Feeding the brain: Good nutrition starts at home
In a recent article published by Harvard Medical School’s health blog titled Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food (2018), Dr. Eva Selhub wrote that the brain is not unlike an expensive car, functioning best when it gets premium fuel — high-quality foods that contain plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
However, also like a luxury automobile, the brain can be damaged when the right, premium fuel isn’t used.
“Diets high in refined sugars, for example, are harmful to the brain. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function,” said Selhub, who is is board-certified in internal medicine.
Perhaps now more than ever, good, sustainable, quality nutrition is critically important for children. National health programs and school districts across the country are committed to improving the foods served in school cafeterias, but good nutrition really starts at home — whether parents are packing their children’s lunches or teaching their children how to make nutritious choices in the lunch line.
“The most powerful ways we can support our children in their growth, development and cognitive function is by providing them a diet that is rich in healthy fats and protein and paired with an abundance of produce,” said Ali Miller, a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Naturally Nourished, a Houston-based functional nutrition practice. Miller, who is also author of Naturally Nourished: Food-As-Medicine for Optimal Health (2015) and The Anti-Anxiety Diet (2018) emphasized that a child’s diet should steer clear of refined carbohydrates.
“The Standard American Diet, especially that consumed by children, is excessive in refined carbohydrates, which can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes leading to irregular energy and undesired behavior while setting up your child for difficulty concentrating,” said Miller. “Remove sugary cereals and juices from meal time and instead focus on using fresh fruit for a natural sweetness, pairing it with protein and fat.”
The best way to prime your child for a full day at school is by offering a well-balanced breakfast. Rita Zapien, regional dietician for H-E-B, said that starting the day with a smart breakfast may help improve children’s focus, and a nutrient-rich lunch and snacks may stave off the afternoon drowsiness.
“Choose on-the-go snacks that provide protein, which helps stabilize blood sugar and keep a steady stream of energy. For example, yogurt and hummus provide protein plus complex carbohydrates, which are broken down at a slower rate, providing energy over a longer period of time,” said Zapien. “Another ‘kid favorite’ food to help stay energized throughout the day are nuts or nut butters. These healthy fats are satiating and help the body absorb other important vitamins.”
For more information on approaches to a healthy diet and lifestyle, including strategies and statistics on diet, exercise and wellness, visit the Center for Disease Control’s nutrition page at www.cdc.gov/nutrition.