Nutrition & Anxiety in Kids by Jen Galland, Family Nutritionist

21st November, 2022

How can nutrition have an impact on anxiety and mood? 

I am a nutritionist with Beyond Self that works with kids and teens to address this health issue every day. 

For many people, what we eat, and the way we digest is not something we think about in relation to the way we feel. In fact, nutrition plays a major role in the building blocks of the hormones and body systems that act on our nervous system. 

Protein contains amino acids which are needed to make tryptophan and in-turn serotonin – our happy hormone, which when de-regulated can impact anxiety and mood. Often kids with anxiety are low in their level of protein, and often don’t have their first serve of protein until dinner. Weet-bix or cereal or toast for breakfast, vegemite sandwich and fruit for lunch, and then first protein with dinner. 

Additionally, anxiety in kids can go hand in hand with fussy eating, and limited breadth of food. This can in turn result in reduced breadth of our good bugs – or good microbiome in our guts. This low breadth in good gut microbiome can then exacerbate the anxiety or low mood as a healthy microbiome plays a role in mood via the gut/brain pathway. A lot of research is now going into discovering the various microbiome that can have positive effects on certain mood states. Widening a child’s food choices can positively increase their microbiome, which can enhance mood. 

Concentration and mood can also be affected by increased consumption of sugar and refined and white carbs. Blood glucose goes up with these foods, insulin kicks in to take the glucose out of the blood and this up and down all day, when white/sugary foods are eaten and can cause concentration and energy to go and down with it. A better solution is eating complex carbs and high fibre to elongate the glucose over the day. I explain to kids that “we are working towards a straight glucose line, rather than sharp glucose peaks and troughs.” 

Finally, kids’ lifestyles can affect the way they think and feel. If they stay in a high sympathetic nervous system (our fight and flight mechanism) all day due to anxiety, stress or perceived stress, then it’s difficult for their parasympathetic (rest and digest) system to kick-in, even as they sleep at night. Breathing exercises, soothing bed-time routines, yoga and stretching, walking in nature, getting off devices, and planned down-times all have a positive effect on allowing the nervous system to be balanced.

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