This month, we’re focusing on ways to optimize your child’s brain for maximum performance. The first step?
“In order to ensure that your child’s brain is able to function well…you must first ensure that it is being properly nourished.…Poor diet is without a doubt one of the major reasons we’re seeing such an incredible spike in the number of kids diagnosed with and medicated for mental and emotional disorders. Even drugs can’t help our kids when they are quite literally being starved of their mental and emotional health.” Scott Shannon from Please Don’t Label My Child
Now that our kids are back in school, they’ll need all the brain power they can get. Does it surprise you to know that our brain function is so vitally connected to what we eat? We can either eat “brain food” or we can eat “brain drain food.” More and more studies are showing just how powerful food is in the function and growth of the brain. On the other hand, the wrong foods are absolutely detrimental to brain function.
Recently, I went to visit my son at his elementary school during a morning enrichment session. In a room full of kids working at computers, the vast majority of them were eating Skittles, which were provided to them by the school store. I was flabbergasted that these bright students were being supplied with a load of candy at the start of their school day!
Candy is not brain food; in fact, it’s the very opposite, a brain drain. We as parents need to equip our children with the tools they need for better concentration, creativity and cognition.
So here are four great nutritional brain boosters:
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables!
Our children need at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Just yesterday I spoke to a woman who told me that her 13 year old son does not eat any fruits or vegetables. Being the parent of a picky eater myself, who only likes corn (not even sweet potatoes, can you imagine?!), I’ve had to be very creative about getting the fruits and veggies in, such as smoothies and milkshakes doctored with hidden fruits and vegetables.
How do fruits and vegetables boost brain power?
- The brain consumes a whopping 20% of the body’s total energy expenditure. As a great source of complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables provide a supply of healthy carbs for the brain to work optimally.
- Fruits and vegetables release an abundant supply of antioxidants which are powerful chemicals that your body uses to fight oxidative stress, thus protecting the brain.
- Fruits and vegetables are also good sources of fiber. Perhaps you thought fiber was only important for gut health? Yet fiber is a detoxifying agent for the body. Therefore, it protects the brain by removing toxic chemicals.
- Fruits and vegetables have a high water content, providing proper hydration for the brain to function optimally.
Supply your brain with a healthy dose of essential fatty acids:
Two are especially important: DHA and EPA. DHA helps support nerve cells while EPA is responsible for signaling and communication inside and between nerve cells. EPA may also be key in maintaining BDNF levels (a brain growth chemical).
Good sources of essential fatty acids are:
- fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna
- nuts (such as walnuts and almonds) and
- seeds (e.g. pumpkin seeds)
In his book, The Brain Diet, Dr. Alan Logan states “dietary and supplemental omega-3 fatty acids may be the most significant brain insurance policy you can purchase.”
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Did you know that obesity is also bad for brain health? Studies show that excess weight is associated with brain shrinkage! And obesity is associated with higher rates of ADHD, depression, and anxiety, all of which are increasing in incidence in our children.
Don’t Forget Breakfast and Healthy Snacks
Do your children, like mine, often want to run out of the house without having eaten a decent breakfast? That sets them up for fatigue, irritability, and poor concentration. Breakfast is a must to kick start the brain, and then the rest of the day should include regular snacking on nutritious foods, such as mentioned above. I applauded one of my son’s teachers when she instated a snack time rule that the snack had to be fruit or a granola bar. She banned candy, cookies and chips from snack time.
You’ll find that strengthening your child’s diet in these ways will boost his/her brain performance and overall health!
Logan, A. The Brain Diet. (2006). Nashville, TN, Cumberland House Publishing.
Rhor, Monica. Brain foods help send kids to the head of the class, Published 01:20 p.m., Wednesday, August 24, 2011 in chron.com