Children with attention-deficit disorder and learning disabilities who eat more nutrient-dense foods learn, pay attention and behave better in school than those who eat more sweets, fried foods and salty foods. That's the conclusion of an article published in "Psychiatry Research" in 2012. Because nutrient deficiency affects children's brain function, reversing deficiencies can improve their memory and focus. In children who are not deficient, you may not see a difference through nutritional changes. Nutrient levels can be tested at a clinic with a blood sample. Incorporating nutrient-dense foods into your child's diet is the best way to increase her nutritional intake, but doctor-approved supplements can shore up remaining deficiencies.
Vitamins Important for Brain Function and Memory
Abundant in fruit and leafy greens, B vitamins play important roles in children's brain development, and deficiencies can cause problems with learning, focusing and memory. According to an article published in "Nature Reviews: Neuroscience" in 2008, folate deficiency during childhood affects brain function even into adulthood. Thiamine deficiency can cause a harmful numbing effect on brain nerves, and riboflavin deficiency can cause brain dysfunction. Niacin deficiency can cause memory loss. A child deficient in vitamin B-12, which is most abundant in meat and dairy products, can suffer brain deterioration and delayed development.
Minerals for Brain Function and Memory
Iron is a mineral important for cognitive function and development. Iron deficiency has been found to lead to lower IQ and poor thinking and problem-solving abilities in children. Even iron deficiency less severe than anemia has been associated with poorer memory and thinking skills. Iodine deficiency also causes a lower IQ in children. In fact, it's been found to reduce children's IQ by up to 12 to 14 points. Supplementation would reverse these effects in children who are deficient but not affect children who are not deficient. Rich sources of iron are meat and seafood, leafy greens, nuts and beans, as well as foods fortified with iron, which can often include cereal, bread and pasta.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Focus
Omega-3 fatty acids are a healthy type of fat required in brain cell membranes. The body cannot synthesize omega-3s itself, so it must be incorporated into your diet. When children are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, it can affect their ability to focus. Children with attention-deficit disorder are more likely to be deficient in omega-3s, according to an article published in "Pediatrics" in 2012. The article also stated that omega-3 supplements may benefit children with attention-deficit disorder who aren't seeing results from medication. Omega-3s are found in oily fish, scallops, muscles, walnuts, soybeans, flaxseeds and hemp seeds. You can also take fish oil, flaxseed oil or hemp oil for omega-3s.
Precautions When Taking Supplements
Vitamin supplements should only be given to children with care and the help of medical supervision. Certain vitamin supplements may interact with medications. Also, it is possible to take too much of a vitamin supplement and experience side effects or overdose. Never take a higher dose than directed on the product label. Check with a doctor or nutritionist on the correct dosage for children, especially for children who have special diets or medical conditions. Some foods are fortified with vitamins, such as bread, cereal, pasta, protein bars and other processed foods, so it's important to watch your intake of these foods if you're also taking supplements.
- Psychiatry Research: Association Between Dietary Behaviors and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Learning Disabilities in School-Aged Children
- Nature Reviews: Neuroscience: Brain Foods: The Effects of Nutrients on Brain Function
- Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition: Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
- Society for Research in Child Development: Iron Deficiency Important to Assess in Children Adopted From Institutional Settings
- Pediatrics: The Diet Factor in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
- The Independent: Fortified Cereals Can Lead to Dangerous Vitamin Overdose in Children, Scientists Warn
- National Institutes of Health: Iron
- Heart Foundation: Omega 3