Healthy Meals for Developing Brains
Myth: Sugars are entirely bad for your child’s health
-In moderation, sugars are vitally important to the growth of your child’s brain. Sugar is the brain’s “super fuel.” However, too much sugar is certainly a bad thing- so make sure you’re staying within the recommended amounts. Sugar should only make up 8-10% of your child’s daily caloric intake, or about 3-5 teaspoons a day.
A developing brain needs healthy fats in order to achieve optimum growth. Fats such as Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and are essential for brain growth development. After all, a dried brain’s weight is made up of over 60% healthy fat.
Fats should make up about 25-35% of your child’s daily caloric intake. “The more Omega-3’s we can get to the brain, the better it will function and the better kids will be able to focus,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, author of Read It Before You Eat It.
Just like any other muscle in the body, the brain needs protein to grow. Proteins aid in the creation of new nerve cells as well as in the formation of neurotransmitters, which help your child’s brain grow and develop. Proteins should make up no more than 30% of your child’s daily caloric intake.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are key in the building and rebuilding of the brain. For example, iodine is critical in normal brain function and development while different B vitamins are crucial in memory and cognitive function.
What Food Has All of These? Nuts!
Packed with protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals, nuts and seeds may boost mood and keep your nervous system in check.
Walnuts are a fantastic source of Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and natural phytosterols that help boost brain function and healing. A study by the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities found that an increase in walnut ingestion can lead to improved memory and decreased anxiety.
Cashews routinely get a bad wrap because of their caloric density. However, cashews are a solid “brain food,” containing many nutrients a developing brain needs. A small handful of cashews contains both niacin and tryptophan in significant enough amounts to help elevate your mood.
Almonds are full of vitamins and nutrients essential to healthy brain development- nutrients such as zinc, vitamin B6, lean protein, and Vitamin E. A handful of almonds contains nearly 1/5 of the daily recommended amount of vitamin B2. Almonds are one the best sources of vitamin E, which is essential in preventing cognitive decline and boosting alertness.
Peanuts are great for the brain- there are few foods that are as protein-packed as peanuts, and proteins help the brain manufacture neurotransmitters leading to better cognitive function and improved memory. A handful of peanuts contains 10% of the recommended daily intake of protein.