Foods for Thought

Changing your child's diet may be the key to helping him focus his attention more consistently.
Feb 06, 2013



Pediatrician Bill Sears, M.D., asks parents who suspect their child has attention deficit disorder (ADD) a simple question before making a diagnosis: What does he eat? According to Dr. Sears, author of The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood, a poor diet can contribute to behavioral and learning problems that often resemble ADD. He came up with the term "Nutritional Deficit Disorder" (NDD) to describe the condition. Here, Dr. Sears talks about NDD and dietary changes that can benefit all learners.

P&C: How did you first diagnose NDD?
Dr. Bill Sears:
A year ago a mother told me that her son's school thought he had ADD. I asked her what he had for breakfast, a midmorning snack, and lunch. I was very upset [by her response] and said spontaneously that he didn't have ADD, he had NDD. To make a point, I started using that term instead of telling parents to lay off junk food. Nutrition plays a big role in learning and behavior because the brain, above all organs, is affected by what you eat. If you put junk food in the child's brain, you get back junk behavior and junk learning.

P&C: What sort of changes in diet do you recommend for these children?
Dr. Sears:
Science tells us that children who start the day with a brainy breakfast — high in protein and good carbs, like yogurt and oatmeal — make higher grades, pay better attention, and are better behaved at school. I also put NDD kids on a diet high in four foods: wild salmon, spinach or any other greens, nuts, and blueberries — what I like to call "brain"-berries. Salmon is high in omega-3s, the building blocks of the brain. When you eat such healthy fats, your brain performs better. Smoothies are also a great way to get fruits high in vitamins and minerals into a child.

P&C: What other dietary changes do you suggest parents make for their kids?
Dr. Sears:
Institute the rule of twos: Eat twice as often, half as much, and chew twice as long. Also, avoid the three bad terms on labels: "high fructose corn syrup," "hydrogenated," and anything with a number, like red #40. These are easy ways to identify junk food. It's also important that kids exercise, because it releases the neural chemicals that enhance learning and behavior, making it a natural mood elevator or stabilizer.

P&C: Have you had much success with your method of treatment?
Dr. Sears:
Absolutely. The neat thing is, it's quick results. Parents will say within one week that the teacher tells them, "I don't know what you did, but Johnny's certainly paying better attention now." You can make changes on Friday and your child goes to school on Monday with a better brain. 

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