Sugar and food additives create imbalances in energy that can contribute to erratic behaviour, hyperactivity and mood changes in children.
What are the best foods for growing brains?
A good breakfast
Patrick Holford emphasises the importance of a good breakfast. “It’s essential for your child to be able to concentrate at school. If their blood sugar stays low all morning they can experience dizziness and lack of focus.
Avoid toast and jam or sugary cereals as these will energise them for a short time, making them hyperactive or irritable and then result in an energy dip mid-morning. Slow-cooked oat porridge sweetened with fresh fruit will keep them active and alert until lunchtime.”
Omega-3 fatty acids
He maintains that it’s crucial that children take in enough Omega-3 fatty acids. Around 60% of the brain is made up of fat and 30% of that is essential fat. Tests have shown a direct link between a child’s intelligence and the consumption of essential fatty acids.
B vitamins, folic acid and zinc
Research on a group of young boys who had been labelled “delinquent” by authorities revealed that they all had unacceptably high levels of homocysteine in their bodies.
Homocysteine, a toxic amino acid derived from the consumption of protein-rich foods, has been linked to a number of conditions including diabetes, cardiac failure and strokes. A high homocysteine level impairs the brain's ability to regulate its chemical balance, leading to poor coordination, lack of concentration, mood and impulse control.
The nutrients which help to normalise homocysteine are vitamin B2, B6, B12, folic acid and zinc.
Some good brain-food habits to cultivate:
- Give your child whole, nutritious food to eat. White bread, rice and pasta have the nutrients stripped out, so opt instead for wholemeal varieties, which are more filling and contain fibre for healthy digestion.
- Ensure that their diet includes fresh fruit and vegetables which provide essential vitamins and minerals.
- Avoid hydrogenated fats typically found in packaged foods with a long sell-by date. Other fats are essential however and a deficiency could negatively impact on your child’s behaviour. Omega-6 and omega-3 fats can be found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel or fresh tuna.
- To supplement essential fats, make a mix of half pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds with half linseeds, store in a glass jar in the fridge, and grind over food.
- Reduce additives, sugar and caffeine.
A brain food menu:
Before an important exam, the best possible breakfast would be rich in essential fatty acids, like scrambled eggs with smoked salmon or another oily fish.
A wholemeal sandwich with a tasty filling like tuna, egg, cheese humus or salad with cherry tomatoes and vegetable sticks, a slice of quiche for packed lunches; jacket potatoes, soups, scrambled or poached eggs.
It’s important to include some element of protein in every meal e.g. fresh meat, fish or vegetable protein (soya, beans or lentils) with fresh vegetables, wholemeal spaghetti with a fresh tomato sauce, chilli with brown rice or fresh vegetable risotto.
Fresh fruit, oat cakes or wholegrain bread with peanut butter, almonds and pumpkin seeds, oat cakes or carrot sticks with humus.