Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Making the Connection: Food and Behavior

As a population, we have a glaring blind spot when it comes to food. We don't want to know what's in it, where it comes from, or how it affects us. We just want to enjoy it. Or we want convenience.

Yes, the real food movement is growing. But in places where you might expect the greatest change, the progress is slower than molasses. It has always been baffling to me why schools are not the first ones to embrace positive dietary changes. I have not personally taught young children, only college, but I have heard many teachers lament the post-lunch hyperactivity or drag of their classes. At what point do we start to open our eyes and understand that what we eat affects not only our health but how we behave? And that the foods our children eat impact how well they can learn and how their actions are judged by their teachers and peers?

Although I am an avid fan of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, every episode shocks me. It's less startling to me to learn what's in our food and our schools, and more shocking to see the lack of interest from the school systems and administrators - and sometimes even the parents. My younger son's end of the year school picnic was last week and parents joined our little ones for some fun in park. Kids brought their own lunches from home and there we were at snack time with green Jell-o, goldfish crackers, and gummies. All packed from home. And to add fuel to the fire, this was a special needs program. While the children have many diagnoses, they are developmentally delayed, on the autism spectrum, and many have ADHD. Research has shown, time and again, the links between diet and learning, behavior or health impacts for sensitive people.

The Feingold Association, founded 35 years ago, is "dedicated to helping children and adults apply proven dietary techniques for better behavior, learning and health, and to generating public awareness of the potential role of foods and synthetic additives in behavior, learning and health problems." Their success has been remarkable on many levels, simply by teaching parents how to avoid food additives that may contribute to their child's ADHD, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, asthma, and more. Taking it a step further, Time Magazine published a story in 2010 showing that even minimal exposure to pesticides in foods can increase the odds of developing ADHD. While the study is not indicative of causation, there is good reason for additional research on organophosphates, which "are known to cause damage to the nerve connections in the brain — that's how they kill agricultural pests, after all. The chemical works by disrupting a specific neurotransmitter, acetylcholinesterase, a defect that has been implicated in children diagnosed with ADHD."

But we don't want to know. Our kids "only like" X, Y, and Z. Or we trust in the powers that be who are charged with making sure our food supply is safe. Dietary changes aren't always easy. But neither is hyperactivity or ADHD. Real food makes a real difference. We need to begin with the recognition of a connection and an acknowledgement of the challenge before us. But until we take that first step and break through our blind spots, we continue to create even more difficulties for ourselves and our families.

We are also honored to have Trudy Scott as a Workshop Speaker at our 2011 Natural Living Conference, a food and mood expert focusing on women's health. We hope you can join us!

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