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Health, Nutrition & Fitness        < Previous        Next >



Brain Food


Q. We all know about the kinds of foods we shouldn't be feeding our children because they're bad for them: junk food, sweet snacks, greasy fast-food fare. But what are the foods that we should be feeding our children, to help them do their best in school?


         A child's brain isn't very big, but it sucks up 20% of the body's carbohydrate supply every day. It prefers a nice, steady supply of glucose, the fuel source that comes from carbs. Make sure your child gets a good supply of carbohydrates every day to keep the brain operating at a steady pace and avoid the distractions of hunger pangs. But even though carbohydrates mean sugars, that doesn't mean sugary junk food or sweet cereals. Instead, go for the long-lasting, complex carbs in high-fiber breads and cereals like oatmeal and bran; fruits like apples, cherries, oranges and grapes; spaghetti; rice; soybeans, kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils; and lots of milk and yogurt.


         Also make sure your child has a good supply of protein - turkey, chicken, eggs and beans - preferably at breakfast, too, to stabilize blood sugar. Ideas: breakfast burrito, eggs on whole-wheat English muffin, or a peanut butter and banana waffle.


         Building brains is the berries! Blueberries and many other berries supply the chemicals that help make connections between brain cells, increasing learning power.


         If your child hates broccoli, point out that it is high in folic acid, a vitamin that helps build memory.


         Avoid sugary in-between meal snacks because the sugar jets right into the bloodstream and can make learning and behavior both worse. Your child may experience sugar "highs" followed by the sugar "blues." If you want to serve a high-sugar food, serve it with other foods to slow down that sugar high.


         A low-calorie, high-protein breakfast will tend to keep your child more alert in the morning than a high-calorie, high-fat breakfast, which will tend to make him feel more sluggish.


         Protein-rich foods help the brain make its neurotransmitters, the messengers that help the brain function. So protein really is "brain food."


         Calming and relaxing nutritional powers come from bean burritos, nuts and seeds (e.g., almonds, filberts, sunflower and sesame seeds), and legumes.


         Foods with the omega 3 fatty acid, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are literally brain-builders, because DHA is a structural component of brain tissue. In Asia, students frequently supplement their food with DHA pills and take them before tests. Feed tuna, salmon, fish oil and flax oil. Lunch idea: chunk light tuna with whole-wheat pasta.


         Oatmeal topped with blueberries may be the best breakfast for improving a child's learning and memory skills.


         Choose low-fat or skim milk.


         Serve fruit for dessert or snacks.


         Other good snack ideas: whole-wheat crackers, apple slices "frosted" with peanut butter; baby carrots and celery sticks; string cheese; raw almonds or walnuts; low-fat popcorn, and frozen grapes.


Homework: Check out the nutrition advice for parents of schoolchildren on:


By Susan Darst Williams Health 05 2008



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