It's that time of year again – moms and dads across the country are busy packing lunches to send off to school. But with all the fast food and processed junk now showing up on grocery store shelves, deciphering the good food from the bad is more confusing than ever. The good news is that there are certain "brain foods" that have been shown to improve focus, increase academic scores and optimize brain function. Read on to find out which foods can make your children smarter.
Low glycemic index carbohydrates
Low glycemic index carbohydrates are those that do not bounce around blood sugar; rather, they help to maintain consistent energy levels throughout the day. In other words, children can stay focused without experiencing any food-related "highs" or "lows." Low glycemic index carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. Of all the fruits, berries are best -- research from Tufts University in Boston has demonstrated that blueberries and strawberries boost cognitive function in rats. In terms of whole grain breads and pastas, these items are now widely available in most grocery stores. As a rule of thumb, when picking whole grain bread, check the nutrition facts label. One slice of bread should have a minimum of two grams of fibre.
A child's brain is comprised of approximately 60 per cent fat. Cold-water fish such as salmon and tuna contains essential fats, called omega-3 essential fatty acids, that are needed by the brain. These types of fats cannot be made by the body and must come from the diet. In fact, a deficiency of omega-3 fats has been linked to a variety of issues, including depression and attention deficit disorder. Try preparing tuna or salmon wraps, a tuna casserole mixed with whole grain pasta or sweet potato salmon cakes as wonderful options to tempt a child to eat more fish.
Omega-3 eggs are similar in look, taste, storage instructions and cooking versatility as normal eggs. The difference lies in the fact that omega-3 eggs are produced by chickens that have been fed with alfalfa, corn, soy beans and flaxseeds. Flaxseeds are a good source of omega-3 essential fat, which has been shown to be beneficial to human health and brain function. An average-size omega-3 egg contains approximately 320 mg of omega-3, while a regular egg contains approximately 63 mg. Use omega-3 eggs for egg salad sandwiches, omelettes or quiches.
Page 1 of 2 – Do your kids need a multivitamin? Find our on page 2.
Although not a food, multivitamins serve as a nutritional safety net for a child's developing mind and body. Research clearly demonstrates that children who supplement with a daily multivitamin show improvement in their academics. Children's vitamins are now available in liquid, tablet or chewable form for kids of different ages.
Natural almond, cashew and peanut butters contain the "good" fats necessary for brain development and overall health. Avoid nut butters that are made with trans fatty acids, otherwise known as hydrogenated fats. Most schools no longer allow nut products to be used. Therefore save these butters for lunchtime at home, when natural nut butter and jam sandwiches on whole grain bread are a great, quick option for parents.
In addition to the recommended foods outlined above, it is important that your child eat three wholesome meals and one or two snacks per day. Research has shown that breakfast-eaters do better academically and have fewer behaviour problems than breakfast-skippers. Unfortunately, according to a report conducted by the Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, as many as 37 per cent of American kids routinely skip the first meal of the day. Make sure your child starts the day off right by nixing the refined and processed flour or sugar options and offering an energy-sustaining meal such as oatmeal with berries, whole grain toast with nut butter or an omega-3 egg omelette.
Wishing you a healthy and fun-filled school year!
Dr. Joey Shulman is the author of national bestseller The Natural Makeover Diet (Wiley, 2005) and of Winning the Food Fight (Wiley, 2003). For more information, visit www.drjoey.com.
Page 2 of 2 – What's the fuss over omega-3 eggs? Dr. Joey explains on page 1.