Children grow and develop almost overnight. Before you know it, they’re already forming a number of physical and mental skills that take them ahead of their age. The brain is a particularly important organ during a person’s formative years, and the right food and nutrition can make a huge difference in its well-being.
The foundations: Rapid brain growth takes place in the first few years of life. The brain, for instance, reaches 80 percent of its adult weight by the time a child reaches age 2. From there through adulthood, the brain continues to develop, particularly the area linked to memory, planning, and decision-making.
So what aids proper brain function and development? One is good nutrition, where research shows the benefit of specific nutrients and food groups in supporting brain development and cognitive function.
Here are seven so-called “brain foods” worthy of mention.
Let’s start with probably one of the most appealing foods to kids: cocoa and cocoa products, a rich source of antioxidants. These chemicals, flavonoids in particular, possess anti-inflammatory, brain-protective qualities. For one, they increase blood flow to the brain and assist in visual processing. Promising research also shows that cocoa intake may enhance cognitive performance among younger individuals.
This breakfast staple is one of the healthiest foods to feed kids. Eggs are loaded with choline, vitamin B12, protein, as well as selenium, which are all critical for brain development as well as cognition. Choline, for instance, could assist in brain development in the first 1,000 days of life. A diet that contains eggs has also been demonstrated in research to lead to higher IQ scores in young subjects.
- Green Leafy Vegetables
Admittedly, it’s a total challenge to get kids to eat leafy greens regularly, let alone once a day during dinner. While science is yet to provide foolproof advice on getting kids to eat veggies, it shows that there’s a strong case for doing so. Kale, spinach, lettuce, and other leafy greens may protect the brain via their folate, carotenoids, flavonoids, and vitamin E and K1 content, to name a few. Folate, for example, has been shown in a study to help up the cognitive scores of children compared to their peers. As carotenoid-rich foods, these veggies also boost cognitive function and visual acuity in children.
These pigment-rich fruits are loaded with plant compounds called anthocyanins, which may increase blood flow to a child’s brain, offer anti-inflammatory properties, and promote the creation of new nerve cells. In a study, kids ages 7 to 10 who drank 200 grams of a blueberry beverage filled with flavonoids did significantly better on a word recall exam than their peers who had a control beverage.
- Greek Yogurt
The fat that yogurt offers is deemed crucial to brain health. A full-fat Greek yogurt contains more protein than other yogurt types and helps keep brain cells in tiptop shape when it comes to sending and receiving information. When serving yogurt to kids, it’s recommended to combine it with a cereal for some fiber, berries for the antioxidants, and dark chocolate chips for the cocoa benefits. Just watch the amount of sugar that goes into the mix.
- Fish and Other Seafood
Fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fats as well as vitamin D, protecting the brain from mental decline and memory loss. The omega-3s that kids consume, the better their brain will function and they will be able to focus on their tasks. Some recommended sources include salmon and sardines. Watch out, however, for contaminated and mercury-laden fish, actively looking for fish and seafood sourced from pure, pristine waters.
- Apples, Nuts, Seeds
It’s crucial to give children snacks that serve their brain health well. Nuts and seeds are chock full of protein, vitamins and minerals, and essential fatty acids, boosting their mood and keeping their nervous system working efficiently. If they’re craving something sweet and need something for those sluggish days, then apples are a recommended treat for their roster of nutrients and antioxidants helping combat mental decline.
Supplements that provide overall cognitive enhancement for children may be well worth exploring if you feel your child’s diet is yet to provide these brain-aiding nutrients. It’s a continually improving process and you can try 101 ways to make their food more brain-friendly.