When you’re dealing with an aggressive teenager, whether they eat a lot of tuna and spinach may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But more and more research shows that diet can make a big difference — and it’s one of the first things Stevenson, Waplak & Associates looks at when we start working with kids.
“Lifestyle is a big part of our screening process because improper childhood nutrition or sleep can have a huge impact on behaviour,” explained Jeffrey Waplak, Clinical Director for Stevenson, Waplak & Associates, Quinte Children’s Homes and Applewood Academy.
“Vitamin imbalance can be behind a variety of mental health issues: attention difficulties, hyperactivity, agitation, sadness, depression, anxiety.”
Omega-3s and vitamin D Boost Childhood Nutrition
Our bodies get vitamin D from direct sunshine or fortified foods; most Canadians don’t get enough in part because we’re too far north to get enough sun during fall and winter.
Most of us are also lacking a good dose of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (Omega-3s), which are essential for good mental and physical health.
Where can you find these missing nutrients?
- Vitamin D can be hard to find in natural foods, but fish like salmon, trout, tuna and sardines contain it. A lot of foods are also fortified with vitamin D, including milk; Health Canada recommends two cups of milk or fortified soy beverage every day for people over the age of two.
- Omega-3s can be found in a lot of foods like fish – tuna, salmon, and sardines are on this list, too – dark green vegetables, walnuts and fortified foods like eggs, bread and juice.
Getting these nutrients naturally through diet is the ideal method, but sometimes that’s not possible. In that case, there are also supplements.
A lot of adults appreciate a good cup of coffee, but for kids and teenagers caffeine can also cause problems – not only through coffee but through other foods that parents may not think about like pop or chocolate.
“Particularly with teens, caffeine intake is one of the first things we’ll zoom in on as part of the screening process,” said Waplak. “A lot of them drink coffee or energy drinks on a regular basis, which can cause agitation, depression or anxiety. Often, people who have emotional sensitivities are very sensitive to these stimulants. Reducing or eliminating them can often have a significant impact without further intervention like medications.”
Ask Your Doctor
If you’re concerned that your diet or that of a child or teenage in your care is out of balance, check in with your family physician or contact us. The information in this article is based on generalizations; there are numerous factors that can play a role in mental health, childhood nutrition and creating a healthy lifestyle.