Health & Wellness

Nutritionally Speaking: Got Cognitive Function?

During Aug. I regularly schedule coaching sessions or have conversions on the sales floor with parents concerned about their children’s return to school after summer break. Many bright students struggle with maintaining focus on their school assignments, and may be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Many parents express concern when the school suggests their child be medicated and often seek an alternative approach. I had some of these challenges during my childhood, though never diagnosed.
Studies show that children diagnosed with ADHD typically have diets high in sugar (mine was), low in protein, and are also deficient in EFA’s (essential fatty acids), particularly Omega 3 fats as found in flax, chia and hemp seed, as well as cold water fish oils, pasture raised chicken eggs and meat. While the typical Standard American Diet (SAD) is high in Omega 6 – fats found in corn, canola, margarine and other vegetable (salad) oils – most people are missing the Omega 3 oils, which play an important role in brain and nerve tissue development and maintenance. In Paleolithic times we had a 1:1 ratio of omega 6 fats to omega 3 fats, but these days it is common to have a 40:1 ratio…with less than optimal results.
These omega fats are described as ”essential” because we cannot make them in our bodies and they must be part of our diet. One of the healthy sources of Omega 3 is Flax seed oil, available in stores that carry dietary supplements. Flax seeds can be ground and added to smoothies or salads, and whole chia seeds can be added to smoothies and other beverages or used in healthy (pudding) desserts. Hemp seeds are another healthy option, with each seed packed with healthy oils, fiber and protein to boot. Hemp seeds are one of my favorite salad toppings. The omega 3 fats support healthy levels of inflammation, and conversely the omega 6 fats and sugar that are plentiful in poorly balanced diets contribute to inflammation, which directly impacts cognitive function.
Protein is important as the amino acids that are the building blocks of protein are important for brain function and the production and regulation of the brain’s chemicals. According to a George Washington University School of Medicine study: When hyperactive children being studied had a high protein meal, they performed as well or better than non-Hyperactive children in a control group. At Oxford University, a study evaluated the effects of essential fatty acid supplementation on children diagnosed with ADHD. The children taking the EFA (omega-3) supplements showed significant improvement as compared to the control group receiving a placebo.
ADHD is the most common behavioral disorder in children, often treated with stimulant drugs such as Ritalin. Studies show that children with ADHD that are treated with Ritalin, and without any dietary changes, such as limiting sugar intake, and increasing protein and EFA intake are still at high risk for problem behaviors.
In a number of studies discussed in a publication of the Huntington College of Health Sciences, Phosphatidylserine (PS) is discussed an important nutrient for to support behavior and cognition. They suggest that ”PS is quite literally a brain nutrient. As a matter of fact, this phospholipid is an integral component in the structure of the brain and spinal cord, and is active at cell membranes (including synaptic membrane zones). A significant amount of published clinical research has demonstrated that PS supplementation supports various cognitive parameters in children, including those with ADHD.” Studies they site said with intakes of ”200-300mg per day of PS for up to four months, attention and learning were most consistently improved.”
While we see benefits of including more Omega 3 fats, healthy protein and PS, we need to look a bit closer at what our children are eating, especially at breakfast. Many children start their days with a sugary high carbohydrate bowl of cereal, and would probably perform better in school if their days started out with some healthy proteins and fats. Studies show that once the sweet tooth is ”switched” on with that first bowl of sweet cereal, the tone is set for the day. Some better choices for breakfast are scrambled eggs, or whole grain bread with peanut or nut butter. Another option is a yogurt and fruit smoothie with whey protein powder and flax oil, flax seeds, chia and/or hemp seeds added.
Studies show that it may take 10 to 12 weeks of improved nutrition including healthy proteins and fats to see improvement of ADHD symptoms for anyone, at any age. This change could be a great ”New (school) Year’s” resolution for the whole family. I have found that with reduced sugar in the diet, the cravings diminish, especially when the day is not started with sugary cereals, pancakes or doughnuts. For more information about this topic, or to schedule a (always) free coaching session, contact me at the store.
At Natural Grocers in Eugene, where I am the store’s Nutritional Health Coach, we offer free classes that include plenty of information about healthy eating choices, and free one-on-one health coaching sessions (call 541-345-3300). Please ”like” our Natural Grocers-Eugene Facebook page. Find our store’s schedule of free classes at:



View this profile on Instagram


The Chronicle (@thechronicle1909) • Instagram photos and videos