Natural Solutions for Cognitive Health in Children

 Our National Training Manager Sonja Hindley shares her tips for how to support the cognitive functioning of our children through the use of nutrition, exercise, natural supplements and lifestyle interventions. 

During lockdown, parents have been put in the unenviable position of having to add “full-time entertainer” and “teacher” to their list of responsibilities. It’s tough for little ones to adjust to a new at-home routine, and any pre-existing concentration and focus problems will no doubt have been further exacerbated. 

Fortunately, we have powerful tools at our disposal that we can use to support our children’s cognitive health. It will take planning and effort from the whole family, but it will be well worth it when you see the improvements in behaviour, mood and focus.

Here are nine top tips for supporting your child’s cognitive health: 

1. STABILISE BLOOD SUGAR 

  • Avoid all refined sugar and refined carbohydrates

These are sometimes hidden, so make sure to double check the ingredients lists of all processed foods and drinks that you buy (such as carbonated drinks, artificial sweeteners, fruit juices, flavoured waters, fast foods, processed meats, instant foods, tinned foods, long-life foods, etc.) 

  • Eat real food

Try to include lots of fresh, raw food into your little one’s diet. For example, you could try a large fruit salad with full-fat natural yogurt in the morning, and a large green salad with your main meal. Focus on home-cooked meals with minimal artificial ingredients.

  • Pick nature-made over factory-made

Go for foods that are whole and unprocessed where possible. For example, choose fresh fish instead of the frozen crumbed options. 

  • Eat complex carbohydrates

This includes vegetables, fruit, millet, brown rice, oats, lentils, fresh and dried beans, and chickpeas. These provide you with fibre and valuable B-complex vitamins, while also helping to stabilise blood sugar levels.

2. RULE OUT ALLERGIES

  • Allergies to certain ingredients such as gluten, dairy, corn, yeast, peanuts, citrus and eggs can often go unnoticed and influence mood, behaviour and energy levels. Consider consulting your general practitioner or healthcare provider about trying an elimination diet – this involves cutting out potential allergens and slowly reintroducing them to see if they trigger a noticeable reaction

3. GET RID OF ADDITIVES

  • Additives such as colourants, flavourings and preservatives may affect mood and increase hyperactivity levels. Plus, these contain little to no nutritional value, so it’s best to stick with whole and unprocessed foods. 
4. ADD HEALTHY FATS

  • Stay away from saturated fats, which are often found in processed snack foods, and try to consume “good” fats such as cold pressed oils (e.g. olive, hemp, sesame and grape seed), oily fish (e.g. wild caught salmon, sardines, mackerel and fresh tuna), avocados, olives, corn, nuts and seeds.
  • It is recommended that you supplement with a quality Omega 3 Oil.
5. ELIMINATE TOXINS

  • Consider doing a hair mineral analysis to determine if your child is at risk of heavy metal toxicity.
  • If a family member needs a tooth filling, request that your dentist doesn’t use dental amalgam, as this contains traces of mercury.
  • Filter all drinking and cooking water to remove chlorine and fluoride.
  • Avoid fruit and vegetables that have been treated with pesticides and herbicides, and wash all non-organic produce in a mixture of water and white vinegar.
  • Support your body’s detoxification processes by eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and by supplementing with vitamin Czinc and selenium.
6. IMPROVE GUT HEALTH, DIGESTION AND ABSORPTION OF NUTRIENTS

  • Avoid drinking chlorinated water as the chlorine may kill beneficial bacteria in the intestine.
  • Try to eat lots of sprouts and microgreens (e.g. alfalfa, mung beans, sunflower seeds and cruciferous vegetables), which provide the enzymes necessary for good digestion, as well as a host of essential nutrients. You can grow these sprouts with your kiddies for a fun project!
  • Try to consume fermented foods and/or drinks as often as possible. Kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, sauerkraut, coconut yoghurt, miso, plain yoghurt, milk kefir and water kefir all help to boost beneficial intestinal flora.
  • Drink more vegetable juices – these provide essential vitamins, minerals and enzymes, plus they have a much lower sugar content than fruit juices. Try  juiced carrots, beets, celery, wheat grass, and barley grass. You can also add herbs like parsley and mint.
  • Consider using aloe vera juice to cleanse the colon and improve nutrient uptake. Aloe vera has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties, and may help to balance the flora in the colon. Combine ¼ glass of aloe vera with half a glass of kombucha to mask the bitterness, and drink first thing in the morning on an empty tummy.
  • Consider investing in a good probiotic supplement in addition to incorporating fermented foods into your family meal plans. Make sure to include foods rich in prebiotic fibre such as bananas, mangoes, papaya, onions, garlic, leeks, artichokes, asparagus and dandelion greens.

7. SUPPLEMENTS TO CONSIDER

8. EXERCISE, SUNSHINE AND NATURE

  • Get those bodies moving to get rid of pent-up energy
  • Use a stability ball in class or at home while doing homework
  • Try out cross crawl exercises, as these may help improve left and right brain hemisphere integration, increase focus and concentration, enhance learning capabilities, move lymphatic fluid and energise the body, and improve coordination. 
  • Make sure to get 20 minutes of sunshine in nature every day (before 10:00 or after 16:00 in summer to prevent sunburn).
  • Try to spend 20 minutes a day with bare feet on grass to ground yourself and relax nervous energy. 

9. LEARN TO LOVE ESSENTIAL OILS

Always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil and apply to the soles of the feet, or use an oil diffuser or burner. Be mindful that essential oils can have powerful effects, so make sure to use calming and energising oils at the right times.  

  • Vetiver - May help to regulate symptoms of ADHD
  • Cedarwood - Has a high concentration of sesquiterpenes, a chemical constituent that increases the oxygen flow to the brain. 
  • Frankincense - Widely used for its ability to soothe depression and anxiety.
  • Lavender - Favoured for its sedative and relaxing effects; may also help with headaches.
  • Rose - Soothes nerves and balances.
  • Rosemary - Helps to energise and increase focus.
  • Patchouli - Helps to energise and increase focus
  • Basil - May help to improve concentration and clear the mind.
  • Bergamot - Helps to lift the mood.
  • Lime - Energises and lifts the mood.
  • Lemon - Energises and lifts the mood.
  • Orange - Helps to energise and support a positive mood.
  • Ylang Ylang - Helps to calm the nervous system and lift the mood.