Ensuring that your child is receiving the right nutrition is essential for their mood, energy and school performance. Unfortunately, even in the UK, children are falling short of several key nutrients which can affect their mood and performance at school.
Read on for three key nutrients that are often lacking in our children’s diets, and ways in which you can improve your child’s wellbeing and performance in school by addressing any shortfalls.
Iron is essential for academic performance, as it delivers oxygen to the brain and helps the brain to transmit messages. Unfortunately 84% of children in the UK fail to reach the recommended intake for iron, with teenage girls having the lowest levels.
Iron levels in food are falling as a result of poor mineral levels in soil. A study of British nutrient data from 1930 to 1980, published in the British Food Journal, found that in 20 vegetables the average iron content had declined 22 percent.
Irons levels are certainly linked with performance at school. A study of more than 500 children found that children with low iron levels are more than twice as likely to score below average in maths tests. When deficient children were supplemented with iron they had better results in verbal and memory tests (1,2).
You can boost your child’s iron absorption by providing vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetables at every meal, and avoiding giving tea as a drink at mealtimes. Good sources of iron include meat, fish and lentils.
Iodine triggers brain development and helps brain cells to communicate with each other. As an essential brain nutrient, it is unsurprising that school children in iodine-deficient areas show poorer academic performance.
Iodine affects brain development even before birth, meaning that pregnant women should be particularly aware of their iodine status.
Again, school children in the UK have been found lacking in iodine. A recent study of more than 700 teenage girls found that more than 70% were iodine deficient.
In studies, iodine supplementation has been found to improve academic performance in school children. Children who are mildly deficient do better in intelligence tests after 6 months of supplementation (3).
While some countries use iodized salt to improve the population’s intake, the UK does not. In the UK, the best sources of iodine are mackerel, cod, haddock, salmon and kelp.
3. Omega 3
Omega-3 is needed for cell membranes, including those in the brain. Unfortunately, our children are again falling short of recommended levels. In fact, levels of omega-3 in children’s blood is ‘worringly low’ according to research at Oxford University. The optimum level of omega-3 in the blood is around 12%, whereas in the UK our children’s levels are below 3%.
Given that omega-3 levels are linked with reading ability, memory and behaviour, it is clear that this nutrient is essential for our children at school age (4).
If a child is not currently eating the recommended weekly portions of oily fish, it would be wise to consider an omega-3 supplement, especially as omega-3 supplementation has been found to improve behaviour, attention and literacy in school-age children (5).
1. Halterman JS, Kaczorowski JM, Aligne CA, et al. Iron deficiency and cognitive achievement among school-aged children and adolescents in the United States. Pediatrics June 2001:107(6), pp 1381-1386.
2. The Lancet 1996 Randomised study of cognitive effects of iron supplementation in non-anaemic iron-deficient adolescent girls. Dr Ann B Bruner, MD.
3. Iodine supplementation improves cognition in mildly iodine-deficient children. Rosie C Gordon, 2009 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
4. Low Blood Long Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids in UK Children Are Associated with Poor Cognitive Performance and Behavior: A Cross-Sectional Analysis from the DOLAB Study. Montgomery et al 2013. PLoS One. 8(9).
5. Omega-3 supplementation improves behaviour, attention and literacy in children with ADHD symptoms. – placebo controlled trial . J Atten Disord. 2013 Nov 8. [Epub ahead of print]