an omega-3 supplement, a good quality omega-3 supplement.
- Gut health. We want to be thinking about the microbiome. About potential dysbiosis or imbalances in the microbiome, those gluten and casein proteins as well. There’s a lot in that. But in terms of an action step to get you started when it comes to your kids’ gut health, I would be thinking about getting in more of the good bugs to improve the microbiome. That might look like fermented foods or cultured foods such as yogurt, kefir or sauerkraut, or kombucha. Planting those good bug seeds in the gut. If fermented foods is a no-go for your kids because of fussy eating or you don’t have access to those things or you’re not willing to try them, then maybe a probiotic supplement could be a good option for you as well.
I like the combination of fermented foods and probiotic supplements. Maybe I’ll do another episode talking about the differences of those things. But we want to somehow replenish our kids’ guts with the good bugs I talk a bit more about this in our free gut health e-book which you can download. I’ll pop the link in the show notes to that one and in there, I talk about more steps to improve your kids got health as well. Yes, the seeding part of getting the good bugs in there is really important but also we want to feed those good bugs. So for more information on that part, definitely download our Gut Health for Kids e-book.
Thank you so much for listening. I would love to hear from you! If you’ve been listening to the podcast or if this is your first time listening, then send me a DM on Instagram and let me know what you’re liking about it. What you’re not liking about it. If you’ve got any suggestions for future podcast episodes subjects, I am all ears. I would love to hear what you’re thinking of the podcast and you can find us at Natural Super Kids on Instagram.
Thanks so much, guys! Have a great day, I will be back next week!
Get your kids off to a good start to the day with our delicious breakfast recipes.
Grab Your Copy: 3 Breakfast Recipes To Improve Your Kid’s Mood & Behaviour
Download Your Copy Here