Brighter Mind® For Children – Part 1

Even in America, one of the best-fed nations on the planet, nutritional deficiencies are remarkably common. We have access to a virtually unlimited number of calories, but vitamins, minerals, accessory nutrients, and healthful fats are far harder to come by in our modern food supply.

 

Introduction

Even in our overfed nation, poor nourishment is a major issue. This lack of good nutrition has been linked, in numerous studies, to suboptimal behavior and school performance, as well as to health problems in childhood or those that might not become evident until later in life. And studies find that adding the right nutrients to children’s diets may help prevent, or even reverse, these outcomes.

A growing body of research associates poor mental function and health problems with nutritionally inadequate diets. From my own analysis of many hundreds of studies on nutrients, brain function, behavior, mood, and ability to learn, I have reached the point of total certainty that nutritional supplementation is the simplest, most effective strategy to quickly improve a broad set of health outcomes in children. Any in-depth consideration of the research on this topic makes this conclusion incontrovertible.

More specifically: simply adding a few high-quality nutritional supplements to a child’s diet produces measurable, significant improvements in mental function. It also improves many other measures of health.

 

Modern Diets Are Deficient

Most of the foods children eat in this country are processed – high in refined grains and sugars and depleted of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, fiber and enzymes. In laboratory experiments, animals that are exclusively fed processed foods either die painfully and prematurely or exhibit radical growth abnormalities. Not surprisingly, a diet high in processed food has been found to directly impact the performance of children’s brains and bodies.

For decades, the popular news media has claimed that a “good mixed diet” is all that is needed for nutritional adequacy. Unfortunately, that same diet generally contains plenty of white flour, sugar, French fries, soft drinks, processed and other foods that fall miserably short in brain and health building nutrients. If there’s a good mixed diet that will ensure good nutrition, Americans aren’t eating it.

A recent survey found that one in five Americans lives on a diet of ten foods or fewer. 1Among the most common choices were chocolate chip cookies, fried chicken, French fries, and Kraft macaroni and cheese. This figure includes adults and children. Another survey looked at 57 school-based health education programs for children to see whether they were effecting real change in children’s diets and health 2 By and large, they weren’t – most of the children kept going back to sodas and chips, and the programs did not alter body weight or other measures of diet-related health.

The same study also found that on any given day, 45 percent of U.S. children aged 6-17 eat no fruit and 20 percent eat less than one serving of vegetables.

The USDA states that less than two percent of the 148 pounds of wheat flour consumed per capita in 1996 was whole-wheat flour.4 Potatoes used for fat-laden products like frozen French fries (eaten mostly with a fast-food meal) and potato chips accounted for 11 percent of total U.S. per capita fruit and vegetable supplies in the 1990s.4 Although government health authorities actually count French fries and potato chips as servings of vegetables, 61 percent of boys and almost 70 percent of girls failed to consume the number of servings of vegetables recommended by the USDA’s Food Pyramid. Seventy-one percent of boys and 88 percent of girls failed to consume the recommended amount of dairy foods.5

If you look at the recommendations in the USDA Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals and the latest USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you’ll see that food conglomerates must have dampened the USDA’s concerns about the drastic nutrient losses that occur in the processing of foods. Otherwise, how could any individual trained in nutrition state with a straight face that vegetable servings may include cooked or canned vegetables, fried vegetables, and canned vegetable juice5,6 ; and that fruit servings may include cooked or canned fruit (including pies) or pasteurized (heated/cooked) fruit juice?5,6

Government guidelines to the “good mixed diet” also state that grain servings may include bleached white bread, refined cereal or cooked white rice6 – despite the fact that conversion from brown rice to white polished rice results in losses of 80 percent of thiamine, 40 percent of riboflavin, 66 percent of niacin, 94 percent of vitamin B6, 20 percent of folic acid and 58 percent of biotin.Fat and oil servings may include margarine, low-fat mayo, light salad dressing, and refined vegetable oil,and the so-called Discretionary Calorie Allowance may include 267 calories per day from heaping tablespoons of pure refined sugar, jellies, jams, or jelly beans.Good mixed diet? Not really.

To be fair, let’s admit that the USDA has a big job. Providing nutrition and dietary education for every American from all socioeconomic and educational backgrounds is a tall task indeed. And they do recommend “eating a variety of nutrient-packed foods every day” as well as emphasize the daily consumption of a “variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.” 8 But despite the USDA’s recommendations, Americans are not measuring up to that “good mixed diet:”

  • 85 percent of the grain products we consume are not whole grain.5
  • Dark-green leafy vegetables comprise only three percent of our vegetable servings.5
  • Potatoes, including french-fries, potato chips or potato sticks, make up 1/3 of our total vegetable servings.5
  • Less than 50 percent of the population consumes just one serving of garden vegetables per day.9,10
  • Ninety-one percent of the U.S. population failed to meet the minimum USDA recommendation for fruit and vegetable consumption.9
  • Almost half (48 percent) of all Americans failed to consume even one serving of fruit per day.5

Even when children (and their parents) eat a superlative diet compared to most of North America, they can still come up short on important nutrients. “Fresh” produce has been shown to lose 50 to 70 percent of some nutrients before reaching grocery stores. Even worse, canned and frozen vegetables lose between 50 and 90 percent of some key nutrients. Some of those foods may be years old before they finally arrive at a family’s dinner table.

 

Storing and Processing Deplete Nutrients in Healthful Foods

Compounding the problems of Americans’ refusal to consume fruits and vegetables: the fact that storage and food processing take their toll on produce.

  • Spinach stored at room temperature loses 70 percent of its vitamin C content within just twenty-four hours after picking.11
  • Refrigerated spinach loses half of its vitamin C content in just two days.11
  • Broccoli and asparagus lose 35 to 50 percent of their vitamin C in cold storage before they get to the greengrocers.12
  • Cooking vegetables destroys another 30 percent of the vitamin C and up to 70 percent of the thiamin and 50 percent of the riboflavin.12
  • Canning vegetables destroys up to 77 percent of vitamin B5 and B6, while canned fruit juice loses up to 50 percent of its vitamin B5.13
  • Canning of tomatoes removes 80 percent of their zinc; spinach suffers losses of up to 81.7 percent of its manganese, 70.6 percent of its cobalt, and 40.1 percent of its zinc, compared to raw spinach.13
  • Freezing meat destroys up to 70 percent of the vitamin B5, and 50 to 70 percent of vitamin B6 is lost in processing luncheon meats.13,14

More recently, researchers have published similar studies indicating even greater nutrient losses.7-15,16  For example, canning vegetables creates losses of up to 90 percent of the vitamin content of some vegetables, and fruit doesn’t fare any better. Peaches lose from 40 percent to 70 percent of niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, and vitamins A and C during processing when compared to raw peaches.7 If the raw peaches are simply cooked and not processed further, they lose 80 percent of their naturally occurring niacin and 70 percent of their vitamin C.7

By and large, American adults don’t seem to be setting a very good example for their children. And although health education programs – as well as individual doctors in their one-on-one dealings with patients – have tried to move more people towards a truly good mixed diet, these programs have not been successful.

 

Sub-Clinical Deficiencies Are Common – And Significant – in American Children

Even in America, one of the best-fed nations on the planet, nutritional deficiencies are remarkably common. We have access to a virtually unlimited number of calories, but vitamins, minerals, accessory nutrients, and healthful fats are far harder to come by in our modern food supply.

Today, the association between nutritional deficiency and poor behavioral-test performance in children is well established. 17 Researchers have demonstrated lower standardized math scores among nutrient-deficient school-aged children and adolescents. 18

According to the Nutrition-Cognition Advisory Committee at Brandeis University: Even nutritional deficiencies of a relatively short term nature influence children’s behavior, ability to concentrate, and to perform complex tasks. Deficiencies in specific nutrients, such as iron, have an immediate effect on the ability to concentrate. Child hunger, defined by inadequate nutrient intake during the early years, is capable of producing progressive handicaps – impairments which can remain throughout life. This evidence suggests that under-nutrition costs far more than the diminished well-being of youngsters during childhood. By robbing children of their natural human potential, under-nutrition results in lost knowledge, brainpower and productivity for the nation. The longer and more severe the malnutrition, the greater the likely loss and the greater the cost to our country. 19

A key reference book popular with many nutritionally oriented physicians is Melvin Werbach, M.D.’s Nutritional Influences on Mental Illness: A Sourcebook of Clinical Research. Dr. Werbach is on the faculty of the UCLA School of Medicine. In his exhaustive textbook, he reviews the relationship between nutrition and brain function, writing that: [i]t is clear that nutrition can powerfully influence cognition emotion and behavior. It is also clear that the effects of classical nutritional deficiency diseases upon mental function constitute only a small part of a rapidly expanding list of interfaces between nutrition and the mind. 20

It has long been known that if a nutritional deficiency were discovered through lab testing or overt clinical symptoms affecting cognitive ability or mental health, correcting that deficiency would restore normal mental function. However, advances in the last two decades in the field of nutrition have considerably broadened protocols to include the treatment of sub-clinical deficiencies and nutrient needs that conventional laboratory tests do not discover.

 

U.S. Government Statistics on Children’s Health and Well-Being 21-23

  • Percentage of children in the U.S. who have limitations of activity due to chronic health conditions: 7%
  • Percentage of children in the U.S. who live in food-insecure households, meaning that their diet patterns are often disrupted, they may not get enough to eat, or they have low diet quality: 17 %percent
  • Percentage of children in the U.S. aged 6-17 who are overweight or obese: 18%
  • The number of children taking stimulant drugs for ADHD rose threefold between 1990 and 1995; over the past 15 years, the number of teens aged 15 to 19 who take ADHD medications rose 311 percent
  • Percentage of U.S. children with depression: 3%
  • Percentage of U.S. teens with depression: 8%
  • Percentage of U.S. children and teens who suffered from an anxiety disorder in a recent year: 13%

Author’s Note: My book Brighter Mind® explores the research that strongly suggests these and numerous other issues can be helped, and often remediated, by ensuring nutritional adequacy through supplementation.

Today, we know that implementing a nutritional supplement plan has remarkable benefits on mental function for both adults and children – even where no actual nutritional deficiency was previously shown to exist. There are references to this fact in virtually every modern book that discusses the relationship between nutrition and brain function. Dr. Werbach writes that “[e]ven in the absence of laboratory validation of nutritional deficiencies, numerous studies using rigorous scientific designs have demonstrated impressive benefits from nutritional supplementation.” 20

Conventional laboratory tests overlook the realm of sub-clinical nutrient deficiency, despite the sizeable body of research that supports its existence and its impact, and despite the fact that it is easily remedied through nutritional supplementation. Such tests only identify the very extreme end of the deficiency spectrum that directly relates to blatant illness – the obvious signs of “end-stage nutritional deficiency.” This means that a good percentage of the pediatric population does, in fact, suffer with nutritional deficiencies that affect brain function, but this information fails to show up on typical lab work and diagnostic tests.

So what can you do?  And will it actually make a difference?  In part 2 of this blog article, I explore the vast evidence that nutritional supplementation greatly benefits children as well discuss specific nutrients to consider adding to their daily diets.  I also lay out a simple three-step strategy that you can do to give your child a strong nutritional foundation for the rest of their life.

 

References

1. Giarrusso, Theresa Walsh. Eating 10 foods or less? How’s the variety of foods in your child’s diet? Thursday, July 12, 2007, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Accessed 7/18/07. http://www.ajc.com/health/content/sharedblogs/ajc/parenting/entries/2007/07/12/eating_10_foods.html

2. Mendoza, Martha. Nutrition education ineffective. USA Today, Associated Press. http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2007-07-04-fightingfat_N.htm. Accessed 7/18/07.

3. Block G. American kids’ poor food choices: Fewer than 15 percent eat recommended fruits and vegetables http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2002-05/pn-akp051602.php

4. Agriculture Fact Book: U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Communications. November 1998.

5. Cleveland LE, Cook AJ, Wilson JW, et al. Food Surveys Research Group, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Pyramid Servings Data: Results from USDA’s 1994 Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals, Pages 4, 11-14, Table Set 3, Page 12, 1997.

6. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005: Chapter 2 Adequate Nutrients Within Calorie Needs. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) publish dietary guidelines jointly every 5 years. http://www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines/

7. Prochaska LJ, Nguyen XT, Donat N, Piekutowski WV. Effects of food processing on the thermodynamic and nutritive value of foods: literature and database survey. Medical Hypotheses. 2000 Feb; 54(2):254-62.

8. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005: Finding your way to a healthier you. http://www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines/

9. BH Patterson, G Block, WF Rosenberger, D Pee and LL Kahle, Fruit and vegetables in the American diet: data from the NHANES II survey. American Journal of Public Health, Vol 80, Issue 12 1443-1449, 1990.

10. GL Blackburn, Improving the American diet, American Journal of Public Health, Mar 1992; 82: 465 – 466.

11. Senti FR. Chapter 4: Agricultural practices influencing vitamin-mineral content of foods and biological availability. Nutrients in Processed Foods, American Medical Association Council on Foods and Nutrition, Publishing Sciences Group, Acton, Mass. 1974. P.46.

12. Hein RE, Hutchings IJ. Chapter 5: Influence of processing on vitamin-mineral content and biological availability in processed foods. Nutrients in Processed Foods, American Medical Association Council on Foods and Nutrition, Publishing Sciences Group, Acton, Mass. 1974. Pages 64-66.

13. Schroeder HA, Losses of vitamins and trace minerals resulting from processing and preservation of foods. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 24: 562-563. May 1971.

14. Recommended Dietary Allowances 10th edition. The most authoritative source of information on nutrient allowances for healthy people. National Research Council. National Academy Press Washington, D.C. 1989.

15. Kimura M, Itokawa Y, Fujiwara M. Cooking losses of thiamin in food and its nutritional significance. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol 36 Suppl 1:S17-24, 1990.

16. Severi S, Bedogni G, Zoboli GP, et al. Effects of home-based food preparation practices on the micronutrient content of foods. Eur J Cancer Prev. Aug; 7(4):331-5, 1998.

17. Fairchild MW, Haas JD, Habicht JP. Iron deficiency and behavior: criteria for testing causality. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1989 Sep; 50(3 Suppl):566-74.

18. Halterman JS, et al. Iron Deficiency and Cognitive Achievement Among School-Aged Children and Adolescents in the United States, PEDIATRICS Vol. 107 No. 6 June 2001, pp. 1381-1386.

19. Brandeis University: Statement on the Link Between Nutrition and Cognitive Development in Children. Published in 1998. Internet: http://www.centeronhunger.org/cognitive.htmlAccessed 8/8/05

20. Werbach MR. Nutritional Influences on Mental Illness: A sourcebook of clinical research. Second Edition. Third Line Press, Inc. Tarzana, California. 1999.

21. National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. Focus on America’s Children. Last Accessed 7/19/07. http://www.nichd.nih.gov/news/resources/spotlight/071307_focus_americas_children.cfm

22. CDC: National Center for Health Statistics. Child Health. Last Accessed 7/19/07. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/children.htm

23. ChildStats.gov: Forum on Child and Family Statistics. America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2007. Last Accessed 7/19/07. http://childstats.gov/americaschildren/index.asp

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