Using Nutrition to Improve Your Child’s Brain Health

By: Dhara Baiden

My last article discussed just a few of the ways modern technology can adversely affect the minds of today’s age-of-technology kids.  So the next question is: how can we fortify our kids’ brains to protect them against the damage of technology?  There are two aspects to this—first, eliminating as many chemicals as possible from children’s diets, and second, adding in foods that will build healthy brain cells.

Foods today could potentially be divided into two categories: nutrients and anti-nutrients.  The foods with nutrients build our bodies by allowing us to be vital and free from illness and disease.  Anti-nutrients are toxic to our bodies, causing harm and forcing our bodies to work hard to digest and process the chemicals contained in them.  As a teacher who spends eight hours a day around children, I am fully aware that kids today eat far more anti-nutrients than nutrients.  Even if kids have well-meaning mothers, lunch bags are filled with white bread, Cheese-Its, Gatorade, and Twinkies.  All of these processed foods are loaded with chemicals – anti-nutrients – that contribute nothing beneficial to the body.  Look at a Twinkie – it is essentially a cake, which if baked at home would require about six ingredients, but a Twinkie has 39 ingredients, many of which “bear…little resemblance to actual food” (Underwood).  A general rule is that if you read the label on a food product and you can’t pronounce one of the words on it, there is a chemical in there.  And chemicals are harmful to everyone’s brains and immune systems, but especially to children’s.

90% of the brain is made up of fat, so it takes high-quality fats to nourish the brain and keep it strong.  The fats we need to eat in order to nourish the brain are called essential fatty acids (EFAs).  EFAs build cell membranes in every cell in our bodies, which is vital for both brain function and building a strong immune system.  Some of the best foods for this are nuts/seeds, avocado, and fish.  Flax seeds are a great source of the EFA called Omega-3, and nuts/seeds and fish are an ideal source for Omega-6.  There are many kid-friendly ways to get these EFAs into children’s diets.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Substitute organic almond butter for peanut butter.  Almonds contain more EFAs than peanuts, and are an especially valuable source of calcium, a mineral that is vital for bone-growth.
  • Make a simple trail mix that contains raw (not roasted or salted) almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, walnuts, or pecans. Dried cranberries, raisins, or dark chocolate chips can also add flavor and nourishment.
  • If your child won’t eat sliced avocado or guacamole, use avocado instead of butter when you bake. An example of this is Eva’s banana cake; the recipe for this can be found below.
  • Halvah is a delicious way to have something sweet that is jam-packed with EFAs.  The recipe can be found below.
  • Make homemade muffins using organic ingredients. Avoid adding sugar, which is found in high quantities in pre-packaged muffins, and use honey or agave nectar instead.
  • Make homemade oatmeal cookies with oatmeal, honey, butter, and raw seeds/nuts of your choice, like almonds, cashews, or pecans. Again, avoid adding sugar; honey is a great way to add sweetness without compromising nutritional value.

If time is a factor, there are always granola bars that can be purchased in grocery stores that have EFA-rich nuts and seeds in them.  Also, you can always add nuts and seeds to yogurt and oatmeal – a touch of honey can also add great flavor.  Of course, always try and get organic, when possible, so you know the products don’t have genetically modified ingredients, pesticides, and other nasty ingredients.

Many of the items mentioned above are great (and easy) for breakfast.  Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for children; they need to be sent to school well-nourished in order for their brains to be ready to learn, think, and absorb information at optimal levels.  Unfortunately, many students are sent to school either without having eaten breakfast, or having eaten anti-nutrients. On a random day, I surveyed 62 of my 7th graders, both male and female, and found that 26% of them did not eat breakfast that day.  Of the ones that did eat breakfast, only about five students had eaten food that contained no (or very few) anti-nutrients, like fruit, eggs, and bacon.  Most kids had eaten sugary cereals, soda, coffee, cinnamon rolls, Pop Tarts, or donuts.  How is the brain supposed to function at its best if the foods it is given are substandard?

Recipes:

Halvah

¼ c. organic sesame tahini

3 Tbsp. organic honey

2 Tbsp. wheat germ

¼ c. organic sunflower seeds, ground into a meal

Mix all together and form into little balls. Refrigerate.

Eva’s Banana Cake

2 eggs

½ c. honey or agave nectar

½ c. avocado

2/3 c. applesauce

3 very ripe bananas

Combine both mixtures and bake in a greased 9 x 13 pan at 350-degrees for 25-30 minutes.

For recipe ideas, see Recipes from Rose Quest: Organic Correct Food Combining (can be ordered from Rose Quest by calling 574-259-5653)

Reference List

Underwood, Anne. (2007, March 5). Mmmmmm, Tasty Chemicals. Newsweek 50.

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