Brain Boosting and Brain Busting Foods for your Child

Identification of foods that can improve or hinder intelligence is an interesting concept.  Unfortunately, there is a total lack of scientific research that really proves one way or another the cost or benefit of any food on a child's developing I.Q.  The reason for this is that ethics prevents researchers from withholding nutrients to children.  Therefore all the studies are correlational, not causal.

In other words we can look at children where their parents feed the a particular supplement or nutrient and discover that I.Q. was improved over their peers who did not receive the supplement or nutrient.  However there are so many other variables at play here that we cannot say for certain that the supplement or nutrient caused the difference in I.Q.  For example, parents that take care to feed their children vitamins might be the same kind of parents that take care to read to their child, or to enrich their children's development in other ways.

Children require the proper balance of nutrients and essential foods to nurture their growing minds and nourish their bodies.  Researchers have investigated possible brain boosting and brain busting effects of certain types of foods and although there is no magic pill that immediately boots I.Q., there are certain types of foods that support higher levels of attention, concentration and memory in developing minds.  Conversely, other foods in high quantities over time have been linked to long term negative effects on the body and mind.

#1 Brain Buster: Foods high in fat

Although the brain is comprised of 60 percent fat, and fat is certainly vital to brain development, most children ages five and older consume well beyond their recommended daily fat intake.  The USDA recommends that once your child turns two, eating a low fat diet is beneficial for the short and long-term health of your child.

High fat diets are associated with a decline in cognitive ability over short and long time spans, decreased mental performance, and reduced physical stamina.  Obesity, diabetes, certain types of cancer and heart failure have all been linked to people who eat high fat diets.  Foods high in fat include fried foods, foods with high amounts of butter and oil, and dairy (except fat free dairy).  As an alternative bake, grill, or steam foods instead of frying or sautéing in oil, and use fat free milk and cheese.

The USDA recommended daily allowance for children ages one through three is no more than 40 grams of fat per day, and no more than 35 grams per day for children ages four through eight.  For overweight and obese children, experts recommend no more than 20 grams of fat per day.  Low-fat eating isn’t advised before age two, as infants need more fat for brain development.

#2 Brain Buster: Foods high in sugar content

Recent research suggests that eating too much sugar may cause “brain decay” in the same way too much sugar causes tooth decay.  A recent study found that abnormal regulation of blood sugar is linked to an increased risk of developing cognitive impairment.  People with high blood sugar also had a smaller hippocampus, which is the memory center of the brain.

To reduce a child’s risk for memory problems over time, get them in a routine of eating healthy foods low in sugar.  Foods high in sugar include soda, fast food, and chocolate.  Additionally, have your children participate in structured activities after school and during the summer.  Activity along with a well balanced diet is the best way to reduce your child’s risk of the high blood sugar.

#3 Brain Buster: Empty calorie snacks

When kids eat empty calorie snacks such as potato chips, candy, and snack cakes they are filling up on empty calories.  Beyond the negative effects of high fat and sugar content, empty calories are a missed opportunity to nourish young minds with essential vitamin and nutrients critical to brain development.  Instead, have your children snack on some pumpkin, sunflower, or flax seeds.  Most seeds have Vitamin E, Omega 3 acids, and zinc which boost memory and concentration.

#1 Brain Booster: Breast milk

Human milk is the best food for brain development.  The positive effect of breast feeding on brain development has established in hundreds of research studies.

Most researchers postulate that higher I.Q. scores of breast fed children are due to docosahexaenoic acid found in human milk and not in infant formula.  Additionally, breast milk is high in lactose, which is broken down in the body into glucose and galactose.  Galactose is known to be a key nutrient for brain tissue development

One study found that infants breastfed for nine months grew up to be significantly more intelligent than infants who were not breast fed.  An additional consideration is that mothers who chose to breast feed on average stimulate and support their infants better as a function of the breastfeeding process, and not the nutrients contained in the breast milk.

#2 Brain Booster: Antioxidants

Antioxidants have been shown to provide multiple benefits for improving memory and concentration. Antioxidants are thought to slow oxidation and improve communication between neurons.

Foods rich in antioxidants include purple fruits and vegetables such as grapes, raisins, blueberries, cranberries and prunes.  Additional foods rich in antioxidants include apples, cherries, and spinach.

#3 Brain Booster: Multivitamins and micronutrients

As malnutrition is a key cause of improper brain development, a modest dose of vitamins and minerals can help insure that your child’s brain is developing properly.  In one study school children who took a multivitamin-mineral supplement raised their non-verbal IQ scores as much as 25 points.  Pears, apples, and carrots are a good source of micronutrients, a key requirement for healthy brain development.

A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that higher levels of vitamin B is associated with improved recall and faster processing and is critical to the formation of the brain chemicals dopamine, epinephrine, and serotonin.  Vitamin B9, also known as folic acid, can enhance alertness and improve focus.  Foods rich in folic acid include oranges, grapefruits, dark green leafy vegetables, lentils, and whole-grain cereals.

#4 Brain Booster: Don’t Miss Breakfast

Several studies have shown that eating a well balanced breakfast can improve your memory.  In one study participants who ate breakfast cereal had improved mood, felt calmer, and demonstrated better memory than those who had no breakfast.