Most of us understand that food plays an extremely important role in keeping children healthy and helping them grow. But did you know that what we feed our children influences brain growth, learning and even their mood, too?
When chosen well, food can allow children to reach their intellectual genetic potential by laying the foundations for optimal focus and attention, and in turn optimal memory and learning capacity. Delia McCabe, psychologist and author of the ‘Feed your Brain’ series, says that when feeding your kids, it’s important to keep one golden rule in mind: whole, fresh foods trump processed foods every time.
“The growing brain is sensitive to additives in the form of colorants, flavourings and preservatives, and research suggests that some of these additives can stunt neuronal growth, negatively influencing brain development,” Delia says. “Obviously, whole, fresh food tastes different to processed food, and when children are exposed to processed food from an early age their taste preference for highly refined, overly flavourful foods can drive their choices later in life.”
Nutrient-dense, unrefined whole foods contain specific vitamins and minerals, plus carbohydrates, proteins and fats, that are required to support brain development and function, and allow the child to interact with their environment optimally. Carbohydrates, like brown rice, quinoa and potato, are the brains preferred and primary fuel, while healthy fats like in avocado, nuts, seeds and essential fatty oil blends are critically important for brain development and function. Protein provides important building blocks for brain growth and development, so think organic, unprocessed meat with lots of veggies, or legumes and whole grains for vegetarians (and lots of veggies).
“Too much meat is not a great idea and plant-based proteins are just as nutritious, so aim to combine lentils, brown rice, corn and beans in meals, for example, to ensure a full complement of amino acids at meal times,” says Delia. “Home-made veggie burgers, mild lentil curry with brown rice, slow baked beans with baked corn chips and guacamole are just a few examples.”
Delia also explains that, due to their high activity levels and small stomachs, children need to snack between meals – they quickly use up the fuel they consume, and their blood glucose can become unstable when they run out of brain fuel between meals (hence, that mid-morning moodiness we’re all too familiar with). Small, nutrient-dense snacks made up of whole foods are best for times like these, so be sure to always have some fresh fruit, nut butters, homemade popcorn or crunchy veggies and hummus on hand. Remember: the more natural colour on your child’s plate, the better!
TIPS FOR GROWING HAPPY, HEALTHY BRAINS:
- Fad diets don’t suit little bodies: a variety of simple foods, full of nutrients and vitamins, are best for brain growth
- Teach good from bad: remember that educating your kids about what’s good for them is a big responsibility – be a role model!
- Treats, not rewards: food is a very emotive issue and kids quickly pick up on whether you’re going to engage in a battle about food, so don’t use it to reward or punish them.
For your chance to win a copy of Delia’s latest book “Feed Your Brain: The Cookbook” simply submit your details below. This title follows on from Delia’s first book, “Feed Your Brain” and offers useful recipes. RRP $34.99. Competition closes August 31 and only the winner will be notified. Good luck!
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