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How Children’s Diets Affect Their Mental Health

 A child’s nutrition is no game and as parents, we must pay close attention to this issue. However, many parents focus only on physical and bodily development and few consider the effect of nutrition on the child's mental and emotional health.

 

Does the food a child puts into his or her mouth not play a role here? A fascinating new study, recently published in the BMC Journal of Public Health, addresses this issue – so take the time to read the findings we’ve summarized here as they can be especially significant for your child's normal development in the broadest sense.

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Method of study

The study involved more than 7,000 European children aged 2-9. The researchers looked at their dietary habits and checked whether they were following some eating instructions, such as limiting the amount of sugar they consumed, as well as eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains daily, and eating fish about 2-3 times a week. In addition, the researchers examined 4 different components of children's lives that indicate their general lifestyle and mental health in particular: their self-confidence, their relationship with their parents, and the existence of various emotional and social problems.

The researchers conducted two evaluations of the children being examined, with the second being conducted two years after the first. The results of the two tests were fairly clear: the children who took a healthier nutritional approach during those two years were characterized by better mental and emotional health - they had higher self-confidence and fewer emotional and social problems, regardless of their weight or their parent’s economic status. These findings were proven to be correct even when the observation was reversed: children who were found to have high self-confidence on the first test tended to prefer healthy foods and took a more correct nutritional approach during the two years between tests.

Moreover, a healthy relationship between the children and their parents played an important role in ensuring a healthy diet and called for eating fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, when few emotional problems were associated with low-fat consumption and a small number of social problems were associated with regular and frequent consumption of vegetables and fruits.

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Why does proper nutrition have such an effect on our children's mental health?

You probably asking yourself now, why does this happen, why is a healthy and balanced diet so vital not only for a child's physical health but also for his or her mental health? The researchers have a number of hypotheses on the matter. One of them indicates that a healthy diet, including the frequent consumption of fish, vegetables, fruits and whole grains, contributes to the child's general health and affects many factors in their life, such as oral health and sleep quality, thus promoting their mental and emotional well-being. Another hypothesis is that a healthy diet helps children cope better with stress and challenges. Children with good mental health don’t tend to use "compulsive eating" or unhealthy food as a coping mechanism and find better ways to treat themselves and cope with their problems.

The researchers emphasize that this study did not find a cause-and-effect relationship between good nutrition and emotional well-being, but there is certainly a clear correlation between what children put into their mouths and how they feel and behave. Therefore, you should not underestimate the value of healthy nutrition for the well-being of children, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

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Nutrition recommendations that will help ensure the physical and mental health of children

Now that you understand the great importance of healthy nutrition not only for the physical health of your children but also for their mental well-being, you should also know what to feed them to strengthen both. These are the nutritional recommendations of the American Dietetic Association for 4-8-year-olds, and as the present study has clearly shown, its benefits are evident:
 
  • Fruits - 1-1.5 cups a day
  • Vegetables - 1.5 cups a day
  • Whole grains - At least half the amount of grains a child consumes a day should be made up of whole grains.
  • Fish - two fish dishes a week at the very least.
  • Sugar - Make sure that the child does not consume foods containing more than 28-32 grams (about 7-8 teaspoons) of sugar a day.
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