Brittany Darling may be an accredited nutritionist and herbalist with a qualification list as long as her arm, but don’t worry. She’s not here to judge. “I don’t want to be the new lunch box police”, she says, “but the quality of the foods we consume can impact our stress levels and mood.” No need to tell me twice – with our household’s lockdown diet spiralling into a rotation of weekly treat deliveries (‘I’m supporting local business!’ I tell myself), I’ve been hitting the 3pm sugar crash hard...
Brittany takes nutrition seriously because she’s witnessed its power first hand. In 2017, she decided to seek support for some health and developmental issues her son was experiencing. “We identified some nutrient deficiencies that needed correcting”, she recalls, but “what I found was there weren’t many ‘child friendly’ supplements with decent dosages available. Basically, it was adult products in the form of tablets or kids’ gummy vitamins, which are more gummy lollies than vitamins. What I used to do is grind up the adult supplements, adjust the dose for his weight and then make my own homemade gummies.” Seeing a very much-needed gap in the market, Brittany founded I’m Nutrients, her own brand of supplements. “It has been blood, sweat and tears but every day I get emails and messages about how I’m Nutrients has been game-changing for so many families, so it makes it all worthwhile.”
So, while many of us in lockdown are using snacks as babysitters and dessert as a reward for concentrating for 5 minutes (guilty as charged), Brittany has shared with us some simple steps we can all take to up the family nutrient count, and bring down the stress levels. No hand-grinding required.
Here’s Brittany’s guide to supplements, picky eaters, and how to eat your way out of stress (no, not with a tub of ice cream).
Go to www.imnutrients.com
Right now, it’s a really stressful and confusing time for children. What role does food play in keeping kids’ stress levels even right now….
The last time we spoke, the stat I gave you was 1 in 7 children in Australia had a mental health disorder. Today, during the pandemic and lockdown, we estimate (based on surveys undertaken in the second wave lockdown) approximately 1 in 4 children are experiencing higher than average levels of anxiety. I keep seeing stats in the news and on social media being shared about self-harm, suicide, depression and anxiety in children and adolescence. It’s obvious that kids (and parents) are under a lot of stress right now. I feel like addressing these issues require a multifaceted approach and improving nutrition is an accessible and achievable step.
I think there are two key roles food can play. Firstly, mealtimes create structure in the day, which we know is so important for mental health during lockdowns. Mealtimes are one of the few social opportunities we have right now. It’s a time a family can come together to enjoy food and socialise, without the distraction of Zooms, homeschooling and the endless pile of laundry. Secondly, the quality of food really does matter. Surveys undertaken during Australia’s first lockdown showed changes in diets of our children, with an increase in chips, soft drinks, and the number of meals, as well as a decrease in fruit and vegetable consumption. I don’t want to be the new lunch box police but the quality of the foods we consume can impact our stress levels and mood. This is because whole foods (like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes) contain essential nutrients like magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins to regulate our nervous system and are even involved in the synthesis is neurotransmitters like serotonin (our happy hormones). These foods also feed a health gut microbiome, which recent research has highlighted the connection between gut and brain as the missing link for many disorders like anxiety, and depression.
What are some healthy, easy habits we can develop for our children?
Sitting down to eat is really important. When we are eating on the run or at our desk, we are in a fight or flight state. What we really need for optimal digestion is to have our nervous system in a “rest and digest state”. The other piece of advice I frequently give to parents is keep as much variety in your children’s diet and try not to fall into the trap of “kids meals”. If your child rejects or doesn’t like a food, don’t give up. Keep exposing them to it. It can take up to 30 exposures for a child to even try a new food.
A question so many parents ask themselves is, does food affect behaviour – what is the answer?
I feel like we’ve all probably experienced how food can affect behaviour firsthand. A red drink or too much sugar will send most kids (and adults) crazy! There is a whole list of “numbers” which you will find on food labels that are linked with behavioural issues and even ADHD. It’s not just sugar; it also things like additives, preservatives, food colourings and flavour enhancers that are stimulants and can impact behaviour.
“ Today, during the pandemic and lockdown, we estimate (based on surveys undertaken in the second wave lockdown) approximately 1 in 4 children are experiencing higher than average levels of anxiety ”
Take us back to 2017 when as a mum and nutritionist you were looking to find the perfect nutrient combinations for your children’s needs…
We were working through some health and development issues for one of my kids. We identified some nutrient deficiencies that needed correcting and wanted to give them a few more things to support with optimal functioning. What I found was there weren’t many “child-friendly” supplements with decent dosages available. Basically, it was adult products in the form of tablets or kids’ gummy vitamins, which are more gummy lollies than vitamins. What I used to do is grind up the adult supplements, adjust the dose for his weight and then make my own homemade gummies. This was all very time consuming and eventually, I thought, why don’t I make my own children’s vitamins! It has been blood, sweat and tears but every day I get emails and messages about how I’m Nutrients has been game-changing for so many families, so it makes it all worthwhile.
Talk us through additives like sugars, artificial flavours and sweeteners and excipients that are in many vitamins?
It’s very shocking that something that is designed for kids and supposed to be “healthy” contains so many awful ingredients. I was very shocked when I looked further into the ingredients and even contacted the companies asking for them to disclose this information (perks of being a nutritionist I guess). THEY DON’T LIST THE BAD STUFF ON THE LABEL!!! Things like artificial sweeteners, colours, flavours and sugar. So that hyperactivity and behavioural stuff I was talking about earlier – yep all those “numbers” are in many children vitamins.
Talk us through the inspiration behind your first product for i’m nutrients Calm Mind?
Calm Mind was formulated to support emotional wellbeing, calm the mind and relieve mild anxiety and stress in children. The inspiration came from my son. We really had hit a wall and deep down I knew something like this could help him. I literally started i’m nutrients for him!
How have you formulated Calm Mind and why? For example, why have you included saffron?
The start ingredient in Calm Mind is Saffron. In the last 20 years, nearly 30 clinical trials have investigated the efficacy and safety of saffron for improving mood in depressed and anxious patients.
The results of many clinical trials have been outstanding. One study found that youth with mild-to-moderate depression and anxiety noticed a significant improvement in their symptoms after supplementing with affron® (a saffron extract) for eight weeks. Another concluded that “affron® increased mood, reduced anxiety and managed stress without side effects, offering a natural alternative to standard treatments.”
I’ve also added a complex of essential minerals and vitamins with the specific focus to nourish the nervous system. Zinc maintains and supports brain function and Magnesium supports muscle relaxation and function (I feel like we all love a bit of magnesium!). Vitamin B6 assists in the synthesis of neurotransmitters. Vitamin B6 and B12 supports nervous system health and function.
Can you talk through the benefits of magnesium and how it can influence behaviour in children?
Magnesium is essential for sufficient brain energy, plays an important role in central nervous system communication, and is crucial for serotonin production. Numerous studies have shown that magnesium deficiency is common in children with hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention, or diagnosed ADHD.
I always liken magnesium to the fuel in a car. The longer the car ride (or the more active and stressed), the more you need. I find many of my clients aren’t getting enough magnesium from food alone. Our lifestyles (and our kids) are just too “busy”.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include;
Reduced cognitive ability and processes
Reduced attention span
A lack of concentration
Can you explain what activated B vitamins are?
Certainly not to be confused with activated nuts! Activated vitamins are vitamins in their most active form, meaning that they are more bioavailable for immediate absorption into your system. When vitamins are taken in their inactive form, they must be activated by the liver and/or kidneys before the body can absorb and utilise them.
On the i’m nutrients blog, you write about how to improve attention, focus, and memory in children – what are the most effective ways to do this? This will be especially handy for parents’ homeschooling right now…
It’s important to know that micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) can impact your child’s ability to concentrate and learn. Many parents think that their child is just difficult or uninterested in their schoolwork but from my clinical experience, nutrients deficiencies are common. Why? Because our food and soil supply are getting increasingly more deplete of nutrients (especially minerals), our kids are fussier than ever, and digestive issues can play a role too. The nutrients deficiencies that I find help children with attention, focus and memory issues are mostly iron, zinc and magnesium.
Sufficient iron intake in school-aged children is essential for optimal cognitive functioning, including memory and attention. Several studies have demonstrated that supplementation in anaemic school children increases IQ and improves cognitive performance.
Zinc is one of the most important micronutrients for humans, and a deficiency of zinc during school years can be harmful to children’s growth, immune system and cognitive function. Zinc deficiency may also alter attention, memory, emotional behaviour, language skills, intelligence, and the ability to learn.
Zinc supplementation has been shown to increase cognitive ability in school-aged children, thereby positively influencing academic performance. Signs of magnesium insufficiency include reduced cognitive ability and processes reduced attention span and lack of concentration. Numerous studies have shown that magnesium deficiency is common in children with hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention, or diagnosed ADHD.
What vitamins/self-care rituals did you take/put in place to get through this time of lockdown and covid? What advice would you give to mothers who are exhausted?
I’m also taking a saffron supplement! I usually don’t take many supplements, but the mental load of work, homeschooling, cooking, cleaning, etc. has been intense. I haven’t been spending a lot of time outdoors, so I’m also taking a vitamin D supplement. Most people think vitamin D is just for bones, but it also plays a really important role in the immune system and improving mood.
I do daily walks. My goal is 5 km but this doesn’t always happen. Pilates has been my go-to. I feel like I need to posture correction from sitting down so much and I feel like it doesn’t demand too much of my nervous system. Gosh, I miss my spin classes though.
I go to bed early, like really early! I usually go to bed shortly after putting the kids to sleep at 7.30 pm. I then wake up around 5-6 am to get in a good hour of work emails. I think if I didn’t go to bed so early, I’d run the risk of polishing off a bottle of wine!
Advice for exhausted mothers? Go easy on yourself. Keep it simple. Focus on nourishing yourself, moving daily, and getting enough sunshine and sleep.
Vitamins and minerals can only be of assistance if dietary intake is inadequate.