In the era of lunchables, cheesestrings and conveniently processed snack packs, it’s no wonder why over 26% of Canadian children are overweight or obese. More children today are facing an early onset of diabetes, heart disease, cancers and more notably mental health and cognitive issues, such as ADHD, poor concentration, and decreased learning ability. For years, numerous studies have linked inadequate nutrition to the above conditions – including poor academic performance.
The Food Brain Connection
The human brain, although extremely complex, operates on a simple principal – it requires ample nutrients, including vitamins and minerals to function optimally. Even the slightest nutritional deficiency can have a huge impact on brain chemistry, resulting in impaired learning and cognitive functioning, decreased attentiveness, inability to problem-solve, anxiety, and other behavioural disorders. Skipping a meal entirely or substituting wholesome meals with nutritionally depleted foods laced with sugars and saturated fats can have the same effect.
But it’s not only malnutrition that impacts student performance. A newly released study conducted through the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta and Dalhousie’s Faculty of Medicine highlights that a quality diet with an adequate and diverse selection of quality foods is significant in academic performance. This stresses the importance of variety with particular emphasis on increased fruit and vegetable intake and moderate consumption of dietary fat.
What to do?
Simply put, what we put in, we get out. In order to achieve optimal health and academic performance, we must begin with optimal nutrition. Here are some tips to help your child to reach their full potential
1. Begin with Breakfast
We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but that’s not a reason to give Froot Loops the same kudos as rolled oats. A sugary start to the day will have the same negative cognitive impact as skipping breakfast all together. Opt for wholegrains, fresh fruit and proteins, such as nuts and seeds, for long-lasting energy and mental alertness.
- Sprouted wholegrain bread with natural peanut butter or almond butter for sustainable energy and protein.
- Add nuts, seeds and fresh berries to wholegrain cereals
- Use quinoa as a warm cereal. Quinoa a complete protein source that contains all essential amino acids and is an excellent source of energy and essential fatty acids. Mash in a banana and stir-in coconut flakes for natural sweetness.
2. Add Healthy Fats
Omega 3 (alpha linolenic acid) is an essential fatty acid critical for proper brain development and functioning. Studies show that children with the highest levels of DHA (an omega 3 derivative) have the least risk for depression, bipolar issues and ADHD. Sources of Omega 3 include flax seed, hemp seed, walnuts; and for DHA, oily cold water fish.
Tips to try:
- Make baked fish sticks using salmon
- Sprinkle ground flax seeds onto morning cereal or use flax seed oil in dressings and dips.
- Substitute cow’s milk with hemp seed milk for a healthy dose of omega fatty acids
3. Limit refined sugars, simple carbohydrates and processed food
Refined sugars, sodas and simple carbohydrates suppress the immune system, cause blood sugar fluctuations and yeast imbalances – all which effect mood, concentration and performance.
Tips to try:
Instead of refined sugar use:
- Agave nectar – a low qlycemic natural sweetener extracted from a cactus plant
- Pureed fruit – such as dried apricots or fresh apples
- Sweet spices – such as cinnamon, nutmeg and clove
4. More Greens Please
Fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients essential for optimal brain functionality, with dark leafy greens, sprouts and algaes being the most powerful.
Tips to try:
- Make a green smoothie blending leafy greens and sprouts with fresh fruit, such as bananas and mango – you’ll be amazed how good it tastes!
- Use collard greens as a sandwich ‘wrap’ or crispy romaine leaves as a fun taco shell
- Pack raw veggies with dip as an at school snack
Making small changes in the right direction will yield tremendous result in your child’s development and path towards optimal health, happiness and success. Get ready to watch their grades soar!
beVibrant Wellness Consulting