By: Dr. Nate Balfanz, JJ-Premier Medical Care
Any pediatrician will tell you that a balanced diet rich in vitamins and nutrients is an essential component of your child’s developing physical health.
Research and clinical practice continue to demonstrate how our physical wellbeing has a significant impact on our mental wellbeing, and vice-versa. Thus, it should come as no surprise that researchers are now turning their interests towards better understanding how the food we put into our bodies has an influence, whether it be positive or negative, on the manner by which our mind functions. In my role as a child and family-focused practitioner here in Shanghai, I’m inspired by the number of parents I have met who are motivated to promote healthy lifestyle habits for their children. The research noted in the current article helps to highlight just to what extent diet and children’s mental health may be interrelated.
What the Research Tells Us
In October of 2014, the American Journal of Public Health published an article by Dr. Adrienne O’Neill and her colleagues reviewing 12 psychological studies focusing on the relationship between diet quality and the mental health status of children and adolescents. Initially, the results were mixed with regards to whether an unhealthy diet at a young age led to the development of mental health-related symptoms, or whether children with mental health-related symptoms consumed an excess amount of food as a form of self-medication. With that being said, the findings would also suggest that there is an inverse relationship between depressive disorders observed in children and diets high in folate, zinc, and magnesium, as well as an inverse relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and childhood-onset anxiety disorders. While we might question the strength of the association between these two sets of variables if it were found in a single research study, a meta-analysis review like the one conducted by Dr. O’Neill helps to support the likelihood that a vitamin-rich diet and optimal mental health go hand-in-hand.
Tips to Consider for a Mental Health-Conscious Diet
Monitor your child’s eating habits. The DSM-V notes that fluctuations in your child’s eating habits can sometimes be considered a symptom of a more significant mental health-related issue. In addition to the two major eating-related disorders of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, depressive and anxiety-related disorders will also often list fluctuations in eating habits as a common core symptom. If you begin to observe a noticeable shift in your child’s daily food intake, it may be worth considering a trip to the pediatrician and/or scheduling a consultation with a mental health professional.
Consider incorporating a vitamin supplement regimen into your child’s daily meal plan. While a more health-conscious diet alone cannot guarantee to safeguard your child from potentially developing a mental health-related disorder, a regular dose of either a multivitamin or nutrient-specific supplements with his or her morning breakfast may help to reduce the likelihood of developing anxiety or depressive symptoms.
Remember the importance of a family dinner. Most of life’s special moments— birthdays, marriages, graduations, etc. —are celebrated with a good meal. And while family dinners might seem like a thing of the past, this does not devalue the importance of gathering around the dinner table as a family and celebrating one another’s company. Family dinners have been linked to stimulating a child’s cognitive development, improve healthy eating habits, as well as reducing stress and enhancing a child’s emotional resiliency.