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Your Child's Nutrition And Their Brain
From the moment we are conceived all throughout our entire lives what we put in our body plays a huge role in the level of happiness we experience along with the accomplishments we will be able to achieve. Today we are going to focus on a specific body part that is highly susceptible to the dietary choices you make, which is your brain.
As a fetus, what the mother consumes and eventually passes on to the child has a vital role in deciding how well the babies brain will form. During the 8th-12th weeks in pregnancy the brain is going through rapid growth and as such it is imperative the mother consumes the adequate amount of nutrients during this time. (1) Some children who have been born to mothers who have failed to maintain proper nutrition have shown signs of mental retardation and behavioral problems. (2) While this damage has not always been shown to be permanent, there are times that failure to maintain proper nutrition can have devastating effects on the nervous system and glial cell development. (3)
Some of the nutrients your child is going to need in order to promote healthy brain growth are:
We wanted to give you a brief background as to how diet choices can effect your child in the beginning of life just to give you a foundation however now we are going to skip about six years to when your child is going to school.
If you would like some more information we encourage you to check out this study (pre-warning it is LOOONG)
How Breakfast And Lunch Can Effect Your Child's Grades
In order to be able to keep up with the long list of demands that our placed on your child's brain it needs the proper fuel. Paying attention and learning takes active brainpower and studies have shown this is no less taxing on the body than doing physical activity. (4)
In our day to day lives that are becoming more and more hectic and fast paced it is common and at times necessary to look for ways to make things a bit more efficient. Unfortunately, one of the first things to get cut is making sure our gets are getting a nutritious breakfast and lunch and instead opting for "snackpacks" or relying on school food to provide the proper nutrients your child needs (While schools have stepped up to make lunches healthier, they have failed to make them no more appetizing and they can't force your child to eat).
Both breakfast and lunch should have a balanced portion of proteins, fats and slow burning carbohydrates. (5) This will ensure your child has enough energy to get through the day and avoid the after lunch "crash" that a majority of kids experience (I remember the second period after lunch being designated as a "nap" period when I was younger).
Below we list out different drink and food choices you have the option of providing your children and whether they may have a positive or detrimental effect on your child's ability to perform in school. Follow this list and you will be potentially setting your little one up to have a distinct advantage over his peers.
Foods To Include That Will Help Your Child Learn
Eggs are extremely versatile and a great source of protein and nutrients that will help your little one concentrate throughout the day. They also have Choline which forms acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that carries messages to and from nerves. (5) In order to get the most benefit, we suggest serving them hard boiled however, we understand that some kids are not a big fan of this, so if that is the case the next healthiest way to prepare them would be scrambled.
Although traditionally not the favorite food choice of kids, broccoli is abundant with Vitamin K and Choline which are both extremely important for healthy brain growth. To get your kids to eat broccoli one good way is to cover it in cheese, this way they get a healthy dose of calcium along with their serving of vegetables. One of the healthiest and easiest ways to prepare broccoli is in the oven, simply toss in a small coat of olive oil and season with salt and pepper, then cook until crisp.
Foods You Should Avoid
Although we depict soda as our main example, any drink that is high in fructose can be harmful to your child's ability to perform in school. Sugary drinks are full of simple carbs which are easily burned throughout the day leaving your little one feeling drained before the end of the school day. If you are looking for a good alternative your best bet is going to be water or tea (with a little bit of surgar added). Don't get tricked by the advertising of sports drinks companies claiming their drinks are "healthy". Many of them have just as much surgar as sodas.
Refined carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour can have a high GI index when consumed in large amounts. The GI is a measurement of how fast your body digests food, eating to much food with a high GI can cause spikes in your child's sugar and insulin levels which has been shown to impair memory and learning. (8)
In order to ensure you are not harming your child's ability to learn, switch to whole wheat bread and try and stay away from sugary snacks.
Fish with a high mercury content should be kept to an absolute minimum as mercury has an extremely damaging effect on your child's growth and their ability to learn. Luckily, there are a lot of fish that are low in mercury content and the ones that are dangerous tend to not be favored by children (if your kid likes fish at all).
Here are the ones you want to stay away from:
Foods that are high in trans-fats, according to some studies, have been shown to harm the brains ability to process information, especially when it comes to memory. While natural occurring trans-fats are not necessarily alarming, it is the trans-fats that are created as a result of the mass production of foods that need to be avoided.
These types of trans-fats are typically found in frostings, ready made snacks, fried fast food and vegetable shortening.
If you are wondering about saturated-fats, the verdict is still out on that one. While some studies have shown a possible risk others observational studies have shown the opposite effect. Our suggestion is to err on the side of caution and keep the consumption of fats to what is currently recommended for your child's age.
Drinks That Will Help Your Child Learn
Good ole, delicious, hydrating H2O! Nothing beats it, and you should be teaching your kids to love it as early possible. Since a large percentage of our brains are made up of water, it makes logical sense that this would be the key liquid to better cognitive performance.
Studies have shown that dehydration wreaks havoc on memory and performance, and this is especially true for your little one's developing minds. If you live in an area where it gets especially hot, your children are much more susceptible to the debilitating effects of dehydration and drinking fountains just aren't enough as there is no guarantee kids will use them
Personal Note: As a child I absolutely detested drinking fountains and would choose dehydration over using one. If you think about the mechanics, the water hits the persons mouth and then part of that water drips back onto the part where the water comes out....I mean would you drink out of another persons glass if they took a drink and you saw half of the contents spill out of their mouth and on the glass??? I don't think so...just saying.
If they are really adverse to waters lack of taste, a little spritz of lemon may help make it more manageable.
One GREAT way to pack in a bunch of essential nutrients in one shot is to throw it into a delicious smoothie. Smoothies are great for picky eaters and by letting your little ones be a part of the creation process you will be attaching positive experiences to healthy diet choices which is always a plus!
Make sure you are packing these smoothies with berries, oatmeal, and vegetables to give your kids that boost they need to be able to perform their best in school!
For an amazing list of ideas that go over healthy smoothie ideas we highly encourage you to check out this article.
When it comes to tea, our favorite would have to be Peppermint, hands down. Mainly because research has shown it may potentially help with cognitive function. Although it is best to limit this drink to every couple of days, it is a great substitute for sugary juices or worst of all soda, which has absolutely no nutritional value and simply sets your child up to crash.
For little ones, it is always suggested to brew the tea a bit weaker than you normally would, adding a little lemon or sugar can also make it just sweet enough to be irresistible.
Photo by Glenna Rankin on Reshot
Helping Your Kids Make The Switch
If you have been living a lifestyle that incorporates a lot of junk food and excess sugars than chances are your child is going to be in for a rude awakening once you start implementing these changes. Even at a young age, our bodies can easily become accustomed to that "dose" of sugar and when we don't get it "withdrawals" in the form of irritability, drowsiness and headaches can occur.
If you are worried that your child is going to have an issue adjusting to the change, we have found taking these steps can help with the transition:
Talking to Your Kids Before Hand:
Although the initial shock of a diet change on your body can be frustrating, the mental aspect can be just as bad if not worse. Most children are too young to understand that these feelings are stemming from their bodies craving simple sugars and that it is simply an adjustment period that will pass. By sitting your kids down and explaining to them what might occur, you will be helping them be one step ahead and also giving them an important lesson on being aware of what their bodies are communicating to them.
Making Changes Gradually:
Going from a lunch-able, Capri-sun and Oreo to a whole-wheat sandwich, water and banana chips is going to blow your child's mind (and not in the good way). While we at HTTM advocate taking things to the MAX, if you drop this type of bombshell on your kid without any type of preparation, their first reaction is probably going to wonder what is it they did wrong that you are obviously punishing them for.
We suggest starting with one item every couple days to a week, and perhaps even doing a test run at home to make sure they like it. This way you are ensuring that the food isn't ending up going in the trash during lunch time, and also leads us to our second point...
Allowing Your Kids To Choose:
It has been proven time and time again that we tend to stick by what we have chosen for ourselves, even when the decision isn't necessarily rational. Utilize this principal to your advantage by giving your child multiple options to choose from for their lunch. By doing so you will get them excited about eating healthier and begin building great habits that will benefit them long into the future.
7 Meal Ideas That Are Tasty AND Healthy
We scoured the internet for what we felt were some of the best lunch ideas that are both healthy and appetising and compiled a list of our top seven. Mix these with a healthy drink and side and your kids will have a distinct advantage over their peers in terms of nutrition.