Avocados are loaded with vitamins and contain monounsaturated fats, which contribute to great blood flow — what a healthy brain requires!
Breastmilk — the most natural, ideal food for babies — is packed with excellent nutrients. In fact, several studies show that breastfed babies are brainier and nursing your baby for three months or more increases their IQ.
Carbohydrates break down into glucose during digestion, which our brains use for energy. So, consuming carbs at breakfast provides the fuel the brain needs after you’ve fasted all night. Those who eat breakfast remember more, react more quickly and are more creative throughout the day. In fact, research shows that children who eat breakfast do better academically and have fewer behavioural problems than those who skip this important meal. So, why not serve oats with high-energy bananas for breakfast tomorrow?
Dark chocolate is not just delicious, it’s unbelievably good for the brain. Filled with powerful antioxidant properties, it contains several natural stimulants that improve your mini-me’s mood while helping them focus and concentrate. The high content of flavonols facilitates blood supply to the brain and enhances cognitive skills. Even milk chocolate has been known to improve visual and verbal memory. Just remember that’s it’s sugar-packed… Moderation is key.
Eggs can improve your child’s memory as they are a good source of choline, which helps the brain develop. Whether boiled, poached or scrambled, an egg takes minutes to prepare and is the best fast food around!
Fruits, especially kiwi fruit, oranges and strawberries (any berries, really), are wonderful sources of antioxidants and vitamins for the brain.
Glucose supplies energy to the brain. Explains Kalpana Bhaskaran, a senior lecturer and technical specialist in nutrition at Temasek Polytechnic, “Without a constant and steady supply of glucose, our neurons struggle to function. Although the brain represents only 2 per cent of body weight, it uses about 25 per cent of the body’s total glucose needs.” Also the nutritionist and spokesperson with the Singapore Nutrition And Dietetics Association, she advises picking low glycemic index (GI) foods for your child. These are digested slowly and release sugars gradually to give your tot sustained energy. Examples of low GI foods include rolled oats, multigrain bread, pasta (cooked al dente), nuts, lentils, milk, sweet potatoes, salad veggies, apples, berries and other fruits. But watermelon is a high GI fruit!
Herbs like kei chee (wolfberry), can help boost brain function. Explains Jin Jin Hua, a consultant acupuncturist at Raffles Chinese Medicine, “In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we believe that if you wish to enhance brain function, the kidney needs to be well taken care of and receive rich nutrition.”
If your child is healthy, offer nutritious foods such as fish, eggs, vegetables, nuts, milk and fruits. “You may also give her herbal soup once a week,” Jin adds.
Iron-rich foods, like lean meats, beans, eggs, fish, spinach and wholegrain cereals, must be included in your baby’s meals when she starts taking solids. Since her iron stores will run out when she’s around 6 months old, you’ll need to feed her this vital mineral, which helps transport oxygen to brain cells.
Juices made entirely from fresh fruit don’t just quench thirst, they’re packed with vitamins. Your toddler’s body is made up of about 60 per cent water, notes Ng Hooi Lin, a nutritionist at the Singapore Heart Foundation and co-author of recipe book, Smart Food for Tweens. If a child does not drink enough fluids, this may affect her mental performance and learning ability. But at most, offer half to one serving (250ml) of pure juice a day, since it has a high sugar content and lacks dietary fibre.
Milk contains fat essential for a toddler’s brain growth and neural development, highlights Dr June Lou, a medical director and consultant paediatrician at Ovspring Developmental Clinic. So, don’t offer skimmed milk to your tot just yet — it won’t be good for her growing body. Don’t restrict fat in your toddler’s diet either, especially if she is below 2, since the Health Promotion Board (HPB) notes that a baby needs fat to support her brain and overall development.
Nuts contain beneficial fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals — as long as they’re not salted or covered in chocolate! Although nuts are at least half fat, they are the “good” kind that will benefit her brain.
Omega-3 — the fatty acid that powers up brain growth and function — is found in oily fish like salmon, tuna and sardines. Since humans can’t make these “essential” fatty acids, we need to get them from our diet.
Kalpana highlights that fatty fish should be steamed rather than grilled, and fried or baked to retain as much of the omega 3 fatty acid content as possible.
Seeds, like nuts, can fuel your little one’s brainpower. Sunflower seeds are high in thiamine, an important B vitamin, which increases memory and cognitive function. Pumpkin seeds are power-packed, too. It’s also rich in other nutrients, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, an amazing antioxidant that helps protect against free-radical damage to cells, believed to be a primary factor in dementia cases, especially Alzheimer’s disease.
Vegetables. We don’t need to remind you of all the vitamins, minerals and fibre that you get from this. You have to start your child early on this, and the best way is for you to learn to love veggies yourself!
Wholegrains, including brown rice, bread, pasta and oats, are good sources of vitamin B. Since it prevents mood swings by ensuring that glucose is released gradually in the brain, your child won’t get energised for a moment after eating it, then tire quickly.
X-TRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL, made from the first “pressing” of crushed olives, not only boosts the body’s metabolism, it helps children’s brain and bone development. It also contains polyphenols (a powerful antioxidant) and monounsaturated fat, which lowers bad cholesterol. So, use it for cooking or as a dip for breads (in place of butter).
Yoghurt and other calcium-rich foods enhance nerve function, while improving alertness and memory.
Zinc enhances memory and thinking skills. Meat and fish, especially seafood, are the best sources of this essential nutrient for brain function.
Refer to HPB’s Birth to Eighteen Years: Dietary Tips for Your Child’s Wellbeing to find out what to put on junior’s plate.
Elsewhere on SmartParents.sg…