As parents, we want the best for our children’s education. Did you know that their diet may play a crucial role in boosting their cognitive abilities? According to nutritionist Bethany Thayer, the brain is the first organ to benefit from nutrients that we consume. Make sure to feed your child’s brain with “brain foods” that help improve brain function, memory, and concentration – not junk food that may hinder their growth.
Nutrition during pregnancy
Food is vital during the first 1,000 days of life for proper brain development. This period sets the foundation for a person’s life, as the growth of nerves and connections determines how one thinks and feels. The effects of development during this time range from sensory systems to impulse control and mood. Once these connections are formed, they cannot be changed. Therefore, it’s crucial to ensure proper nutrition during this critical window.
A child’s environment and upbringing have a significant impact on their brain development. Breastfeeding plays a crucial role as it provides both essential nutrients and physical closeness with the mother. These factors are essential for optimal brain growth and function.
Additionally, specific nutrients in brain foods are needed for healthy brain growth:
Protein can be found in meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, soy products, nuts and seeds, as well as dairy.
The food that has the most zinc, interestingly, is oysters — but it’s also found in many meats, fish, dairy products, and nuts.
Meats, beans and lentils, fortified cereals and breads, dark leafy vegetables, and baked potatoes are among the best sources of iron.
Meat, dairy, and eggs have lots of choline, but so do many vegetables and other foods.
This nutrient, which is especially important for pregnant mothers, can be found in liver, spinach, fortified cereals and breads, as well as other foods.
Seaweed is a great source of iodine, but we also get it from iodized salt, seafood, dairy products, and enriched grains.
Along with liver, carrots, sweet potato, and spinach are good sources of this vitamin.
This is the “sunshine vitamin,” and the best way to get it is to get outside. The flesh of fatty fishes such as salmon have it, as does fish liver oil, and products fortified with it, such as fortified milk.
The best sources of vitamin B6 are liver and other organ meats, fish, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and fruit (not citrus).
Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products, such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy.
Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids
An example is omega-3 fatty acids. These are most easily found in fatty fish and fish oils, but can be found in some other oils, and many foods are also fortified with them.
Ensuring proper nutrition during pregnancy and early childhood can be tough, especially for vegetarian and vegan families. A nutritionist can provide valuable guidance in meeting the challenge. Limited, starch-heavy diets, devoid of vegetables and fish, may hinder getting vital brain nutrients for expecting mothers and young children.
Brain foods and nutrition for young children
As your child gets older, their brains are growing and changing at a rapid pace. That’s why what they eat is critical for brain development, according to psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD, co-author of The Happiness Diet and Fifty Shades of Kale. Their diet affects focus and cognitive skills during these crucial years.
Learn the top 10 brainfoods that can help your child excel in school.
Apart from being an excellent protein source, egg yolks are rich in choline that enhances memory development. They also happen to be extremely versatile! So, get creative and add more eggs to your family’s diet. For breakfast, try an egg burrito or scrambled eggs and toast. And for dinner, whip up your own egg McMuffin with toasted English muffin, low-fat cheese, and a fried egg on top. Start your day with a powerhouse protein meal and take charge of your memory game with eggs!
Did you know that peanuts and peanut butter are rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that supports healthy nervous membranes? They also contain thiamin, which helps your brain and nervous system use glucose for energy. So why not indulge in some delicious peanut butter? Try a peanut butter and banana sandwich or dip some apple slices in it for a satisfying snack. Don’t forget to sprinkle a handful of peanuts on top of your favorite salad for an added crunch. Go ahead and give your body the nutrients it deserves with a tasty peanut butter treat today!
Boost brain growth and function by consuming fatty fish like salmon, a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. Recent research reveals that a diet higher in these fatty acids can enhance mental skills and cognitive performance. While tuna is a good source of lean protein, it lacks the omega-3 content of salmon. Moreover, canned “white” albacore tuna is high in mercury and consumption should be limited to no more than 6 ounces weekly, as advised by the EPA. Switch up your lunch and try salmon salad sandwiches made with canned salmon, reduced-fat mayo or non-fat plain yogurt, raisins, celery, and carrots, served on whole-grain bread – a healthy brain food alternative to traditional tuna sandwiches.
Fuel your brain with whole grains: Not only do they provide a constant supply of glucose, but the fiber also helps regulate its release into the body. B-vitamins in whole grains nourish a healthy nervous system. It’s easy to incorporate whole grains into your diet – look for them as the first ingredient in cereals and try alternatives like whole wheat couscous and low-fat popcorn for fun snacks. Don’t forget to switch to whole-grain bread, tortillas, and chips for your sandwiches, wraps, quesadillas, and snacks.
Get your kids ready for school with the perfect breakfast choice – oats! According to Sarah Krieger, a nutrition expert and ADA spokeswoman, oats are a fantastic energy source for your child’s brain. Loaded with fiber, oats keep your child’s brain active and fueled throughout the morning. As an added bonus, oats are also a rich source of vitamin E, B-vitamins, potassium and zinc that help boost your child’s brain capacity. Spruce up your kid’s oatmeal by topping it with anything from applesauce and cinnamon to almonds and honey. And if you’re feeling experimental, try adding dry oats to your smoothie or baking recipes to make them healthy.
Milk and yoghurt
With protein and B-vitamins that promote brain growth, milk and yogurt are particularly great sources of both protein and carbohydrates—perfect for a brainpower boost. Latest studies show that children and teens need 10 times more vitamin D than recommended, which benefits the neuromuscular system and cell life cycle. Luckily, there are many options including low-fat milk on cereals, calcium- and vitamin D-fortified juices, cheese sticks, and low-fat yogurt parfaits with berries and nuts. This means getting all these nutrients from dairy has never been easier or more fun!
Want your kids to stay energized and focused in school? Try incorporating iron-rich foods into their diet, like lean beef or beans. Lean beef is one of the best sources of iron, and even just 1 ounce a day can help absorb iron from other sources. Plus, it contains zinc, which aids in memory. For vegetarian options, try black bean or soy burgers – they’re packed with nonheme iron, which needs vitamin C to be absorbed. Pair them with vitamin C-rich foods like tomatoes, red bell peppers, and strawberries to optimize iron intake.
Did you know that beans can provide your child with the energy they need to stay focused and alert all afternoon? According to nutrition expert Krieger, beans are a rich source of protein, complex carbs, fiber, vitamins, and minerals that make them a great choice for brain food.
But that’s not all. Kidney and pinto beans are especially beneficial for brain growth and function since they contain more omega-3 fatty acids, including ALA. If you’re looking for creative ways to incorporate more beans into your child’s diet, try sprinkling them over salads, mashing them onto tortillas or pita pockets, or adding them to spaghetti sauce and salsa. Even infants can enjoy mashed beans mixed with applesauce.
Give your child’s brain a boost with nutritious, delicious beans!
Strawberries, cherries, blueberries, and blackberries are packed with nutrition and antioxidants. The brighter the color, the better! Studies have even shown that extracts from blueberries and strawberries can improve memory. Make sure to eat the real thing for a nutritious package, including a good source of omega-3 fats from the seeds.
Incorporate berries into your child’s diet. Add sliced sweet cherries to broccoli or strawberries to green beans for a flavor boost. Toss berries into a salad or mix them into yogurt, cereal, or dips. For a delicious and light dessert, top a mound of berries with non-fat whipped topping.
Boost your child’s brain health by incorporating more colorful vegetables into their diet. Tomatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, and spinach are all rich sources of antioxidants. Try these easy and tasty ideas: make sweet potato fries by cutting them into wedges or sticks, spraying with cooking spray, and baking them in the oven; bake pumpkin muffins by mixing a can of pumpkin with your favorite cake or muffin mix; pack baby carrots and tomatoes in your lunch bag; or make a delicious spinach salad with strawberries, mandarin oranges, and sliced almonds. You can even sneak in extra veggies by adding them to spaghetti sauce, soups, and stews.
Jeanie Lerche Davis. “Top 10 Brain Foods for Children.” WebMD, WebMD, 5 June 2008, www.webmd.com/parenting/features/brain-foods-for-children.
Krueger, Anne. “7 Foods for Children’s Brain Development.” WebMD, 12 May 2015, www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/features/brain-foods-kids.
McCarthy, Claire. “The Crucial Brain Foods All Children Need – Harvard Health Blog.” Harvard Health Blog, 23 Jan. 2018, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/brain-food-children-nutrition-2018012313168.