Within your child’s brain, a biochemical process of learning occurs. Finding meanings, making connections, and solving problems are tasks that require lightning-fast electrical impulses between areas of the brain. Your child needs to nourish their brain with healthy food and water to optimize the internal environment. Doing so will enable your child to excel academically and achieve their potential.
Neurons in your child’s brain drive their learning, thinking, and feeling. Neurons need good fats, protein, complex carbohydrates, and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients) to drive their growth and learning functions. They also need adequate hydration.
The brain consists largely of fatty membranes: 60% of the solid matter in the brain is fat. Polyunsaturated fats help maintain dynamic, flexible membranes, produce energy, and help with water storage.
Foods that contain omega-3 oils, such as nuts, seeds, fish, and dark leafy greens provide these important fats. Avoid processed cakes and crackers, French fries, and fried meats that are loaded with trans and saturated fats. Saturated fats displace good fats, creating stiff membranes instead of flexible ones, which impair subtle changes in shape that are essential for cell communication. Trans and saturated fats impede the flow of oxygen into and the flow of wastes away from the brain. Trans fats can accumulate, especially in synapses, affecting brain communication and can accumulate in the retina affecting eye-brain coordination.
Protein provides amino acids, building blocks for the neurons in our child’s brain. They also provide antioxidants that protect cell components and DNA from damage. Proteins also aid in cell communication.
Choose healthy proteins for your child’s diets such as nuts, yogurt, and chicken. Just make sure that nuts and chicken are not fried and that the yogurt is not flavored with sweetened fruits. Remember, the total value of the protein source is an important consideration.
Carbohydrates provide energy for the brain. Although sugar is the main fuel for the brain, many children consume too much sugar. Avoid candy bars, pastries, and sugary juice drinks, which provide a burst of energy with the release of insulin, but are followed by drowsiness, headaches, and trouble concentrating. Instead, provide meals and snacks with complex carbohydrates – foods made with whole grain flour.
Although micronutrients are only needed in small amounts, they are necessary for brain health. Some of the key vitamins are found in the B-vitamin family, which aid in producing energy, gives a sense of well-being, and aids in focus and concentration. Choose whole greens and leafy green vegetables for B-vitamins. Additionally, zinc helps with brain cell grown and repair, and is essential in the formation of memory. Choose, seeds, nuts, and lean red meat to provide zinc. Other micronutrients such as calcium and phytonutrients come from fruits and vegetables and are critical for repair and protection of neurons, acting as antioxidants that neutralize damaging free radicals, and protecting memory function. The current recommendation of 5-9 servings a day may be difficult to meet with your children, but it is well worth the effort. Encourage snacking on whole fruit and incorporating salads and cut-up vegetables into major meals.
Neurons in your child’s brain store water in tiny balloon-like structures called vacuoles. Water is essential for optimal brain health and function; it aids in circulation and removing wastes. Water keeps the brain from overheating, which can cause cognitive decline and even damage to your child’s brain. When your child is thirsty, make sure they do not choose sweetened drinks instead of water. A dehydrated brain can lead to fatigue, dizziness, poor concentration, and reduced cognitive abilities. Even a mild level of dehydration can affect your child’s school performance.
Since nutrition makes a difference, it is important to help your child make healthy choices. To do so, try the following:
According to experts, the internal environment of the brain is an integral part of learning, just as important as the classroom environment. The raw material for building and pruning neuron connections comes from the food we eat. To make sure your child is a successful learner, remember to feed them the best foods to “feed” their brain and help them reach their optimal educational potential.