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, another ‘brain food’, 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
3. Green Veggies
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 improve 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 cannot produce lutein, it is important that we fill our diet with rich sources.
- 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.
The foods above are all considered brain foods and, when added within a well-rounded diet, are significant factors in the brain development of young children.