For most people, the primary focus of eating good nutritious food is physical health. But as nutrition impacts our mental health, should we not be creating shifts to keep the grey matter happy too? If athletes eat to win, let’s get our kids eating to learn. This winning team of foods will help school children stay focused during lessons, sit quietly doing tasks and have the energy to be Usain Bolt on the track.
Not only are these quick and easy to make in a bunch of ways, eggs are the ultimate brain food!
Studies revealed that children with learning problems often have unusually low cholesterol, of which eggs are a great source. The protein in eggs contains an astounding 22 amino acids which build key neurotransmitters including dopamine and nor-epinephrine contributing to your child feeling fuller for longer, with improved focus. Choline helps make memory stem cells. The more you have the better your memory. Vitamins B12 keeps the nerves communicating with ease. B5 and B6 maintain a healthy nervous system. Biotin and zinc help you think! All in all, a one stop shop for a basket of nutrition for your brain.
Sneak it in: Spaghetti Carbonara, pancakes, cakes, frittatas, Spanish tortilla, breakfast burrito.
This is a no brainer really... We are mainly made of water and our cognitive ability depends on how hydrated we are. Sugary drinks and sodas don't fully hydrate us and even just mild dehydration effects how well our brain functions. When students take exams, they do their best thinking and creativity when drinking water throughout the day. Keeping topped up on water keeps the mind clear.
Sneak it in: Keep water in sight. Encourage your child to keep water on their desk, they will tend to drink more if it’s in view.
When it comes to the omegas, our body needs a good balance of omega 3s and 6s for optimal mental and physical health. They each have their own roles to play in the body and have been shown to improve learning capacity and mood.
Other tests highlighted that both parents and children who took omega-3 supplements had significant reductions in their antisocial and aggressive behaviour.
Why fork out for supplements when there are plenty of fish in the sea? They're a great source of omega 3 and 6. If a fishy meal once in a while keeps the peace at home and the brain thriving, then we're all for it!
Sources: Mackerel, salmon, trout, herring, sardines, pilchards and kippers.
Food ideas: Fish cakes, fish nuggets, fish fingers, fish pie.
OAT, CEREALS AND WHOLEGRAINS
Studies comparing kids aged 9-11 that ate porridge, cold cereal or no breakfast showed that porridge eaters outperformed the others on spatial memory tasks. The is due to oatmeal having high fibre content which means the body digests it slowly and the brain gets a steady stream of energy over a longer time period. This is the case for all wholegrains. When it comes to glucose, slow and steady wins the race and keeps us alert throughout the day.
Sneak it in: Switch to sourdough bread, brown/spelt/brown rice pasta, brown rice or barley.
Beans, beans, make you... smart! They are a powerhouse filled with complex carbs, protein, vitamins and fibre to boot. To get the most out of them we recommend to eat beans with rice to create a full protein perfect for a veggie meal to help brain function level all day long. They have those great omega 3s for brain growth and function. Kidney beans, pinto beans and black beans are great sources.
Sneak it in: Chilli con carne (or sin carne). Stews, baked beans, chocolate brownies.
YOGHURT, CHEESE AND MILK
Although many of us have been moving towards non-dairy alternatives during the past few years, dairy still remains to be one of our best sources (in moderate quantities) of protein, vitamin B, vitamin D and calcium for children.
Vitamin B is particularly important when it comes to the development of our children’s brains. It helps to grow brain tissue, neurotransmitters and enzymes. A deficiency slows development or worsens symptoms related to learning differences and attention issues. Vitamin D2-3 calcium rich sources per day is optimum for most to have laser sharp focus and a strong skeleton.
Sneak it in: Yoghurt dips, use milk in porridge and pancake mixes, smoothies, add grated cheese melted into pasta or sprinkled on top of a shepherd’s pie.
COLOURFUL VEGGIES AND FRUIT
As a general rule of thumb, colourful vegetables and fruit tend to have lots of antioxidants and vitamins which protect the brain cells from damage and improves communication between them. Another very important thing, fibre in fruit and vegetables prevents is constipation. This can be very distracting for children and make them feel lethargic. For kids that aren’t keen on fruit and veg, try chop them up into small pieces so it seems less daunting for them to eat them.
Sneak it in: Sweet potato fries, pumpkin/courgette muffins and cakes, add vegetables to sauces, add vegetables to smoothies.
NUTS AND SEEDS
A fat head is a smart head. Our brain is made of 60% fat, and it’s no surprise that eating good fats keeps our brain function healthy. Packed with protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, seeds and nuts keep our nervous system in check.
Walnuts contain omega 3s which are the brain’s favourite food, as well as magnesium and Vitamin E.
Pumpkin seeds are packed with zinc which improved levels have been shown to reduce hyperactivity, impulsivity and impaired socialisation in children. Lastly and perhaps most importantly nuts and seeds improve mood which can get your child in a better mind set to learn.
Sneak it in: Pesto, nut butters, sprinkle seeds on salads, soups, yoghurt, add to cakes and smoothies.
For centuries herbalists have said that sage improves memory and the health of our nervous system. In more recent times, scientists have proved herbalists right and found that sage is responsible for better memory and concentration.
Sneak it in: Add at the last stage of cooking to protect the beneficial oils.