Brain Boosting Foods for Children12 Mar 2020
The way that the human brain develops during pregnancy and the first few years of life is an intricate framework. 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 a child’s life, their brain triples in weight and establishes 1000 trillion nerve connections. These connections impact sensory systems, learning, memory, attention, processing speed, the ability to control impulses and mood and even the capacity to multitask and plan.
Did you know that certain foods can help boost your child’s brain growth, as well as improve their brain function, memory and concentration? Alex and Anna our in-house Dietitians from The Biting Truth recommend 6 brain boosting foods for 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 years. Eggs are also high in protein, iron, folate and Vitamin A which are important for the growth, repair and development of brain cells. Here are some delicious serving suggestions to introduce eggs into your child’s diet:
Hard-boiled eggs with wholegrain toast soldiers
Egg and veggie muffins
Healthy fats, such as those found in certain types of fish, are essential in the diet of young children for neurological development and brain function. Specifically, omega 3 fatty acids are key building block components 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, such as salmon, is a great source of omega 3 fat. Try to introduce fish into your child’s diet at least twice per week. Some ideas to get you started include:
Homemade salmon fish fingers coated with wholemeal bread crumbs
Salmon rissoles using tinned salmon with grated veggies such as carrot and zucchini
Salmon sandwich fingers with lettuce and reduced fat mayonnaise
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 attention, concentration, memory and mood.
Wholegrain 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 memory, attention and concentration.
If you struggle to get your child to eat wholegrain foods, we recommend the following:
Offering brown rice crackers as a morning tea snack
Adding oats to a breakfast smoothie
Mixing brown rice or quinoa with white rice
Using wholemeal pasta in Bolognese or pasta bakes
Dark, leafy veggies such as spinach and kale are a rich source of brain healthy nutrients including Vitamin K, lutein and folate. Each of these nutrients function 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 is prevalent in mature breast milk and was found to be the main carotenoid in the developing infant brain. As the human body can not produce lutein, it is important that we fill out diet with rich sources. Recommendations include:
Sneaking spinach into frittatas and fritters
Serving avocado on toast
Avocado and salmon sushi rolls
Oven roasted kale chips
Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries and blackberries are excellent sources of the phytonutrient anthocyanin. Anthocyanins have an antioxidant effect and are responsible for the rich red, purple and blue colouring of berries. Anthocyanins boost cognition by improving connections between neurons and preventing cell damage. This was found to occur in areas of the brain associated with learning and memory. Incorporating anthocyanin rich foods regularly may boost learning ability, memory and motor skills. You can increase your child’s berry intake by:
Serving fresh berries as a snack
Adding frozen berries to a smoothie
Topping breakfast cereals with fresh or frozen berries
Nuts are rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and protein. Consumption has been linked to better cognitive function, improvements in mood, enhanced memory, learning and concentration.
It is believed the combination of healthy fats and anti-inflammatory properties in nuts are responsible for vital functions of the brain. Like wholegrains, nuts contain Vitamin B which is 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 which 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.
You can introduce nuts into your child’s diet by serving:
Peanut butter and banana on wholegrain toast
Sliced apply with peanut butter and sultanas
A handful of almonds as a snack.