Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is said to affect 3-10% of children worldwide, and is most prevalent amongst children below 7 years old. These children are usually unable to stay focused for periods of time, and when this is observed over a 6-month period, it becomes a concern that should be escalated to a psychiatrist.
Among the myriad of mental issues that begin to surface among preschoolers, about 1 in 150 local children are estimated to have some form of autism. An early sign is delayed learning development compared to normal kids.
A child’s poor diet might link to obesity from overconsumption of calories. This can result in health complications like diabetes and high blood pressure n addition to low self-esteem that will deter a child from socialising well.
Mealtime challenges occur about five times more frequently - through tantrums, extreme food selectivity and ritualistic eating behaviours - amongst special needs children.
How would diet affect a child’s mental well being? Can we prevent some long-term repercussions?
We know that a healthy lifestyle and diet help prevent diseases and improve quality of life. The US National Library of Medicine suggests that "leaky gut", which releases toxins from the intestines during digestion into blood, causes chemical imbalances that hinder normal function of the brain. The simple answer is that “the removal of these so-called toxins helps the children control their actions and emotions”. They recommend a clean diet with more fibre to move the bowels daily to get rid of impurities quickly, even suggesting a gluten-free diet for children with special needs.
Autism Speaks Inc. in the USA observed an overall low intake of calcium and protein in such children, which is essential for growth in mental development and bone health. Parents report that their children’s symptoms improve when milk protein and gluten is removed from their diet.
However, another study shows that long-term effects of gluten-free diets are insignificant in improving their mental health. Though it recommends excluding allergens from one’s diet as the main focus in preventing discomforts and inflammation that may exacerbate mental triggers.
While there is yet no substantial evidence that any special diet will have an effect on children with mental health issues, a balanced diet is recommended. My Healthy Plate is easy to visualise for meal planning for any child - ¼ plate of whole grains (carbs), ¼ plate of protein and healthy fats, ½ plate vegetables and fruits (fibre, essential vitamins and minerals).
Training each child to be less picky with their food begins when they start eating solids too, reducing their tendency towards non-nutritious foods. This applies to both normal and special needs children.
At David & Goliath Preschool, we continue to provide well-rounded meals daily for all children, and train them while they are young to appreciate all foods. Fruits and vegetables are available at every meal too, so they are exposed to a variety of nutritious foods. So start off your child right with our healthy way of eating at David & Goliath Preschool.