Healthy Parents, Healthy KidsNutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
It is sometimes easy to forget that parents who are not healthy are likely to have children who are not healthy. Healthy parents generally raise healthy kids.
And if you have been on an airplane, you know that the flight attendant will always tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping your child. Why? You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of your child.
Recently, there was a very disturbing news story about an 8-year-old boy who had more than 300 medical appointments and 13 operations before doctors suspected something was amiss and reported their suspicions to authorities. After investigating, it became clear that the child’s mother had been faking his illnesses since his birth, subjecting the child to unnecessary, potentially risky and probably traumatic medical procedures. The good news is that the child is now doing well.
Authorities suspect the mother was suffering from Munchausen Syndrome by proxy (also called factitious disorder), where a caregiver fakes or creates a child’s symptoms to receive attention, reassurance, sympathy or other benefits. It is essentially a form of child abuse as a result of having a mental illness.
In order to make it appear as if their child is sick, people with Munchausen may withhold food from the child to make it appear as if he or she cannot gain weight, give the child drugs to make them throw up or have diarrhea, add blood to the child’s urine or stool and more.
It is estimated that about 1,000 of the 2.5 million cases of child abuse reported annually are related to Munchausen.
While the news story mentioned is an admittedly extreme case, it forcefully makes the point that a parent’s physical and emotional health has a direct effect on the child’s physical and emotional health. Simply put, healthier parents make healthier decisions and choices for their kids. And the starting point for their getting and staying mentally and physically healthy is nutrition.
Nutrition’s Critical Role
Credible research supports the finding that at least 80 percent of adults in the U.S. get too little of the critical nutrients they need to be healthy. And while you might associate the failure to consume adequate amounts of nutrients with an increased risk of physical disability such as heart disease, cancer and obesity, we often forget that nutrition also plays a critical role in maintaining our emotional and cognitive wellbeing.
What you eat directly affects your brain. A diet high in foods containing refined sugars, including sweets, processed foods and sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) may impair brain function and lead to or worsen symptoms of mood disorders.
If you are stressed, depressed or easily fatigued or distracted, you won’t always make the best decisions about your child’s welfare.
In fact, some recent studies have shown that depression, for example, can cause you to make bad decisions or take actions that you otherwise would not have taken. And not getting the right nutrients can also impact what scientists call “executive functioning,” which basically means the brain’s ability to correctly process information and then act appropriately on it.
Key Nutrients for Emotional and Physical Health
You need to make sure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals your brain needs to keep you physically, emotionally and intellectually at your best. Your children deserve nothing less!
Some of these nutrients include:
- Magnesium. Several studies have shown symptoms of depression improved in people who were given this mineral at each meal and at bedtime. This mineral has also demonstrated it helps people cope better with anxiety. Foods containing magnesium include spinach, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, kefir, almonds, black beans, avocado, figs, dark chocolate and bananas.
- Chromium. Many studies have been done to assess the benefit of chromium picolinate in depression. One study suggested that chromium picolinate had an influence on positively impacting emotional stability. To learn more about chromium and food sources that contain this nutrient, read here.
- Iron. Decreased levels of iron can result in apathy, depression and fatigue. Iron is also important for oxygenation of the brain and necessary for all of its functions. Iron-rich foods include red meat, pork, poultry, seafoods, beans, spinach (and other leafy greens), peas, cherimoyas and iron-fortified cereals.
- Selenium. This is a mineral with antioxidant properties, which are very effective in helping fight oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is linked to poorer brain function and depression. Studies have shown improvement in mood, anxiety levels and symptoms of depression in people who received more selenium in their diets. Dietary sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, yellowfin tuna, ham, shrimp, turkey, eggs, spinach, yogurt and lentils.
- Zinc. This mineral is involved in more than 300 reactions in the body and is abundant in the brain. Studies have shown zinc not only helps with symptoms of depression but may also help antidepressants work more effectively. Zinc may also help with anxiety. Lamb, pumpkin seeds, grass fed beef, mushrooms, chickpeas, spinach and chicken are some foods rich in zinc.
- Copper. This mineral is important in depression, because it is a component of the enzymes that metabolize the brain chemicals that help you respond to stress, feel happy and be alert. Copper rich foods include sunflower seeds, lentils, almonds, dark chocolate, beef liver and asparagus.
- Manganese. This mineral was found to be low in some patients suffering from bipolar disorder. Dietary sources of manganese include nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, tea, wheat germ, whole grains, legumes and pineapples.
- B Vitamins. Deficiencies in various vitamins, including B vitamins, are reported to have a negative effect on the brain. There are eight types of B vitamins. Read here to learn more about these types of vitamins and what food sources contain them.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says, “Epidemiological studies indicate an association between depression and low dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids, and biochemical studies have shown reduced levels of omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cell membranes in both depressive and schizophrenic patients.” Read here to learn more about these nutrients and which foods contain them.
- Amino acids. Several reports say that amino acids play a role in preventing mental disorders, like schizophrenia, by combating inflammation and helping manage brain chemistry. Animal sources of food usually contain all of the amino acids we need. Some plant-based foods have amino acids, but vegetarians and vegans should speak with a nutritionist about making sure their diet includes all of the essential amino acids.
“The most common nutritional deficiencies seen in patients with mental disorders are of omega–3 fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that are precursors to neurotransmitters,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
How to Be Proactive
There are several things you can do to help keep yourself healthy and to better educate your children on healthy life decisions. These include:
- Know Your Nutritional Needs – The first step to take as a parent is to not only know what you need to eat but also be able to objectively assess your nutritional status on a regular basis throughout your life. This way you can identify dietary or lifestyle changes you may need to make.
- Out of Sight, Out of Mind – It’s much easier to avoid temptation than to resist it, especially after a long day at home or the office. So leave processed, sugary and junk foods on the store shelves rather than having them in your kitchen.
- Involve the Kids – Include your children in grocery shopping, meal prep and cooking to show them how interesting and fun getting nutrients from fresh food can be (and don’t forget to eat as a family whenever possible).
- Be a Good Example – Despite what you may say to your children, your actions will have more of an impact on them. So eat healthy, exercise daily and work on managing your stress levels.
The bottom line is that if we, as adults, know how to be healthy, we can educate our kids to be as well. Studies have shown that all other things being equal, children whose nutritional, vitamin and mineral needs are met starting from infancy tend to be healthier and stay healthier than do children with imbalances or deficiencies. We owe them nothing less.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.