It’s back-to-school season, the perfect time to think about how your child’s nutrition applies to their brains. What and when they eat can significantly impact a child’s ability to concentrate, memorize, and learn.
The brain uses carbohydrates as fuel. The best are complex carbs, which are found in whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Simple carbs include sugars found in candies, cookies, and ice cream. Stay away from high fructose corn syrup, one of the worst sugars out there. It wreaks havoc on blood sugar and increases the risk of diabetes.
Children need to refuel their bodies approximately every three hours, which means they should always have healthy snacks available. Good choices include almonds, walnuts, yogurt, whole grain crackers, veggie sticks, and hummus. These foods all contain complex carbs, which give longer bursts of energy.
Simple sugars can cause spikes in blood sugar, which affect concentration and mood. Think of your blood sugar on simple carbs as a roller coaster ride. You go way up to the top and rush down to the bottom. When you hit the bottom, you can’t wait to climb back to the top and plummet down again. This adrenaline-filled cycle of ups and downs leaves you tired, cranky, and in no way ready to concentrate or study. On the other hand, picture a train ride on relatively flat terrain. The ride is smooth and the train’s speed remains constant. On this complex carb ride, blood sugar remains stable and long-lasting. In other words, you won’t run out of steam for a while.
Another important brain food is essential fatty acids, specifically omega 3s. These help form part of your child’s brain structure. Flaxseed oil and fish oils are great choices, but supplementation is necessary because it’s difficult to get enough omega 3s naturally.
Some studies suggest that multi-vitamins can help children improve verbal learning and memory, even in kids who are generally well-nourished. This is very important for families living in Beijing because we use up extra antioxidants to combat pollution. Antioxidants help neutralize the free radicals that damage skin, lungs, eyes, and even the brain.
Adequate sleep is also important because that’s when the brain processes new information and consolidates learning. Kids should get eight to 12 hours of sleep per night depending on their age. If your child goes to bed at 9pm every night, observe what time they wake up on their own. You’ll be able to assess their body’s individual sleep needs after a few nights.
Here’s wishing your child a successful academic year!
Got a question? Melissa Rodriguez is a mom of two and a wellness consultant. She also works as a naturopath at International Medical Center. Check out her website.
photos: Kate Gibb on Flicker
This article originally appeared on p22 of the beijingkids September 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com