Sunday, March 27, 2011

Nutritional cooking expert Matthew Ballenden on ADD, nutrition and your child.

Matthew Ballenden is a good friend of The ADD Lab. So when it came time to choose a featured author for the month of March, I jumped at the chance to ask him to do a piece on ADD and nutrition. He owns a marvellous fresh foods store in Greenside called Fresh Earth and as you’ll soon see, he is absolutely passionate about health and nutrition. Enjoy the read - Mitzi

It baffles me why proper nutrition is not taught in schools and I am astounded at how little the average person knows about the nutritional value of the food they regularly put into their mouth. I am convinced that today’s understanding of nutrition comes from clever marketing and the side of a cereal box which of course only supplies one with the bare minimum facts and half-truths. Surely we are setting ourselves up for nutritional failure? And in fact we are already seeing the signs, more heart disease than ever, more ADD diagnosis than ever, and more obesity than ever.

How can this be? There has never been a more intelligent species on this earth (that I know of) and yet we are slowly poisoning ourselves with over processed, de-natured, genetically modified, over flavoured, dead food. Over the years we have lost touch with the importance and the roll food plays in who we are physically and spiritually and unless we reconnect we will continue to create a perfect plate form for dis – ease and illness to flourish.

It starts with our children, lead of course by balanced parents and it does not have to be complicated or over ‘scientifified’ in fact it is so simple that most newcomers to healthy eating find it hard to accept. Three principals:

1.    Keep all food as close to nature as possible. This is food that has not been through any manufacturing or processing, unless in your home kitchen.
2.    Stay away from denatured foods, these are foods that have be tampered with so severely so that they can last on a shelf for one year without it going off. Your body finds these foods very difficult to digest and often does not recognise some of the ingredients and thus triggers an immune response.
3.    We are designed to eat predominately raw plant based foods with very little cooked foods; our body thrives on food that has all its natural nutrients, minerals, enzymes and life force intact.

The nutritional challenge we face today is that food coming off farms and grocery stores have nearly 30% less nutritious than 50 years ago. This is mainly due to over farming, bad farming practises, over processing and soil that is depleted of its minerals and other nutrients. Chickens and cattle are fed foods that are also without the required nutrients. Ideally they should be roaming the fields and eating all sorts of grasses and insects but nowadays they are locked up and fed food to speed up their growth. This is against the laws of nature and we are feeling the effects throughout society.

Our body uses the food we eat it to recreate itself every day and in fact over about seven months our body would have recreated its liver at least once, cells are dying and cells are being created all the time and your body uses the food you put in your mouth to recreate itself. This is why it is of absolute paramount importance to be conscious about what one puts into your mouth. Eating is not solely for pleasure and flavour but most importantly to nourish our body for it to perform the functions it needs to like immune defence, concentration, brain function etc. It’s a ‘no brainer’ - You are what you eat.

Prioritising good nutritional habits are essential to healthy children and families. Parents who don’t have time to cook or pack appropriate lunch boxed have their priorities mixed up. What can be more important than investing in your family’s health and future health? Having a sick child in the family ends up costing more money and time than it would have taken to shop properly and cook proper food. There is no shortcut! Eating healthily is a lifestyle that has huge benefits and ultimately leads to greater benefits.

The key to a great lunch box for all children and ADD children is preparation. Make sure that weekly or monthly you have shopped properly and you have all the right ingredients on hand in the morning. Lunch boxes should contain a low GI sandwich, no white bread. It has to be low GI so it is digested slowly and thus converted to blood glucose slowly. Gluten free bread is also an option but make sure it is low GI. On the sandwich can be goat’s cheddar with marmite or chutney. Add fruit, even if it is unpreserved dried fruit like dried mangoes. I always add a handful of raw cashew and almond nuts to the box; they must be raw and have no salt added. Nuts are full of protein and essential fatty acids which are great for concentration and stabilising blood sugar. Once a week I will add organic yoghurt to the lunch box, flavoured yoghurts have added refined sugar which is what we are trying to stay away from. To drink – its water and nothing else. Juice is a treat for when we go out to a party or dinner.

Most natural foods can, believe it or not, be purchased at your local supermarket; the retailers are stocking more and more natural and organic foods. It really about reading labels and sticking to the principles I have mentioned.

Changing your family’s bad habits is the biggest challenge, once you have given in to junk and fizzy cool drinks it is difficult to change. But it is definitely possible, it starts with the parents. Parents lead by example so if your children are not allowed fizzy cool drinks then the parents also don’t have fizzy cool drinks. Make it a family affair where everyone buys into the change. Start slowly, identify the worst habits and slowly change them (three a month). If you go too radical all you will succeed in doing is creating resistance to change. Swop the coke with a healthier fruit juice that everyone likes and slowly work your way through the fridge and pantry. Your changes need to be do-able and sustainable; this is a life style change not a ‘health fad’. Educate your children why you are making the changes, read up on what coke does to your body and teach your children. Be persistent and have endurance, it’s worth it. One of the best foundations you can give your child is a solid understanding of what food is and how it plays out in our body; they will then teach their children and so on. Hopefully we will then reverse the slow poisoning of our families.

Food is pivotal to our existence both socially and physically. There is room for almost anything and I am believer in balance with awareness being fundamental to eating properly. If you are aware of what you are eating you can take responsibility for your health, ignorance is potentially dangerous when it comes to food. Don’t trust large produces; make sure you understand what every ingredient is on the label and how it metabolises in our bodies. Have fun making food; don’t make healthy eating a negative boring and bland experience. Your attitude towards your food will manifest in the food, make sure you love what you are doing and enjoying the journey - Matthew Ballenden

Monday, March 21, 2011

Can lack of sleep be mistaken for ADD?

A good night’s sleep should be declared a basic human right. Research is growing nearer to establishing the purpose of sleep. For example, Robert Stickgold (1998), reviewing studies on sleep and memory, points out that among rats, sleep deprivation prevents memory formation.
What prompted me to write this article on sleep, is the fact that we seem to see a fair amount of children who seem to have a majority of Delta Amplitude (Sleep Waves) even when they’re awake. These are children who have mostly already been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Diso.rder, but have not shown a positive response to various medications. Mostly when these parents are asked whether the children are sleeping, they reply that they have not had specific difficulties. However, when one starts investigating, often one or more of the following facts are reported about their sleep:
  • Struggling to fall asleep
  • Struggling to wake up
  • Awakening during the evening because of various reasons of which going to the bathroom seems to be the most common one
  • Restless sleep with continuous tossing and turning
  • Complaints of discomfort in their legs (painful at times and the continuous urge to move them – a condition called restless legs)
  • Nightmares and night terrors
  • Easily awakened by various sensory stimuli and many more
How then can disturbance in sleep have such an effect that some children are diagnosed with ADD and learning problems? Lets take a closer look at sleep.
Infants average 14 hours of sleep, and the mature ad.ult 7.5 hours. However studies show that the length of sleep is not what causes us to be refreshed when we wake up.
The key factor is the number of complete sleep cycles we enjoy. Each sleep cycle contains five distinct phases, which exhibit different brainwave patterns:

Pre-sleep: beta waves or normal alertness
Phase 1 sleep: alpha waves, the mind at rest, eyes closed, breathing slowed, images beginning to appear
Phase 2 sleep: theta waves, or light sleep
Phase 3 sleep: delta waves, or deep sleep
Phase 4 sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, or dreaming
Phase 5 sleep: theta waves, or light sleep, signaling the end of a cycle.

Average sleep cycle = 90 minutes

Non-RE M = 65 minutes “Normal sleep”
REM = 20 minutes “Dream”
Non-REM = 5 minutes “Normal sleep”

So if we were to sleep completely naturally, with no alarm clocks or other sleep disturbances, we would wake up after a multiple of 90 minutes.  In essence a person who completes more sleep cycles in less hours, will feel more rested than someone who has slept more hours but has not been able to complete any one cycle due to interruptions.

Cornell University professor of psychology James B. Maas (Power Sleep, 1998) says sleeping less than a normal night’s sleep, negatively affects energy, performance, memory, learning, thinking, alertness, productivity, creativity, safety, health, longevity and quality of life. He also stresses the importance of REM sleep. Without REM we lose what we have learned that day. Through a burst of brainwave activity during REM sleep, experience is transformed into long-term memory.

These bursts of brainwave activity serve:
(1) to transport memories to the hippocampus (part of the brain where memory is stored), and
(2) to resupply one’s system with neurotransmitters (the chemical that aids the brain in sending signals/messages) used up during the previous day.
Without this, memories simply dissolve. So if you spe.nd time drilling your child to remember his spelling and he does not have a good night’s sleep, it will be in vain and could lead to the development of poor self esteem and even a tag of a learning difficulty.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Our new website it is up!

Head over to and check out our brand new shiny website. While you're there, don't forget to sign up for our newsletter which will also be launching this month. March at The ADD Lab is all about ADD and sleep. So don't miss it!