During meetings and talks with our students’ parents, we are often asked for dietary and nutritional advice for their children to optimize brain functioning and academic performance. The first thing we usually mention is that there are some things we don’t have to tell any parent because they already know it; for example, everyone knows- and common sense tells us- that sugar and junk food will not help with enhancing a student’s or anyone else’s intellectual functioning.
But there are indeed some foods and practices that parents can use to help their children have optimal mental clarity, and that can enhance brain functioning, which can, in the long run, carry over to better academic performance.
None of what is offered below though should be read as operating or affecting us in isolation and without context, as there are numerous other factors- ranging from a student’s self-image, a learning disability, to the quality of the teacher-student relationship- that can affect any student’s academic performance in any area. Regardless, it is good to have adequate and proper nutrition on your child’s side as you navigate the parenting process.
The first fact to keep in mind when thinking about nutrition and brain functioning is that the brain is the control center of the human body. It is in charge of keeping the heart beating, the lungs breathing, and ensuring the ability to move, feel and think. Thus, it is necessary that we keep the brain healthy by nourishing it with a good diet. Research demonstrates that, combined with a holistic plan that includes exercise, meditation, safeguarding the quality of your environment, and other factors, you can increase your chances of maintaining a healthy brain as well as increasing cognitive performance if you eat right. In his esteemed book, The Brain Diet, Harvard-based research and nutritional expert Alan Logan details the enormous benefits of a diet with the brain’s health in mind.
And while there isn’t a particular ideal full daily diet for optimal brain functioning- breakfast, lunch, and dinner- there are many ways and pathways to feed your or your child’s brain right. Below is a list of categories and food tips you can integrate as you see fit into your family’s life and get good health and nutrition on your side. I will issue a caveat though and quote nutritionist Dr. Fred Bisci, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting personally, and tell you that “It’s what you leave out that counts.” Dr. Bisci, a Staten Island, New York-based nutritionist (www.anydoubtleaveitout.com) is known for his admonishments that the best diet can be negatively offset by its mixture with foods that are unhealthy. So, it goes without saying that all of what is below should not be used as an excuse for children to indulge in foods that are known to be toxic to peak functioning. Here are some foods that you can include in your child’s diet.
Eggs contain B vitamins, antioxidants, and Omega-3 fatty acids. They help nerve cells to burn glucose, protect neurons against damage and keep nerve cells functioning at prime speed. It is advisable for children to have an egg per day to gain these valuable nutrients.
Mixed with a tablespoon of Flaxseed (which is an excellent source of Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA), a healthy fat that boosts cerebral cortex function), as well as a teaspoon of peanut butter, sliced banana, and walnut, oatmeal for breakfast can help your child get off to a good start for the day.
Research has demonstrated that almonds are good for increased attention and awareness, both essential for learning. Also, almonds help in restoring memory and cognitive function.
#4: Beet and Berry Smoothie
This unique mixture, which is worth trying, helps in increasing blood flow to the brain which improves mental performance.
This potent brain food improves cognitive function and can even reduce memory loss.
#6: Fresh Fruits
Generally, the essence of fresh fruits in the human body cannot be overemphasized. More especially those rich in Vitamin C, specifically, help boosts mental agility and reduces the decline in the brains cognitive abilities. Examples of such fruits are bananas, tangerines, pears, oranges, watermelons, and pineapples.
Blueberries provide a wide range of health benefits including some that are specifically for the brain. It contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects. Some of the antioxidants in blueberries accumulates in the brain and helps ensure communication between brain cells. You can sprinkle them on your breakfast cereal or add them to a smoothie.
#7: Omega 3 rich fish
Salmon, Mackerel, Kippers, and Trout contain high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids that add to healthy brain function and reducing memory loss. Overall, fatty fish is an excellent choice for brain health.
#8: Broccoli & Carrots
Broccolis are rich in Vitamin K and are responsible for boosting brain power and cognitive function. It is essential for forming sphingolipids, which is a type of fat that is densely packed into brain cells. It also helps protect the brain against damage. Carrots are rich in carotene and play a vital role in the improvement of memory and verbal skills.
#9: Freshly brewed tea
If you or your child already have a cup of tea daily, then you’re definitely on the right track. Consumption of two to three cups of freshly brewed tea daily contains an amount of caffeine that helps boost brain power by enhancing memory, focus, and mood.
This is known to be a key ingredient in curry powder and has some benefits for the brain. It is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that has been linked to the growth of new brain cells and the improvement of the memory, most especially with people diagnosed with Alzheimer.
There are obviously more foods and tips to offer around this topic, but I hope this has given you some fundamental insight into some daily practices you can include to help your child be the best they can be.
References & Recommended Reading
Logan, Alan C. The Brain Diet: The Connection Between Nutrition, Mental Health, and Intelligence. Nashville, TN: Cumberland House, 2007.
Speck, Maria. “A Gift of Grains.” Gastronomica 7, no. 4 (2007): 84-87