Food & Diet
7 Brain Foods for Kids
Dietary factors have long been suspected of having influence over brain development, especially in infants and children. Even in adults, new research indicates that certain types of food can help you stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s. There is overwhelming evidence that diet can help shape a child’s brain and prevent behavioral problems. To ensure optimum brain function and development in your toddler, here are some types of food you might consider integrating into your family’s diet.
1. WHOLE GRAIN
Whole grain bread and pastries are a great source of energy for your children. Despite providing a rich source of carbohydrates, whole grain products are typically pretty low on the glycemic index. The fiber that comes with the carbohydrates is said to regulate the release of sugar into the bloodstream. This prevents “sugar rushes” in our little tots. The grains themselves are also a great source of vitamin B – vitamins that are crucial in neurotransmitter synthesis.
2. FATTY FISH
Sixty percent of the dry weight of the brain is fat. This is not a license to eat whatever kind of fatty foods we find, for not all fats are created equal. What is exceptionally essential to the brain though is fish oil – carnivorous fish oil to be exact. Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, herring and kipper are rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA. Research has shown that human subjects whose diets are rich in omega-3s do better in mental skill tests. In fact, scientists and anthropologists have noticed that the closer the civilization was to the sea (and therefore had a diet rich in seafood) the more evolved the early humans were.
Luckily, one of the most common types of warm cereals for breakfast, oatmeal is also a great source of omega-3s. Pretty low on the glycemic index, like whole grain, oatmeal will keep your child full at school and provide B-vitamins, vitamin E, zinc and potassium. Vitamin E optimizes brain function by providing your brain with protection from oxidative stress, potassium maintains homeostatic balance while zinc improves immune defense.
One of the healthiest snacks you can give to your children is PBJ on whole wheat bread. That is, assuming that both the peanut butter and jam are also homemade. This is because both nuts and berries are great brain food for kids! Let’s start off with nuts. Nuts and legumes (like peanuts) are a great source of vitamin E. According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, vitamin E may slow down cognitive decline.
The high vitamin C and anti-oxidant content in berries makes them ideal snacks for kids. Vitamin C not only helps your immune system and fends of colds, but it is also crucial for iron and calcium absorption. Berries have also been found by researchers from Tufts University to delay short term memory loss.
- FEED YOUR NEUROTRANSMITTERS
Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that transmit signals from one brain cell to another. Brain cells would essentially be useless without these chemicals. In fact, quite a number of psychological and behavioral problems stem from anomalies with these chemicals. That is why it is a good idea to “feed” your neurotransmitters by filling your diet with foods that are rich in precursors of these chemicals. For example, phenylalanine that is used to synthesize dopamine can be found in copious amounts in soybeans, grains, meat and eggs. Tryptophan, used to synthesize serotonin, can be found in bananas, yogurt, egg, milk and cheese. Tyrosine, used to synthesize norepinephrine, is found in fish, milk and legumes.
This leads us to one of the best brain foods for your kids – EGGS! As stated above, eggs are rich in neurotransmitter precursors and are a great source of protein and fat. Egg yolks are also rich in choline, a precursor for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
It is important for children, and their growing bones, brain and muscles, to have meat. For vegetarian children, care must be taken to provide a proper and effective substitute for meat. Tofu just doesn’t cut it sometimes. Vegetarian diets must be supplemented with beans and other protein and vitamin B rich vegetables as these compounds are quite crucial to brain growth.