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Good nutrition or health means giving the body the key nutrients it needs; Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats in the right amounts and at the right times. For growing children this means also providing all the essential vitamins and minerals that they need for optimal growth and development. So, the entire "nutritional profile" of a food needs to be considered as opposed to just its fat, sugar or fibre content.
Children are at a time in their life when they are constantly growing and learning new knowledge. In order for children to grow properly, they must eat a well-balanced diet. A healthy, balanced diet is not just good for kid's bodies, it's good for their brains, too. The right foods can improve brain function, memory, and concentration. Like the body, the brain absorbs nutrients from the foods we eat. Our brains create major nutrition demands on our bodies in order to function optimally.
Here’s how to get the best nutrition for your brain for a smarter & happy kid:
Balance your Blood Sugar
Sugar or Glucose is the human body’s key source of energy. The breakdown of carbohydrates yields mono- and disaccharides, most of which is glucose. If glucose is available, the body will use it first as it is easiest and quickest to metabolize. Sugar is the brain's super fuel. The brain accounts for 25% of the total body glucose utilization. But you have to make sure getting the RIGHT TYPES and RIGHT AMOUNT at the RIGHT TIME.
Too much ‘fast’ sugar means a high blood sugar and hyperactivity. The excess sugar in the blood gets dumped into storage as abdominal fat. Eating little and at regular interval helps keep child’s energy and concentration even.
Too much sugar and the child may be hyperactive and find it hard to concentrate.
Too little and they may feel tired, irritable and find it hard to concentrate.
Include foods that release sugar slowly like Whole grains including brown rice, whole-grain pasta and bread, cornmeal, oats, and Millets like jowar, Ragi, Quinoa barley are recommended to be included in the diet.
Eat at regular intervals. Eating regular meals helps keep nutrient and energy levels more stable, curbing the temptation of empty-calorie snacks.
Big meals keep on turning ... in your stomach. You might find that eating the standard three-big-meals-a-day slows you down mentally and physically. Consider 5 or 6 well-balanced, smaller meals, like toast spread with peanut butter, sprouts chaat, fruit chaat or vegetable roll, soup.
Breakfast is a very important meal during the day. The most important meal is breakfast. Just as a car cannot start without fuel, a child cannot properly learn without a nutritious breakfast. Starting the day with a nutritious, well-balanced meal allows them to concentrate and learn to their full potential. A Healthy Breakfast gives essential energy for the Brain Cells to wake up and start function. Children who don't eat breakfast are less able to learn at school, get less iron in their diets, and are more likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI), which is a sign they may be overweight. On the other hand, kids who eat breakfast do better in school, are more likely to participate in physical activities, and tend to eat healthier overall. Fuel up with a healthy breakfast! Choose Grains, Breads / Cereals + Fruit / Vegetable + Milk /Milk Product , Meat/ Beans , Nuts = Balanced Breakfast
Avoid brain blocking foods. Stay away from foods made of white flour, such as cookies, cakes, and muffins, which require added time and energy to digest. Also avoid foods that are high in refined sugar, such as chocolates, desserts, and candies because they are high in calories and offer few nutrients. Too much sugar also causes cavities and is unhealthy.
Choose powerful Fruits & Vegetables.
Have Rainbow on your plate by including different coloured fruits and vegetables. Fruits ranks high among the best foods you can eat for your brain ,they contain powerful antioxidants and other essential Vitamins and minerals which are the intelligent nutrients that keep the brain in tune. They are key to building and rebuilding the brain. The natural sugars in fruit offer clean energy, so you don’t experience the crash that follows consumption of refined sugar. Fruits contain not only Vitamin C, but fibre, phytochemicals, beta carotene and other minerals that are essential to maintain the brain health & cognitive function.
Apples are good for your brain According to the research, apples improve neurological health. Adding apples in your diet may boost your memory because of the essential neurotransmitter acetylcholine that is found in apples. Apples also contain the great amount of antioxidant quercetin that prevents death of brain cells. Apples are great for those who want to stay mentally sharp.
Berries like strawberry, raspberry, blueberries have Vitamin C, Iron, antioxidants that prevent the degeneration of nerve cells.
Dark green vegetables contain Iron A diet rich in such brain foods has been shown to boost the cognitive function. Fruits and vegetables play an important role in preventing the long-term effects of oxidative stress on brain function.
Include Essential Fats:
Every cell in our body has an outer membrane that is made up of fats ( lipids). Human brain is about 60% fat so it is important to include fats in our diets. There are so many different types of fats & different sources so it is important to include the right type of fat.
The presence of PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) and of DHA in particular, provides the structure while also providing a necessary vehicle for the transportation of proteins which perform vital functions within the brain.
DHA is also critical in facilitating the healthy formation of nerve cells and can only get it from the foods we eat containing Omega 3s.
Healthy fats to include:
These Good Fats help in better absorption of Fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A,D,E & K. Healthy Omega 3 fatty Acids get converted to DHA & EPA that are essential for Brain Health.
Avoid: Excess of fried foods like French fries, Cutlets, Nuggets, Chips.Trans fats, found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods, and other processed foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Vitamins and Minerals
Iron & B Vitamins are especially important to maintaining the physical and mental energy necessary to study well. Lack of iron in the diet could lead to difficulty in concentrating for long periods and lead to tiredness. Iron is important because it helps make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. The best sources of iron come from spinach, enriched and whole grain bread, cooked beans and iron-fortified cereals.
Choline, found plentiful in eggs, also found in nuts, is vital for the creation of memory stem cells, formed deep within the brain. The more the cells, the better is the memory.
Iodine is a mineral required for normal brain development, concentration and learning ability, making it crucial to support young brain. Good sources of iodine include seafood and fortified bread, Iodized Salt.
Zinc is needed for normal growth and development in children and supports healthy immune function . Good sources of zinc include seafood, meat, Nuts and beans
Stay well hydrated. Choose your beverages well. Drink brain boosting beverages.. Fresh fruit juice , Coconut water ,Green Tea , milk without a lot of sugar. Make sure you drink enough water during the day Dehydration can make you lose your concentration, feel faint, and sap your energy. Many students drink tea or coffee while reading or studying, to keep them awake and alert. Well, wake up to the fact that these do not keep you awake. In fact, excess caffeine in the body builds fats and makes you more lethargic. Caffeine & sugar should be kept to a minimum. Since too much caffeine can make you jittery, try to drink moderate amounts. Avoid brain blocking beverages. Avoid carbonated beverages like Colas, sugary drinks , alcohol completely during exams. These can give you a headache, or feeling of nausea, dullness, or excessive fatigue
Dietary guidelines for school age children
3-5 servings per day. A serving might be one cup of raw leafy vegetables, 3/4 cup of vegetable juice, or 1/2 cup of other vegetables, raw or cooked.
2-4 servings per day. A serving may consist of 1/2 cup of sliced fruit, 3/4 cup of fruit juice, or a medium-size whole fruit, such as an apple, banana or pear.
6-11 servings per day. Each serving should equal one slice of bread, 1/2 cup of rice or 1 ounce(28gms) of whole grain cereal.
2-3 servings of 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish per day. A serving in this group may also consist of 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans, one egg, or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter for each ounce of lean meat.
2-3 servings (cups) per day of low-fat milk or yogurt, or natural cheese (150ml=one serving).
3-5 tsp daily ( 1tsp = 5gms) visible fats for cooking like Soyabean oil, Olive oil, Ricebran oil and Good Fats from Nuts like almonds, Walnuts & Flaxseeds.
Here are some breakfast ideas:
And now some carry with you breakfast snack for school :
Young kids with healthy eating habits lower their risk of dental caries, constipation, eating disorders, malnutrition and other medical conditions. Healthy eating can stabilize children’s energy, sharpen their minds, and even out their moods.