What foods supply kids brains with the optimal fuel?
The most important building blocks for nourishing a child’s brain and nervous system are proteins and fats. More specifically, these are the amino acids found in healthy protein sources (like wild salmon featured in the recipe below), the good fats (essential fatty acids, monounsaturated and medium chain triglycerides) like those found in nuts, seeds and cold water fish, avocados, and coconut oil).
Protein: Neurotransmitter Power
Protein is made up of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of enzymes, antibody and immune compounds and most importantly for back to school: our neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals like seratonin, melatonin, dopamine, epinephrine which affect energy levels, mood, sleep and appetite, focus, concentration and memory. A continual delivery of these amino acids through the day is critical for smooth and steady brain and nervous system function.
Contrast this with the mental and emotional spikes and valleys from simple carbohydrates and sugar which comprise the majority of what we typically think of as “kid’s” meals and snacks. Many of us have likely had visceral experiences with the food-mood connection ourselves when we have run on empty or “carbohydrate fumes” (low blood sugar often results in irritability, fatigue, feeling shaky, sweaty, and having “brain fog”) This why it is important for good concentration and focus to provide our children with protein and good fats (see next!) at every meal.
Fats: Slow-burning Fuel
The essential fatty acids like the anti-inflammatory omega 3s promote healthy nervous system and brain function. Recent studies show that kids with behaviour problems have low blood levels of omega 3 fatty acids. Diet is one way to get those omega 3s : fresh nuts and seeds (walnuts, chia seeds, flax (uncooked/un-heated), cold water fatty fish (like wild salmon, cod, halibut, herring and mackerel).In addition, because fats take the longest to digest compared to quick- burning carbohydrates, and medium burn proteins their slow burn means they lead to longer satiation; they are nature’s way of getting an even amount of energy distribution, key for brain health.