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Crucial Brain Foods your Child Needs

July 2021 - Nutrition

Did you know that your child’s brain grows and changes exceptionally rapidly?

If you are a parent, you can attest to the fact that time flies by when it comes to your child’s growth and development. But what you may not realize is that your child requires certain nutrients and crucial brain foods at the right stages of life to help them develop properly.

Why? There’s nothing more important than protecting our child’s brain health and helping them develop their brain’s capacity. After all, we all want our children to excel in every possible way. If that means we can help them improve their focus, learning, memory, behaviour, and mood with the right foods, then why wouldn’t we

And what better time to start taking action than today? Get your child started with these key nutrients right away, and watch your child flourish!

Crucial Brain Foods Your Child Needs

Omega 3 fatty acids
Why it’s crucial: Omega 3 fatty acids, referred to simply as Omega 3’s, are vital building blocks that your child’s brain needs for development, growth, and cognition. It’s one of the absolute best nutrients for your child’s overall brain health, as it works to improve learning, memory, and mood in kids. Omega 3 fatty acids are also often lacking in kids with ADHD tendencies. So, to improve attention and nervous system function, adding more Omega 3’s to your child’s diet is key.

What foods contain it: We can find omega 3’s in cod liver oil, wild salmon, mackerel, walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds. But if your child balks at the sight of fish on the dinner table, then a quality liquid omega 3 supplement is in order!

Genius Tip: Taking a liquid supplement is the most accessible form of a supplement for our digestive systems to process. This means more of the nutrient is absorbed by our body, which leads to greater bioavailability.  

Protein

Why it’s crucial: Kids’ brains need protein to function correctly. Protein contains essential amino acids that a child’s body requires for tissue repair and brain cell creation. It also works to boost moods, improve focus, and stabilize blood sugar levels. High-quality protein sources as part of a healthy diet are crucial to allow your child’s brain to grow, develop, and learn. 

What foods contain it: Good sources of proteins include grass-fed meat, pasture-raised poultry, seafood, peas, beans, eggs, soy, nuts, seeds, and grass-fed dairy. 

Genius Tip: The quality of the protein you (and your child) eat is just as important as the quantity. Grass-fed and pasture-raised or wild protein sources contain more nutrients and healthier saturated fats without added hormones or antibiotics, making them more beneficial for us and the planet. 

Choline

Why it’s crucial: Choline is an essential nutrient required for healthy brain development and normal brain function. It helps form new neurons and synapses (the connections between neurons) in the brain to improve learning. It also plays an essential role in developing a child’s nervous systems and building cell membrane integrity. When combined with vitamin B12 and folate, choline also works to improve your child’s focus and boost their memory.

What foods contain it: Egg yolks are the richest source of choline. Choline is also found in grass-fed meat, liver, dairy products, nuts, and legumes.

Genius Tip: In utero, a fetus will absorb all available choline from the mother’s stores, often leaving mom deficient. Building up choline stores before pregnancy is one of the best strategies a prospective mother can take – for her own health and that of her future children.

Folate

Why it’s crucial: As a parent, you are most likely aware of the need for folate during pregnancy. But have you ever wondered why this nutrient is so critical? Folate is necessary for the production of DNA and the creation of healthy cells. Adequate folate levels prevent brain and spinal cord defects and reduce a child’s risk of intellectual disability. [4]

What foods contain it: Folate can be found in liver, leafy green vegetables like spinach, legumes, fortified cereals, and fortified bread. 

Genius Tip: To help avoid postpartum depression, its recommended that all prospective mothers consume adequate levels of folate. Ensuring your child receives ample folate as well will help reverse the current statistic that 1 in 5 kids is deficient in this vital nutrient.

Vitamin B12

Why it’s crucial: Vitamin B12 is essential for a child’s brain development, cognitive function, and the myelination of nerves. A lack of B12 during pregnancy and early childhood has been associated with impaired cognitive development, including attention and memory.

What foods contain it: The foods containing the most considerable amounts of Vitamin B12 include nutritional yeast, shellfish, seafood, legumes, nuts, and fortified grains. 

Genius Tip: The best form of supplemental B12 is a sublingual (under the tongue) Methylcobalamin B12. It is the most active form of vitamin B12, making it the easiest form for our bodies to absorb and use. This form of B12 is also used much more efficiently by our brain, nervous system, and liver than cyanocobalamin – a synthetic form of the vitamin. As a rule, synthetic vitamins are challenging for our bodies to process, if we can process them at all. 

Vitamin B6

Why it’s crucial: Vitamin B6 helps release brain chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine. They work to stabilize your child’s mood and help them cope with stress. Vitamin B6 also helps maintain proper nervous system function and a robust immune system.

What foods contain it: Fish, organ meats, peas, spinach, and beans contain adequate amounts of Vitamin B6. Carrots, sunflower seeds, broccoli, and avocados also contain good amounts of this vital nutrient. 

Genius Tip: Possible signs that you are not getting enough Vitamin B6 can include learning difficulties, depression, headaches, memory problems, numbness or tingling, and cracks or sores around your mouth and lips. If this sounds like you or your child, you may want to bump up the B6.

These six nutrients are just the beginning! Be sure to check back next week to discover even more essential nutrients your child’s brain needs for growth and development, as well as some delicious foods in which they can be found. 

Iron

Why it’s crucial: Iron is essential for a child’s neurological development. Numerous studies report that kids who have lower levels of iron also have lower IQs. A lack of iron can also create fatigue, fearfulness, unhappiness, and poor social skills in kids. [1]

What foods contain it: Meats, beans, lentils, dark leafy vegetables, beets, figs, and baked potatoes have the highest iron content. Pumpkin seeds, shellfish, broccoli, and almonds also contain adequate amounts of iron. 

Genius Tip: The consequences of iron deficiency in kids is serious. Unfortunately, supplementation with synthetic iron can be problematic, as it reduces spatial memory, mathematical achievement, motor function, and visual perception. The best way of ensuring kids get enough iron is through the right food choices.

Zinc

Why it’s crucial: Zinc is an important antioxidant that protects your child from environmental pollutants, which can slow a child’s ability to learn. It’s also needed for overall health and growth. It strengthens a child’s immune system, promotes proper bone and joint health, and is required to develop a child’s reproductive system. 

What foods contain it: Foods that contain large amounts of zinc are seafood, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, eggs, and legumes. Other foods containing zinc include beans, kelp, green peas, and buckwheat.

Genius Tip: As an immune system stimulant, taking zinc in the form of a lozenge or throat spray can help ward off or reduce the staying power of a common cold.


Vitamin A

Why it’s crucial: Vitamin A, along with vitamin D and arachidonic acid, work together to promote mental health by regulating dopamine and cortisol levels. Vitamin A is necessary to carry out dopamine signalling to help reduce the incidence of anxiety and depression. Vitamins A and D are also essential for the optimal formation and function of the brain. 

What foods contain it: There are large amounts of Vitamin A in liver and cod liver oil. Smaller quantities can be found in egg yolks, grass-fed butter, carrots, squash, cantaloupe, and broccoli.

Genius Tip: Vitamin A is a fat-soluble nutrient. This means it must be eaten together with some healthy fats or be contained in a fatty food in order for it to be absorbed. Mother Nature got it right, as most foods naturally high in Vitamin A also contain healthy fats for this very reason. 

Vitamin D

Why it’s crucial: Vitamin D works directly with Vitamin A in many contexts. It’s also required for the proper use of calcium in the body to create strong, healthy bones. But perhaps more importantly, Vitamin D turns on and off enzymes in the brain that create neurotransmitters and encourage nerve growth. Studies also suggest that vitamin D protects neurons and reduces neuroinflammation. [2]

What foods contain it: Fatty fish and cod liver oil contain large amounts of Vitamin D. Smaller amounts are found in shellfish, grass-fed butter, and halibut.

Genius Tip: Our body also makes Vitamin D when we are exposed to natural sunlight directly overhead. This is why many people love travelling to sun-filled destinations – it boosts their levels of Vitamin D and helps them “feel great!”

Vitamin C

Why it’s crucial: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that is vital for optimal cognitive health. Your child’s brain uses vast amounts of vitamin C each day to form connective tissue and blood vessels. It’s also used to protect healthy brain function and convert dopamine into serotonin to boost your child’s mood. As a bonus, vitamin C works to strengthen immunity – making it extra helpful during cold and flu season! Because of its importance in daily brain function and how quickly it gets used up when our bodies are under stress, it’s recommended to replenish vitamin C supplies regularly throughout the day. [3]

What foods contain it: Vitamin C is found in many delicious foods like oranges, strawberries, blackberries, avocados, kale, and Brussels sprouts. 

Genius Tip: Pairing Vitamin C-rich foods with those containing iron will improve iron absorption. Maybe that’s what makes a strawberry and spinach salad so delectable! 

Power foods for your child’s brain

Here’s the part you’ve been waiting for! Power foods that contain many of the key nutrients your child’s brain needs.

You can think of this as your “cheat sheet” – if your child doesn’t eat all of the foods listed above (which is highly unlikely!), they will hopefully try some of the power foods listed below to acquire some of these crucial nutrients.

It’s also important to note that some pregnant women and young children have a hard time getting enough of these crucial nutrients. Vegetarian and vegan families or those who rely on a limited, starch-heavy diet without many veggies or fish may find it particularly challenging. For these people and anyone looking for more support, meeting with a nutritionist may be helpful. 

Power foods for the brain

Bone broth:

Homemade broth made with the bones of chicken, duck, beef, lamb, or fish is packed with collagen and gelatin that improves digestion and contributes to healthy bones, connective tissue, and tendons. It also provides many of the crucial nutrients required for brain health and nervous system development, including vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and zinc.

Eggs: 

Eggs, especially egg yolks, are an excellent source of choline, cholesterol, and AA (arachidonic acid) – all essential for a child’s developing brain. Grass-fed yolks are also rich in vitamins A and D, iron, protein, and folic acid, which work synergistically to help kids concentrate.

Berries:

Berries, especially blueberries, contain antioxidants and flavonoids that help improve memory and boost reaction time by improving brain cell communication. They also have vitamin A, choline, folate, and many different minerals that all contribute to proper brain function.

Leafy Greens:

Greens like spinach and kale are full of folate and various vitamins. Consuming these power foods throughout life is also linked to a reduced risk of getting dementia later on, as they encourage the growth of new brain cells. [4]

If your child struggles to eat their greens, get creative! Hide a handful of spinach or kale in a smoothie, omelette, shepherd’s pie, or lasagna. Alternately, try making some kale chips. They are much easier than you may think! Cut off the stems, then massage the leaves with olive oil. Lay them in a single layer on a sheet pan, sprinkle with a little sea salt, and bake until crispy.

Dark chocolate:

The raw cacao in dark chocolate is a rich source of flavonoids, vitamins, and minerals that work to improve cognitive function, boost blood flow to the brain, and promote the growth of neurons and blood vessels. 

Bottom line

The right nutrients are crucial to your child’s development and brain health.

Studies show that kids who are well-nourished or take supplements tend to perform better on intelligence tests. If your child is not taking any supplements yet, you may want to consider getting him started on a quality multivitamin and mineral supplement today. This is especially important if your child is a picky eater and may not be getting all the necessary nutrients their growing bodies and brains need to function optimally.

Kelly Aiello, rhn is one of Nature’s Fare Markets’ nutritionists and provides free half hour one-on-one nutrition consultations in our stores. Check out the nutrition consultation schedule on page three and book your free appointment today at naturesfare.com.
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