Boost Your Child’s Brain With These Beneficial Nutrients

It’s an age-old parenting problem — getting our children to eat healthy foods.

Parents often have a general idea of which foods are better than others, but they often don’t know specifically which nutrients are best for their growing child.

The period from birth to age three is the fastest rate of brain development in the entire human lifespan, and sixty percent of the energy expended by a growing infant is concentrated in the brain.

Unfortunately, many of the foods that appeal to children are overly processed with chemical additives, high in fat, sodium, and artificial colors and flavors.  Obviously, manufacturers target children with colorful packaging and food products, and parents find it difficult to avoid them.

There are some nutrients that are essential for kids’ brain development and cognitive function, and if they are introduced at an early age, your kids will learn to love them — and best of all — these nutrients are great for the entire family, mind, and body!

U.S. News Health reported on some of the lesser-known nutrients that are superstars in child brain development.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Technically two different nutrients, both lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids (plant pigments with strong antioxidant properties) that have been found to support memory, improve processing speed and efficiency and perhaps even impact academic performance – especially when consumed together.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin are most often found in dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, or turnip or collard greens, so they may not be the most appetizing to young children.  But try baking them into spaghetti or mac and cheese, or use them to top a pizza, since tomatoes are high in lutein, as well.

Eggs, corn, and some fruits like oranges and grapes (for older kids) are rich in both nutrients, as well as zucchini, which can be used in place of noodles in lasagna.

Unsaturated Fats

Many of us grew up hearing that fat was bad, and low-fat diets were all the rage.  However, fat is essential for the body.  The brain is sixty percent fat, and good fats are essential for child development.

Healthy intakes of fat, especially unsaturated or “good” fat, is beneficial for cognitive development and performance during all phases of life, childhood included. For example, in one 2016 study out of Sweden, taking supplements with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids significantly improved children’s reading skills, with the greatest results in those with attention difficulties. So powerful are these polyunsaturated fatty acids at increasing focus that some experts recommend them as a drug-free alternative for children and adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

When families adopt a low-fat diet, they typically consume more high sugar, starchy carbohydrates which can decrease kids’ immunity and are also notorious for an energy “crash.” So-called low or reduced fat snack foods are mislabeled as health foods and parents should avoid them for kids’ snacktime.

Instead, teach your kids to eat real foods, not packaged snacks.  The best foods in which to find unsaturated fats are fish, avocado, sunflower and other seeds, olives, and nuts. Nut butters can be used for many different recipes that kids love or can be spread on apples or celery, or you can make a mild guacamole served with veggies for dipping as a fun snack.

While fish is a great source of unsaturated fats, many parents are concerned by introducing fish to children due to reports on avoiding it in children and nursing or pregnant women due to high levels of mercury.  However, two of the best types of fish for omega acids are salmon and tuna.  Both can be made into sandwiches or casseroles, and when introduced at a young age will be more palatable to children.

Very Well reported on healthy levels for the whole family:

Eat only two average servings (6 ounces per serving for adults, but less for kids) a week of fish that are lower in mercury, including shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

In addition to eating tuna, your younger child is likely to eat fish sticks and fast food fish sandwiches. These are usually made from fish that are low in mercury.

Since fish and shellfish can be an important part of a healthy and balanced diet for kids and adults, it is important to not simply stop eating fish altogether because of your fear of mercury. Just keep the warnings in mind when planning your child’s diet and don’t exceed the recommended number of servings of fish each week.

Anthocyanins

Natural Living reports on the benefits of anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant:

Anthocyanins deserve special recognition for their protective properties. So powerful are the anthocyanins that tests have shown they can yield twice the antioxidant power of vitamin C!Another great benefit of anthocyanins is that they are so easily recognized! Just looking at your plate is enough to tell if your food contains these helpful substances – they provide the bright red-orange to blue-violet color of many fruits and vegetables.

Grapes and berries are great sources of anthocyanins and are liked by most children.  You can make a yogurt parfait with berries, grape and berry skewers with cubes of cheese (again, for older children), or a morning berry smoothie that kids will love.

One hundred percent fruit juice is also rich in anthocyanins, but be careful not to overdo as a glass of juice can sometimes contain more sugar than several pieces of fruit.  When in doubt, serve your kids the fruit instead of its juice.

And the health benefits of anthocyanins are just as good for parents — they not only promote cognitive ability and increased brain performance, but protect the heart and liver, and are thought to fight cancer.

Choline

U.S. News Health reports:

A precursor to several neurotransmitters that allow for peak cognitive processing, choline is vital to cognitive development and memory function, and choline will soon be included on the nutrition facts panel. Research has long showed that women’s choline levels during pregnancy significantly affect their children’s future cognitive health, but research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that, in children as old as age 5, choline supplementation may still improve cognitive function.

And Prevention Magazine states that it is “vital for the creation of memory stem cells, formed deep within our brains. The more cells we have, the better our memories. It’s a nutrient experts have long recognized as vital for pregnant and lactating women, because so much brain development occurs in infants.”

Although organ meats are one of the best sources of choline, they typically don’t appeal to children or many adults for that matter!  The good news is, eggs contain the highest levels and are typically a kid favorite and can be added to many cooked dishes, casseroles, or healthy baked goods.  And because these foods are typically high in protein, they will give your kids energy and nutrients at the same time.

Vitamin E

U.S. News Health reported:

Vitamin E is found in parts of the brain that are linked to memory, vision, hearing, language development and even complex learning. It is one of the most powerful antioxidant nutrients, and it has been shown to work as a complement to lutein in protecting DHA, which is an omega-3 fatty acid vital for cognitive function. If you’re into reading food labels, look for “d-alpha-tocopherol” or “rrr-a-tocopherol.” Both are code words for natural vitamin E, which the brain prefers over synthetic vitamin E. (Vitamin E is not required to be labeled in nutrition information.)

Eggs come to the rescue again, as they are high in Vitamin E.  Most nuts, including peanuts, sunflower seeds, and broccoli are also great sources.  While eggs, nuts, and nut butters may be more popular with your kids than broccoli, you can use this super veggie by baking it into other dishes or serve it with cheese, hummus, or homemade dipping sauce.

And along with all these important nutrients in a healthy balanced diet, there is another vital component for development — water!

Prevention Magazine reported:

Most parents would be amazed at how little water kids take in at school. “Water is an overlooked food,” says Naomi Neufeld, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist and director of the KidShape antiobesity program, “and kids often run around in a state of relative dehydration.”

Dehydration, even a very mild case, makes kids listless, lethargic, and irritable—not exactly the best frame of mind for memorizing the Bill of Rights. What’s more, Neufeld says, “too little water creates false hunger in children, so they make poor food choices.” Offer water at every meal, especially after an active day.

By integrating these vital brain-boosting nutrients into your child’s diet, you will be helping them to get off to a great start in life.  Introducing healthy, real foods at an early age will keep children energetic and boost their immunity, and help them to say “no” to processed and sugary items.

Make these foods a part of your daily diet, and make them fun by cooking with your child and thinking of fun and creative ways to serve them — there are many recipes online for making healthy food fun for kids, like this one from Mommy Underground: http://mommyunderground.com/5-healthy-school-lunch-ideas-that-are-quick-and-easy/

How have you introduced these nutrient-rich foods to your young child?

Leave us your thoughts in the comments section below.

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