It’s never easy to encourage children to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Most of the time, parents need to find creative ways to make them eat vegetables and fruits, which can be extremely stressful. They usually prefer foods loaded with sugar, caffeine, sodium, and chemicals. Some of the most popular include burgers, french fries, chicken nuggets, ice cream, and many more. Unfortunately, these foods are not good for a child’s development.
These foods have saturated fats, which are often the most affordable and widely available in many places. Previous studies revealed that diets with high levels of saturated fats impair learning and memory. Experts explained that higher fat foods contained glucose and sugars. While glucose is vital for energy, foods that are too high in glucose can cause a body’s energy levels to drop. Thus, when children eat food with too much glucose, their bodies begin to shut down as it processes all of the food.
Not eating healthy foods can also cause malnutrition, resulting in long-term neural issues in the brain. According to experts, this can impact a child’s emotional responses, learning disabilities, reactions to stress, and other medical complications. In one study, researchers Margaret Lahey and Shari Rosen discovered that “malnourished children […] were found to have delays in vision, fine motor skills, language skills, and personal-social skills.”
A 2017 study also found that poor diet can lead to negative health implications including cognitive and mood dysfunctions. Thus, many parents seek advice from nutritionists and other experts to know how they can help their kids grow healthy. One of the most recommended is to let them eat “brain foods.”
Are Brain Foods Real?
The food children eat and the environment they live in are important factors that could impact their brain development. Experts say that the ways the brain develops during the first years of a kid are like scaffolding: they literally define how the brain will work for the rest of a person’s life. Nerves grow and connect and get covered with myelin, which plays a crucial role in creating systems that decide how a child thinks and feels.
Those connections and changes can’t be undone and impact a child’s sensory systems, learning, memory, attention, processing speed, the ability to control impulses and mood, and even the ability to multitask or plan. This explains why it’s important for children to eat healthy foods during early childhood because it is a critical time for brain growth, development, and health.
“Starting early is key. If all a child has ever known is healthy foods, they’re far less likely to fight with their parents about eating them,” Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, said.
Lisa Mosconi, director of the Weill Cornell Women’s Brain Initiative and author of “Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power,” said that food is fundamentally important for brain health because people’s brains literally run on nutrients. According to National Geographic, an American pay television network and flagship channel that is owned by National Geographic Partners, a recent study found around 45 nutrients that are key to brain health.
Some of these nutrients include protein, zinc, iron, choline, folate, iodine, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. “Even just in the first few years of life, the brain is really sprouting neurons at light speed. A baby’s brain has more neurons, more brain cells than there are stars in the Milky Way,” Mosconi said.
Eating brain foods can benefit children as they become adults. A 2015 study revealed that people who consumed the most nutritious food had a nearly 25% reduction in the risk of mental decline compared to those with the least healthy diets. James Becker, a professor of psychiatry, neurology, and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, said that this adds to growing evidence that shows a healthy lifestyle impacts not just physical well-being and longevity but also cognitive well-being.
According to Today.com, a news program that informs, entertains, inspires, and sets the agenda, the findings didn’t change when researchers accounted for factors that might impact cognitive health, including physical activity, high blood pressure, and a history of cancer. “It is likely that a healthy diet has effects on cardiovascular risk factors and cardiovascular disease, and that this is an important mechanism for reducing the risk of cognitive decline,” lead author Andrew Smyth, a researcher at the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Ontario and the HRB Clinical Research Facility Galway at the National University of Ireland in Galway, said.
Brain Foods for Children
Getting all the nutrients that children need can be a challenge. Parents need to research about what kinds of foods their kids should eat. Meeting with a nutritionist can also be helpful. Here are some suggestions that can boost your child’s brainpower:
1 – Berries
Berries are packed with vitamins that help boost a child’s memory and cognitive functioning. According to MindBodyGreen.com, a lifestyle media brand dedicated to inspiring you to live your best life - mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and environmentally, they are also great sources of fiber, a nutrient important for a healthy digestive system, and natural sugars. It also contains Vitamin C which plays a crucial role in neutralizing naturally occurring free radicals that cause damage to our DNA and cells.
2 – Oats/oatmeal
Experts say that oats and oatmeal can supply children with a steady stream of energy because they are rich in zinc, vitamin E, and B-complex vitamins. These can also help kids' brains work at their best.
3 – Milk and yogurt
Both milk and yogurt have vitamins that are necessary for the growth of brain tissue, neurotransmitters, and enzymes. They support brain cell growth, boosting a child’s immune system.
4 – Fish
Several kinds of species like tuna, salmon, sardines, and mackerel are exceptionally rich in omega-3 fatty acids. One type of omega-3 fat known as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is extremely important for building nerve cells. These cells are responsible for healthy brain growth and development as well as learning cells.
5 – Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are packed with antioxidant beta-carotene and vitamin C, which are all good for the brain. According to Mosconi’s book titled “The XX Brain: The Groundbreaking Science Empowering Women to Maximize Cognitive Health and Prevent Alzheimer's Disease,” a lack of vitamins that sweet potatoes contain can hamper central nervous system development and function.