The foods we eat serve many important roles in the body way beyond our basic survival. Individual vitamins, minerals and other nutrients all contribute to our health and normal functioning in one way or another. An unhealthy diet can affect us negatively in various ways, both mentally and physically. When it comes to children, a proper diet is particularly important in supporting optimal development. The foods your child eats may directly impact brain function and while this is not the only factor in promoting optimal intelligence, it is likely a very important one that deserves your attention.
Foods that “Drain the Brain’”
You hear a lot about avoiding excess intake of sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods—they possess less nutritional value, lead to weight gain and are just overall not the healthiest foods to be eating. A diet heavy in these types of foods may affect brain functioning as well. According to recent research out of Britain and Australia, which tracked the diet of thousands of children, there appeared to be a direct link between the quality of diet and IQ score. In the Australian study, children whose diets contained higher amounts of processed foods, fatty foods, sugary foods, etc…had lower IQ scores than children whose diets were rich in healthy, whole foods such as fish, beans, fruits and vegetables.
When British researchers scored the children’s diets, they found that not only did a diet high in processed foods correlate with a lower IQ score, the unhealthier the diet, the lower the score. The same thing applied in the other direction—the healthier the diet, the higher the score.
The Winning Breakfast Combination
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard how breakfast is the most important meal of the day and it appears that this is true, especially for children. According to the American Dietetic Association, kids who regularly eat breakfast have been shown to perform better in the classroom. But, you do not want to give your kids just any breakfast. The ideal meal will consist of high-quality protein and complex carbohydrates. This combination will promote steady blood sugar levels, which translates to a steady release of glucose – the main fuel for the brain. A steady supply of energy to the brain will promote concentration and alertness. Some good ideas include oatmeal and a glass of skim milk, a whole grain waffles and peanut butter or a breakfast burrito made with egg. whole grain tortilla, low-fat cheese and beans.
Research suggests that diets lacking sufficient amounts of zinc and vitamin C may affect physical and mental development in children. Rich sources of zinc include beans, yogurt, cashews, chickpeas, almonds, peas, oatmeal, fortified cereals, beef, oyster and crab. Foods with a lot of vitamin C include green peas, spinach, potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, red pepper, oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, green peppers, broccoli, cabbage, strawberries and cantaloupe. Folic acid, one of the B-vitamins, may help as well by aiding memory and information recall—good sources include fortified foods such as cereal and oatmeal, black-eyed peas, spinach, lentils, soybeans, artichokes, wheat germ and oranges.
We have been told the importance of a healthy diet so many times in our lives that it may fall on deaf ears after a while. We know it, but I do not think we fully realize how important it is, especially for our children, who are relying on the nutrients to develop properly. While a healthy diet may not turn your child into Einstein, do not underestimate the role that eating right plays in promoting optimal functioning of the body, including the brain.
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