Okay I have a confession to make. I never placed much weight on the connection between food and behavior. That was until I had my second child. Within hours of consuming sugar he looked like… Well, do you remember the original Exorcist with Linda Blair… you get the picture.
The fact is – what we eat can impact our mood and there is growing research out there to support this belief.
In the throes of parenting an anxious child – most parents are open to almost anything if it means their child will get a reprieve from their anxiety. I am definitely in that camp! So, I have explored the latest and greatest nutritional advice out there to give you a quick, simplistic lowdown on what to feed your anxious child.
(I doubt I need to point out the obvious but – I am not a medical doctor or a nutritionist. Please consult with your doctor if you have questions about your child’s diet).
LET’S TALK ABOUT WHAT TO AVOID FIRST…
CAFFEINE. Just don’t. If you have anxiety you need no further explanation. If you don’t have anxiety – just picture this – when you are an anxious child you already feel like you’ve had ten cups of coffee. Your heart races, you feel jittery and you are hypersensitive to everything around you. No need to add to that my friend.
SUGAR. Your bittersweet enemy. No, your child cannot have their cake and eat it too. Not without some serious emotional turbulence. For some further reasons why you might want to hide the sugar – read Dr. David Sack’s article on 4 Ways Sugar can Be Harming your Mental Health or just visit my house on Halloween.
OKAY, ON TO THE DO’S…
PROTEIN IN THE MORNING
According to Daniel Flavin, MD you should feed your child protein in the morning. This will keep your child’s blood sugar steady throughout the day. If any of you have low blood sugar this will make sense to you. Having a dip in your blood sugar feels very similar to a panic attack. Anxious children are keenly sensitive to any physiological changes in their body – and having your blood sugar plummet like a rollercoaster – isn’t going to do much for their anxiety.
Dr. Flavin also states that complex carbs are thought to increase Serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is one of the key players controlling our mood. So load up the:
Oatmeal, rice, whole grain bread, pasta and fruits and vegetables. You get the point. Here is a comprehensive list of complex carbs.
PROBIOTICS/GET YOUR PICKLE ON!
There is exciting new research that has shown a connection between the brain and our gut bacteria. To keep a healthy gut they recommend eating probiotic foods. For a summary on the research you can read, The Surprising Link Between Gut Bacteria And Anxiety.
This research is so exciting because it gives me a reason to eat fermented food (Yes! That is a probiotic food) – and feel good about it. My husband frowns upon my weekly obsession to find and devour any and all things pickled. And now I can tell him, I am doing it for my mental health – and I won’t be lying! For a list of probiotic foods click here.
In the article 5 Supplements to Help Childhood Anxiety, Jennifer Owens outlines what supplements can help our children with their anxiety.
According to Jennifer Owens, there is research to support the benefit of Magnesium on anxiety. Foods high in magnesium include pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
OMEGA THREE FATTY ACIDS
It seems like you can’t read anything these days without hearing about the benefits of omega three fatty acids. Unfortunately flaxseeds, cod and salmon aren’t exactly favorites for kids. But, here are some foods that might be palatable for those pickier eaters:
Walnuts, edamame and soybeans.
VITAMIN D AND B COMPLEX
In the article 8 Nutrients to Beat Anxiety, they talk about how new research has just come out showing the benefits of Vitamin D and Vitamin B on stress and anxiety. A good source of vitamin D can be found in eggs and through exposure to the sun. Some Vitamin B foods include turkey, potatoes and bananas.
So go have your breakfast on the patio – and kill two birds with one stone!
So to sum it up – avoid caffeine and sugar as much as possible.
Give your child protein – especially in the morning, to keep their sugar level steady.
Examples of foods that can help anxiety include oatmeal, bread, pasta, fruits, vegetables, walnuts, soybeans, edamame, sunflower seeds, potatoes, turkey, bananas and eggs – just to mention a few (that might be a bit more palatable for picky eaters).
Don’t forget the pickles and any and all fermented foods.
Sprinkle a little sunshine on the whole thing and hopefully your anxious child will be feeling the benefits of an anxiety-friendly diet.
Has changing your child’s diet helped anxiety? I would love to hear what helps and what doesn’t for you! Share with us in the comments below!
Do you know an anxious teen? Give them the only self-help book teens are likely to read:
For more in-depth support check out my course: 🌸 How to Teach Your Kids to Crush Anxiety