Proper nutrition can improve kids’ learning and behavior problems

Can a proper diet and good nutrition improve learning and behavior problems in children? The answer is yes. Numerous studies have shown that kids diagnosed with hyperactivity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD), and other behavioral and learning problems have been able to improve their behavior and learning performance with a simple change in diet. While encouraging and providing a healthy diet can create a big challenge for busy parents, it is very important and can have extremely positive effects for kids.


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  • purchase organic beef, chicken, lamb and eggs
  • serve organic vegetables
  • use natural sweeteners in place of sugar
  • offer organic fruits in moderation
  • supplement your child's diet with a liquid multi-supplement

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  • serve processed sugars, white or brown sugar, fructose, aspartame, agave, corn syrup and sucralose
  • allow your children to eat wheat and dairy products if they have symptoms of ADHD
  • give your children soy
  • use products with food additives
  • overlook the common risk factors for ADHD

Carolyn Dean, MD, ND‘s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do purchase organic beef, chicken, lamb and eggs

Animals raised organically are not fed hormones or antibiotics, and their products do not contain antibiotic residue. These antibiotics can lead to resistance and the rise of food-borne bacteria. In fact, an analysis of supermarket meat and eggs shows that at least some drug-resistant microflora also ends up shrink-wrapped with the meat we buy and trapped inside eggs before their shells form. Whenever possible, search out organic beef, chicken, lamb and eggs. You also can get plenty of protein from non-animal sources, such as nuts, seeds, lentils and legumes.

Do serve organic vegetables

Vegetables are key to your child’s good health; however, not just any vegetable will do. A study in the February 2010 issue of the journal, HortScience, found a 5 to 40 percent lower mineral content of supermarket vegetables, compared to 50 years ago. Today’s vegetables may look bigger and grow faster than the ones our grandparents ate, but they are bred for looks and shelf life—and not nutrients.

Organic vegetables are grown without pesticides and herbicides, and often in richer soil than that used by agribusiness. Visit your local farmer’s market. You can usually find organic farmers or non-spray farmers, who may not be able to afford organic certification, but who guarantee they don’t use chemicals on their land. Additionally, you can join or start a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group in your neighborhood. Visit to find out more about CSAs.

Do use natural sweeteners in place of sugar

Natural sweeteners, such as stevia, xylitol, unprocessed Manuka honey and glucose, should be used in place of sugar or artificial sweeteners because they do not spike insulin levels like refined table sugar. Also, these natural sweeteners do not have the dangerous chemical makeup of synthetic sweeteners. Be sure to watch out for non-organic agave products that are counterfeits and are made from high fructose corn syrup.

Do offer organic fruits in moderation

When non-organic fruit is concentrated into juice, the pesticides and herbicides can become concentrated and create negative health effects. Organic berries, apples and pears have a high antioxidant content, a low allergy potential and are not overly sweet.

Do supplement your child's diet with a liquid multi-supplement

Your child may need a supplement, which includes important nutrients that could be missing from his or her diet. Dr. Stephen Schoenthaler, professor of criminal justice at the California State University in Stanislaus, has studied children’s diets for almost 30 years, including the effects of nutrient supplementation on children. He found that children receiving supplements uniformly performed better on nonverbal IQ tests than those taking a placebo. In addition, their behavior also improved.

Find a good-tasting liquid multi-vitamin that is easy for kids to take. The multi-vitamin should be made of organic flavors and organic non-sugar sweeteners, as well as magnesium, zinc, EFAs, methylated B vitamins (B6, B12) and vitamin C.

Carolyn Dean, MD, ND‘s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not serve processed sugars, white or brown sugar, fructose, aspartame, agave, corn syrup and sucralose

Parents should limit their children’s consumption of added sugar, such as soda, fruit drinks, sweets and white sugar treats. Dietary sugars feed harmful intestinal yeasts, fungi, toxic organisms and even cancer cells. While Vitamin C and other natural antioxidants protect against the damage caused by sugar, vitamin C and sugar utilize the same transport system. As a result, excess sugar can tie up the available transport molecules and stop vitamin C from getting to where it is needed.

When parents feel their children eat too much sugar and junk food, they should have their kids try the “Sugar Experiment.” Here are the rules: Avoid all junk food and sugar for six days. On the seventh day, allow children to eat all the unhealthy food they want. Kids groan when they hear they have to avoid all junk food for six days, but they are very excited about the prize at the end of the experiment.

During the first three days, kids can be a bit grumpy and irritable as they go through withdrawal. From days four through six, most kids actually feel better, sleep better and are in a better mood. Then on the seventh day, kids think they have hit the jackpot. They wolf down candy, ice cream, pizza, soda and cookies as if they are going out of style. But it isn’t long before they start to feel the effects—headaches, nausea, wooziness, sluggishness or hyperactivity. And that’s when kids realize–on their own–what sugar does to them. Surprisingly, they often make their own decision to cut back.

Do not allow your children to eat wheat and dairy products if they have symptoms of ADHD

If your child has ADHD symptoms, the most allergenic foods are dairy and wheat because they disrupt the kinase PI3 enzyme, which leads to incomplete digestion of these

The gluten in wheat and rye is a trigger for celiac disease, which occurs in 1 in 133 people. Kids also can be allergic to other proteins in wheat. While going gluten-free can be a challenge, you won’t know if your child can properly metabolize gluten unless he or she completely avoids wheat and rye for two to three weeks. You might not notice the difference until you start bringing wheat and rye back into the diet. Fortunately, your child can safely enjoy the following whole grains to obtain the nutrient and high fiber benefits that grains can provide:

  • Oats are safe to eat because they don’t contain gluten. However, they can become contaminated with gluten molecules when stored and packaged in the same location as wheat and rye. Unless someone is extremely allergic to gluten, oats are usually safe to eat.
  • Rice is typically safe; however, brown rice is a better choice than white rice. It takes about 35 minutes to cook.
  • Quinoa is a high-protein grain that cooks within 10 minutes.
  • Amaranth is a very small, nutty-tasting grain that cooks within 20 minutes.
  • Millet becomes fluffy and tastes like corn when cooked for about 25 minutes.

When eliminating dairy from a child’s diet, parents often worry about a lack of calcium for growing bones. But magnesium is actually just as important for kids because there is less of it in the diet. Children should actually be given more magnesium than calcium. Magnesium is the mineral that relaxes muscles and nerves. It not only allows an exact amount of calcium to enter cells and cause a contraction, but magnesium removes excess calcium to prevent buildup. Without enough magnesium, calcium floods muscle and nerve cells, creating spasms and irritability.

Do not give your children soy

There is increasing evidence that soy is not as healthy as once thought, especially for kids. About 80 percent of the soy grown in America is now genetically engineered. Soy—even organic soy—also contains estrogenic phytochemicals that may have a hormonal effect on kids.

What’s more, soy is very difficult to digest and can cause constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating. Try eliminating all soy products for a week, and then feed your children soy burgers and soy milk. You may be surprised at their reaction.

Do not use products with food additives

Foods containing artificial coloring or additives are damaging to the brain. The worst are the excitotoxins, aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG), which excite brain neurons to the point of cell death.

Many researchers are calling for a ban on aspartame due to its numerous documented side effects. In the initial testing of this artificial sweetener, laboratory animals experienced seizures, as well as several types of cancer, including brain tumors. Chewing a single stick of aspartame-sweetened gum has induced seizures in susceptible children.

MSG is a modified form of glutamic acid with one sodium atom added to the molecule. John Olney, MD, a neuroscientist at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, found that MSG is toxic to the retina, and a single dose can destroy specific cells in the hypothalamus. It is also responsible for dozens of symptoms that often can’t be traced back to the source.

Be sure to check ingredient labels for MSG and avoid hydrolyzed protein, which also contains MSG. Since the late 1970s, MSG and hydrolyzed protein have been “voluntarily” removed from baby food. Because it is still legal to use these additives, they can sneak back into the food supply.

Do not overlook the common risk factors for ADHD

Risk factors for ADHD are clustered around specific areas. It is important for parents to be knowledgeable about the most prevalent risk factors that affect children. These include:

  • Food allergies: the most common are dairy, wheat, sugar, corn and soy
  • Amino acid deficiency: this arises due to diets that lack protein and favor carbohydrates
  • Essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiency: EFAs are absent in the standard American diet and are often replaced by trans fats
  • Vitamin B deficiency: B vitamins are found in whole grains, animal protein, vegetable greens and eggs
  • Heavy metal toxicity: metals build up from vaccines and environmental pollution. They are naturally chelated by mechanisms driven by magnesium, B vitamins and the intake of vegetable greens
  • High-carbohydrate diet: such a diet is reinforced by TV ads, school lunch programs, and the farm-subsidized, genetically modified soy and corn industry
  • Magnesium deficiency: magnesium helps calm nerves and build strong bones. Magnesium is sorely lacking in children’s diet


Providing and encouraging a healthy diet can be a big challenge for busy parents. And in some homes, a child’s diet is non-negotiable because it is so important for health. However, the bottom line is that healthy is better. A proper diet and good nutrition can improve learning and behavior problems in children, which is crucial for all kids.

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