Easy Brain Builders For Kids April 17 2015 by Simone Denny 1 Comment
Well it's the last week of school holidays here in Australia and I thought what better time to share a post on Brain Boosting Foods from one of our favourite guest naturopaths Lisa Guy from the Art of Healing.This is such an informative article, full of so many practical tips. You may remember last year we did a post on Easy Brain Builders for Kids, which focused on both mental and physical ways to build children's brains. Today Lisa talks about some of the best foods you can include in your child's diet for optimal brain health.
Best Brain Boosting Foods for Kids by Lisa Guy - ND.
Childhood is a critical time for a child’s brain growth and development. This is why it is important that they get a constant supply of nutrients from a healthy diet to fuel their brains. Neurotransmitters in the brain (and the gut) control how we behave, learn, and concentrate, they balance our mood, and co-ordinate how we move. Amino acids and specific vitamins and minerals from the foods we eat are needed for neurotransmitter production. Children who have a poor diet, or have poor digestion and malabsorption, will risk becoming deficient in certain nutrients and in-turn low in neurotransmitters, which can result in behavioural and learning disorders.
Due to nutrient poor soil quality in Australia and children’s reliance of processed ‘junk’ foods, children are becoming increasingly deficient in vital nutrients needed for good brain function and good health. Some of the key nutrients vital for children’s brain function and development, commonly deficient in the Australian diet, include iodine, zinc, omega-3 essential fatty acids, and vitamin B12.
Iodine is an important mineral required for healthy brain function and development. Unfortunately in Australia we are now seeing widespread iodine deficiencies in our children. It’s estimated that nearly half of our children are deficient in iodine. Deficiencies are associated with lower IQ, and decreased cognitive function, as well as a higher risk of ADHD. Australian soil tends to be low in iodine, so our fruits, vegetables and grains, as well as animal produce will be poor in this important nutrient. The best sources of iodine include seafood, seaweed and iodised salt (however we don’t want kids to increase their salt intake). Spriulina is another excellent source of iodine, which you can easily add to your children’s smoothies and fresh fruit and vegetable juices.
For kids in particular, zinc deficiency is highly problematic as it will lead to compromised growth and development. Research has shown that even mild zinc deficiency contributes to impaired physical and neuropsychological development and brain formation and function. Zinc is also important for a healthy functioning immune system. You can increase your child’s zinc intake by feeding them red meat, fish, chicken, eggs, dairy products, legumes or sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Zinc is also found in wholegrain cereals.
The brain needs omega-3 fatty acids (FAs), in particular docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in oily fish, to work properly. Omega-3 FAs cannot be made by the body, so they need to be supplied through the diet. DHA is not widely found in the diet, but is present in cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, trout, herring, halibut and mackerel. DHA can also be made by the body from the omega-3 FA, alpha-linolenic acid, found in high levels in flaxseed and chia seeds and oils, and walnuts. Walnuts also contain an antioxidant called ellagic acid, which helps protect the brain from free radical damage. Children lacking in this important nutrient are susceptible to developing learning and behavioural disorders such as ADHD. These healthy fats are essential for our memory too, they keep the lining of the brain cells flexible so memory messages can pass easily between cells. Give your kids a brain boost by feeding them oily fish 2-3 times a week, and by adding a tablespoon of either ground chia seeds or flaxseed oil to their next smoothie, or porridge.
B vitamins are required for the production of neurotransmitters crucial for brain function. Vitamin B12 is vital for the proper functioning of your child’s brain and nervous system. Vitamin B12 is found mainly in meat, poultry, fish, yoghurt and spirulina. Beneficial bowel bacteria can also synthesize vitamin B12, so it is important that your child has good gut health, by feeding them probiotic-rich fermented foods regularly.
Giving your kids eggs to eat is another great way to enhance their brain power. Eggs are one of the best sources of choline, an important nutrient related to the B vitamin family, which is essential for healthy brain function and memory. Choline is found in the myelin sheath that insulates nerve fibres throughout the brain, and is needed to produce acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter involved in memory.
Link between gut health and your child’s brain function
Our gut has also been referred to as our second brain, as our mood and behaviour can be influenced by how healthy our digestive function is. There is a strong link between depression and behavioural problems such as ADHD and austism in children, with an imbalance of gut bacteria. A large percentage of our neurotransmitters like serotonin are actually produced in our gut. In fact 80% of our body’s total serotonin is found in the gut. Serotonin is our ‘feel good’ hormone, which plays a key role in mood, calming of our nervous system, helping us sleep, and regulation of learning. So it is important to nourish and support the growth of beneficial bacteria in our children’s digestive tract, not just to promote good digestion and health, but to help promote healthy brain function, mood and behaviour. One of the best ways of doing that is by feeding your kids more probiotic-rich fermented foods.
Feed your kids more fermented foods
Fermented foods play a very important role in a child’s diet. Fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria that help colonize the digestive tract. These good bugs are vital for a healthy balanced digestive tract, and for supporting healthy immune and brain function. If your child has an imbalance of bacteria in their gut, pathogenic organisms can flourish and take over, causing digestive and even immune problems. Children’s brain function can also be influenced by this imbalance. Overgrowth of yeast and other pathogenic bacteria has been linked to behaviour and attention problems in children. This is why it is extremely important to replenish these vital probiotics, especially after being on antibiotics.
Fermented foods that contain these live bacteria include: yogurt, kefir, cultured vegetables such as raw sauerkraut, and miso. Making your own yoghurt at home is easy and lots of fun. You can even make delicious non-dairy yoghurts with coconut or nut milks. Grating apple through raw sauerkraut is a nice way to introduce this wonderful fermented food to kids. Raw miso paste can be added to soups, make sure you add it in at the end when you have taken it off the heat. Kefir is a fermented milk drink similar to drinking-yoghurt, with a more tart taste. It contains more than 30 different beneficial bacteria, is a great source of calcium, vitamin A and D, and protein. Kefir can be easily added to smoothies or used as a salad dressing. Try adding coconut yoghurt or young coconut kefir to smoothies.
A big thank you to the lovely Lisa for sharing her wonderful words of wisdom today!
Wishing you a wonderful weekend!
PS - A few Brain Boosting Foods from the Nourishing Hub
Kefir Turkish Yogurt Probiotic Lifestream Spirulina