The Best Foods For Supporting Your Child’s Brain Development
As a parent, you know all too well the short-term effects of food on the brain: namely a grumpy child who’s missed their lunch or unable to sit still after a high dose of sugar. But what your kids eat also affects them in the long-term, shaping how both their bodies and brains develop.
As early as in the womb, a baby’s preference for certain foods is starting to take shape.
And from there on out, the diet they grow up and live with will influence everything from their general health and their weight, to their lifestyle, cravings, mood, and even their memories.
The link between food and health conditions like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease is already well established, but how food affects the development and functioning of our brains is somewhat less clear.
One thing we do know, however, is that food plays a bigger role in brain health than we could have ever imagined.
Recent studies link a Western diet to a decreased size hippocampus (the area of the brain important for learning and memory), while others show junk food and fast food negatively affects the brain’s synapses.
Add this to the plethora of research on vitamins and fatty acids, such as folic acid, vitamin E, and DHA, that can help prevent mental decline, and the case for fostering a healthy diet early on in life is irrefutable.
So throw away the foods packed with trans fats and high fructose corn syrup, and discover our top five staples for supporting healthy cognitive development. Make sure to keep them in stock in your kitchen, and you’ll be doing yourself and your children a huge favour.
“Call the blueberry the brain berry.” James Joseph, PhD, lead scientist in the Laboratory of Neuroscience at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging
A great addition to oats or smoothies, blueberries are well known as an all-around powerhouse for health.
This is largely because, as shown through extensive testing against over 50 other foods, blueberries come out on top as having the highest antioxidant capacity per serving.
Antioxidants are vital in countering free radicals – the harmful byproducts of cellular metabolism that damage cells and contribute to disease in the body, and crucially, the brain. Blueberries are also a natural source of resveratrol – the powerful antioxidant that can combat inflammation, ageing, and heart disease – and also vitamin K, vitamin C, and manganese.
Every cell in the body relies on one thing to function: energy. And in the brain, the ability to focus and concentrate, among other things, comes from having a steady supply of this energy in the form of glucose.
Your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose and delivers it to the brain via the blood. Heavy servings of simple carbohydrates with low-GIs, such as white grains, cereals, and milk, spike blood glucose and result in the familiar sugar crash. By opting for complex carbohydrates which are absorbed slowly into the bloodstream, such as oats, brown rice, and whole grain bread, you can help maintain a steady level of mental alertness throughout the day.
This diverse little fruit, great in everything from salads and spreads to smoothies and desserts, is one of the best sources of fat around.
Avocados are packed with monosaturated fats – a type of good fat proven to increase the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which is critical for learning and memory. What’s more, they are a great source of vitamin B9 (also known as folate or folic acid). This vitamin has been shown to promote proper brain function and also play an important role in mental and emotional health.
Important for the heart, joints, and the brain, essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be made by the body and therefore must be obtained through diet.
Omega-3 fats are one of two EFAs (the other being omega-6), which are naturally found in oily fish in the active form of EPA and DHA. These fatty acids are reported to boost serotonin production – the good mood chemical – help us manage stress, and optimise cognitive performance.
The best sources of EPA and DHA are fish like mackerel, salmon, trout, herring, sardines, and kippers. Alternative plant sources include soya beans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, linseed (flaxseed), and their oils.