Did you know that certain foods can help to support children’s brain growth and development as well as improving brain function, memory and concentration?
The way that the human brain develops during pregnancy and the first few years of life can be likened to scaffolding. Nerves in the brain grow and connect, which creates the systems that decide how a child thinks and feels.
During the first three years of your child’s life, their brain triples in weight and establishes about 1000 trillion nerve connections. These connections impact sensory systems, learning, memory, attention, processing speed, the ability to control impulses and mood, and even the ability to multitask or plan.
We know that diet plays a major role in brain function. Check out these top brain boosting foods to support optimal brain health in your children.
Eggs contain choline, a vitamin that plays an integral role in the creation of memory cells within the brain. Just one egg yolk is enough for children to meet their daily choline requirements up until the age of eight. Eggs are also high in protein and contain iron, folate and vitamin A – all which are important for growth, repair and development of cells. Here are some delicious ways to offer your child eggs:
Healthy fats are essential in the diet of young children for neurological development and brain function. Specifically, Omega 3 fatty acids are essential components of the building blocks needed for cell growth. Certain types of omega 3 fats are the most abundant fat found in the brain and some studies have shown they may help manage behavioural problems due to their role in neurotransmitter function.
Oily fish (esp salmon), is a great source of omega 3 fat. Try to offer fish at least twice per week. Some ideas to get you started:
Wholegrain foods such as oats, grainy breads, brown rice, wholegrain crackers, quinoa and buckwheat are rich in zinc which is involved in all the main functions of the brain. A zinc deficiency in early childhood has been tied to poor learning, attention, memory and mood.
Whole grain foods are also rich in B Vitamins which help support a healthy nervous system. Additionally they offer slow release, low GI carbohydrates which ensure the brain has sufficient energy for longer periods of time, increasing concentration. Offering your child a breakfast rich in wholegrains such as oats, weetbix or wholegrain bread has been shown to improve short term memory and attention, when compared with refined carbohydrates or no breakfast at all.
If you struggle to get your child to eat wholegrain foods, try the following:
Dark leafy veggies such as spinach and kale, as well as avocado, are rich sources of brain healthy nutrients like Vitamin K, lutein and folate. Each nutrient functions separately, but together they have a strong protective effect on the brain. Lutein in particular, is a strong antioxidant that crosses the blood brain barrier and functions to improve cognition such as memory. It’s prevalent in mature breast milk and was found to be the main carotenoid in the developing infant brain. Research into the effects of lutein on cognition found further improvements when combined with omega-3 found in oily fish. As we can’t make lutein ourselves, it’s important we fill our diet with rich sources!
Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries and blackberries are excellent sources of the phytonutrient (protective plant chemical) anthocyanin. Anthocyanins have antioxidant effects and are responsible for the rich red, purple and blue colouring. Anthocyanins boost cognition by improving connections between neurons and preventing cell death. This was found to occur in areas of the brain associated with learning and memory (hippocampi). Incorporating anthocyanin-rich foods regularly may boost learning ability, memory and motor skills.
Nuts are rich in healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and protein. Eating nuts has been linked to better brain function, improvements in mood, enhanced memory, learning and attention capacity.
It’s believed the combination of healthy fats and antioxidant in nuts may be protective of vital functions of the brain. Like wholegrains, nuts contain B-group vitamins necessary for producing neurotransmitters and cell structures. The polyunsaturated fatty acids are critical components of neuronal cell membranes which facilitate communication between brain cells. Vitamin E is a strong antioxidant that acts to protect nervous cell membranes. Magnesium, calcium and zinc play a role in brain cell communication and iron oxygenates the brain and is involved in synthesis of neurotransmitters and myelin.
How to incorporate nuts:
With so many brain boosting foods available, as long as you eat a balanced diet with loads of variety, there’s no doubt your child’s brain will get all the love and nurture it deserves.