alzheimers disease

180: Parents, Listen! What Sugar and Technology Are Doing To Your Kids; Treating ADHD And Sensory Challenges, Naturally – With Nicole Beurkens, PhD | Genius Life

Key Takeaways

  • We need a more integrated approach to neurodevelopmental disorders – the future of child psychology should include discussions about nutrition, sleep, screen time, movement, and stress level
  • There’s definitely been an increase in autism awareness but it’s undeniable that the increases we see are also related to other factors (e.g., fast pace life, chemical exposure in utero, processed foods, sedentary lifestyle, screen time, etc.)
  • It’s ok for your child to be bored!
  • The problem isn’t necessarily the amount of screen time alone; it’s that screen time is taking the place of developmentally valuable activities like bike riding, playing in the neighborhood, building blocks, etc.
  • “Sugar is one of the biggest levers we can pull when it comes to supporting kids physical and mental health.” – Dr. Nicole Beurkens
  • Nutrition tip: focus on what you can add in instead of what you should take away
  • It’s important for children to see parents modeling nutrition and physical activity
  • Proper hydration is critical for children – try making it fun! Use fun straws, freeze fruit to put in unsweetened sparkling water, and drink from fun water bottles
  • Physical activity and nutrition don’t have to be fancy or elaborate to be effective – keep it manageable for sustainability


Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD (@drbeurkens), is a clinical psychologist, nutritionist, and special education teacher. Dr. Beurkens has 20 years of experience supporting children, young adults, and families. She has specialized expertise in the evaluation and treatment of mood, behavior, and learning challenges.  

Dr. Beurkens is the author of Life Will Get Better: Simple Solutions for Parents of Children with Attention, Anxiety, Mood, and Behavior Challenges and host of ‎the podcast, The Better Behavior Show

In this episode, Max and Dr. Beurkens discuss the stigma around nutritional psychology, simple solutions to some difficult child behavioral issues, and whether rates of neurodevelopmental disorders are actually increasing.

Host: Max Lugavere (@maxlugavere)  


Intersection Of Nutrition, Psychology & Brain Health

  • Many children with neurodevelopmental challenges often have similar physiological symptoms as well – eczema, constipation, chronic ear infection, etc.
  • There’s a significant connection between physical health and mental health
  • We need a more integrated approach to understand the root of neurodevelopmental symptoms and action steps to address
  • Diet has an impact on the health and functioning of the brain
  • The brain and body are interconnected – it’s logical that our food has an impact on mood, brain development, brain health
  • The future of psychology should include nutrition, sleep, screen time, movement, stress level
  • Definition of treatment-resistant disorders: Children who have been placed on various medications, been through traditional counseling and treatment models – but still not seeing relief
  • In reality, treatment-resistant just means the clinician hasn’t found the root cause yet

Evolution In Rates Of Neurodevelopmental Disorders

  • There is no single causal link to increases in childhood neurodevelopmental disorders – but likely a mix of several factors
  • Likely contributors to increasing rates of neurodevelopmental disorders: the pace of life is faster, increased toxicity in the environment, nutrition density of food, chemical exposure in utero, screen time, sedentary lifestyle, high-stress levels
  • There has certainly been an increase in autism awareness
  • Rates of autism are currently 1 in 29 boys
  • Rates of learning disability, mood dysregulation, behavioral disorders are all on the rise

Technology & Child Development

  • The problem with technology is displacement: screen time is displacing the other important things that children should be doing such as riding their bike, pretend play, and even just being bored
  • It’s ok for your child to be bored! They need to experience coming up with something to do or taking in surroundings
  • We need to take some responsibility and understand the role of a parent is not to have our children be babysat by devices
  • We need to find a middle ground of learning how to use technology without letting it use us
  • Even games and apps that allow for more creativity are confining to the imagination
  • Some children now don’t know how to play with things that don’t have buttons or outside direction – e.g., blocks, boxes, dolls
  • “Sugar and devices are two of the biggest substances we know impact people – not just kids – but people in general and we’ve got a whole lot of kids running around with a whole lot of sugar addiction and a whole lot of device use.” – Dr. Nicole Beurkens

Nutrition: Sugar & Fats

  • Food corporations and advertisers are directly marketing to children
  • “Sugar is one of the biggest levers we can pull when it comes to supporting kids physical and mental health.” – Dr. Nicole Beurkens
  • Almost nothing is all good or all bad – including sugar
  • Artificial sweeteners do not have a place in a healthy diet; there are pros and cons to stevia but it is harm reduction
  • Taking something completely away inhibits the ability to understand how to temper intake and develop healthy relationships with food
  • Parents have to teach kids and talk about nutrition in order to grow up with a healthy, balanced way of eating and consuming food
  • It’s ok for parents to have candid conversations about their successes and failure with nutrition and openly discussing how food feels, i.e., “there were donuts at the office and they looked so good, I ate two and then felt sluggish in the afternoon”
  • The reality is that your children will have birthday parties in the classroom, sports events with snacks, and go to other people’s houses with different foods. Hence an open dialogue without chastising or lecturing is important
  • Turn advertisements into learning/teachable moments – talk about how your body responds to food, how it feels when we have too much, boundaries with unhealthy foods, and self-regulation  
  • The brain is made heavily of fats and needs good fats to thrive and develop
  • A lot of foods marketed as healthy are heavy in unhealthy fats but lacking in healthy fats
  • Good fats are helpful for children, especially those with behavioral disorders
  • Consider supplementing with good quality omega-3 fatty acid
  • We should be prescribing nutrition plans along with medications to ensure that absorption and benefits are maximized

The Kids Menu

  • It’s estimated that 58% of the American diet comes from processed foods
  • Somewhere along the way we decided that kids don’t need to eat the same foods as adults but modeling good nutrition is important
  • Most of the food marketed as healthy for children is ultra-processed and doesn’t give them the fuel they need
  • Without proper nutrition, of course, there’s going to be learning and developmental disorders
  • Nutrition isn’t the only factor involved but definitely needs to be considered
  • There are research models showing that we can improve the quality of foods served to children at school in a palatable way
  • The guidelines of the federal food program allow for high levels of sugar consumption
  • For many kids, school meals are the bulk of food intake for the day – this is likely related to high levels of learning and mood problems in lower-income communities
  • Bring kids in the kitchen with you: teach them how to use the blender, involve them in the preparation process
  • Research indicates children who spend time in the kitchen grow up with healthier relationships with food

Tackling Breakfast As A Parent & Low Hanging Fruit

  • Focus on protein first thing in the morning
  • Cereals with whole grains, low added sugars – pair with yogurt (full fat, no added sugar), sausage, eggs
  • Make protein balls with a healthy balance of fats and carbs
  • Do what is manageable – if you can find a protein shake, smoothie, bar – that meets healthy requirements, that’s fine! Don’t make it harder on yourself
  • An important message with nutrition: it doesn’t have to be complicated, fancy, or expensive
  • Tip to make food fun: throw a protein shake in a popsicle mold to make it nutritious but more fun
  • Parents project their own eating problems or difficulties onto their kids
  • Mild dehydration impacts attention, work capacity, grades – think about freezing fruit in unsweetened sparkling water, get crazy straws, pour in a fun water bottle


  • Focus on movement without labeling it as exercise
  • Set up structure as a family: prioritize movement, physical activity – then use the rest of the time as screen time
  • Teenagers struggling with anxiety or younger children with attention disorders all see improvement with exercise
  • We tend to make assumptions that parents won’t want to go through needing to think about nutrition and exercise so much – but clinicians need to change that mindset
  • Children need to see physical activity modeled whether it’s choosing the stairs over the elevator, taking a long walk, or going to the gym
  • Start small together and work up to longer activities – play on the beach, hike, bike, etc.
  • Resistance training can be extremely beneficial for children in terms of mood, anxiety, and sensory processing
    • Even start with carrying water jugs around the yard – again, it doesn’t have to be complicated

Parenting Today Is Tougher Than It Used To Be!

  • Parents today have to consider technology, increasing fast foods, and processed foods
  • We move infinitely faster today
  • The “you can have it all” movement has clear limitations that are tough to balance
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Notes By Maryann

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