The most important building blocks for nourishing a child’s brain and nervous system are proteins and fats. More specifically, these are amino acids found in healthy protein sources like wild salmon, featured in one of the following recipes, and good fats, essential fatty acids, monounsaturated and medium chain triglycerides : like those found in nuts, seeds and cold water fish, avocados, and coconut oil. Our brain function is also optimized with anti-oxidant rich fruits and vegetables like berries and beets.
So, class, let’s review these nutritional building blocks:
Protein = Neurotransmitter Power
Most of us are aware that an adequate intake of protein is essential for proper childhood growth and physiological development. What you may not know is that the amino acids in proteins are the building blocks for enzymes, antibody and immune compounds, as well as for our neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals like serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, and epinephrine which a!ect energy levels, mood, sleep and appetite, focus, concentration and memory. A continual delivery of these amino acids throughout the day is critical for smooth and steady brain and nervous system function. Sadly, the majority of typical kid meals and snacks primarily deliver simple carbohydrates and sugar that cause abrupt mental and emotional spikes and drops. Many of us have likely had visceral experiences with this food-mood connection ourselves when we have run on empty or carbohydrate fumes ; low blood sugar often results in irritability, fatigue, feeling shaky, sweaty, and having brain fog. For this reason, it’s important to provide children with protein and good fats for optimum concentration and focus, at every meal.
Good Fats = Slow-Burning Fuel
Essential fatty acids, like the anti-inflammatory omega 3s, promote healthy nervous system and brain function. Recent studies show that kids with behavioural problems frequently have low blood levels of omega 3 fatty acids. Good dietary sources of omega 3s include: nuts and seeds (like walnuts, chia, and raw flax), and cold water fatty fish (like wild salmon, cod, halibut, herring and mackerel).
Additionally, because fats take the longest to digest (compared to quick-burning carbohydrates, and medium burn proteins), their slow burn means they lead to longer satiation; nature’s way of attaining the even amount of energy distribution key for brain health. To boost your child’s healthy fat intake, try adding avocados to sandwiches and salads, hemp hearts to cereals, baked goods, casseroles and salads, and olive oil in dressings and spreads. Cooking and baking with coconut oil is another great tip! Good fats will also help kids feel full and energized for longer periods in between meals.
Anti-oxidant Beets & Berries = Blood Flow Boost to the Brain (say that 10 times, fast!)
Berries and beets are not only sweet and colouful kid-favourites, but powerful brainboosters! Recent studies have demonstrated that the regular consumption of blueberries improved memory and learning in seniors with dementia and even helped to prevent Alzheimer’s. Another found that eating berry smoothies improved memory and concentration in young adults, and lastly another showed that drinking beet juice increased blood flow to the brain, thus improving focus and concentration.
From the Fall issue of Ecoparent Magazine (www.ecoparent.ca)available in hard copy at Chapters/Indigo, Nature’s Fare Markets, Whole Foods, and other independent newsstands and baby stores. Dr. Heidi is a regular food and health contributor to Ecoparent.