While the basic structure of your child’s brain is laid down by genetics – what you feed them along with what they learn, has a huge influence on their ability to retain and process information, along with their behaviour. Here Alchemy founder and nutritionist Karen Newby discusses the top foods that can help (and hinder) your children’s brain function during exam time:
- Take off their plate: refined sugar, damaged fats and food additives. Keep sugary foods to a minimum – sugar is an ANTI NUTRIENT. Sugar gives a short term hit of energy to the brain, usually followed by a dip that can cause irritability, lapses in concentration, sudden hunger and sugar cravings. It can also affect memory.
- Make sure your children get a good supply of quality protein, healthy fats and complex carbs to help keep a constant flow of energy to the brain eg. live yogurt, eggs, oily fish, avocado, pulses, nuts (although avoid peanuts), oats, vegetables, seeds and poultry.
- Eat more oily fish! Omega 3 found in oily fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines) is essential for memory, concentration and the processing of information (our brain is over 60% essential fats). If they don’t like oily fish then consider an Omega 3 supplements.
- Phospholipids are often termed as the smart fats – found in egg yolk, tofu, oily fish, beef, fatty cheese.
- Increase nuts and seeds (although avoid peanuts). Great source of omega 3 and 6 needed for the brain. How similar to a brain a walnut looks!
- Increase B vitamins…or memory vitamins! Can be found in eggs, cereals, brown rice fish, chicken, asparagus and dark green vegetables.
- Plenty of vitamin C for mental agility – citrus fruits, parsley, green peppers.
- Iron also key to support low mood. Greens, lean beef. If vegan also consider a gentle iron supplement like Floradix.
- Increase zinc for enhancing memory and thinking skills (zinc is also useful in cases of OCD)– prawns, lean beef, nuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds.
- Antioxidants have been shown to boost memory and help reduce toxins: artichoke, basil, berries, blueberries, buckwheat, celery, citrus fruits, green pepper/bell pepper, green tea, parsley, red grapes (in the wine for us parents!) and turmeric.
- Feed the gut to boost the ‘second brain’ – live cultures, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, probiotics, stewed apples, ground linseed.
- Keep up with exercise to help a healthy blood supply to get oxygen to the brain.
- Keep hydrated! Water is essential; dehydration is a common cause of tiredness and lapses in concentration and can reduce memory by 13%. A good ‘life lesson’ to get your children used to drinking primarily water.
Junk food in moderation – I go by the 80/20 rule. If 80% is good nutritious food then the body should be able to cope with 20% junk. Here are the current recommendations for sugar:
4 to 6 year olds: 19g, that’s 5 sugar cubes
7 to 10 year olds: 24g, that’s 6 sugar cubes
11 years old or older: 30g, that’s 7 sugar cubes
A little on screen time.
Avoid gaming until after revision time – games such as Fortnite can increase adrenaline and also the dopamine reward system, which is why they’re so addictive! Try not to allow too much screen time in large bouts to minimise the build up of ‘fight or flight’ reactions and allow time for their effects to work their way out of the body. The body has basically been primed for action so exercise is a good way to reduce the stress hormones to help support sleep too. Same goes for social media. Screens should be removed from the bedroom to help restful sleep – even having a phone in the room on airplane mode increases the need to use it or think about it!
- Scrambled eggs / poached eggs/ omelette with spinach
- Fish / smoked salmon / kippers with vegetables
- Chia porridge or protein (our Beauty or Sport Elixir is good here) smoothie bowls
- Scrambled egg with smoked salmon
- Full fat yogurt with berries, nuts and seeds
- Homemade granola with yogurt and berries
- Porridge with full fat milk or coconut milk and ground seeds
- Protein pancakes – add 2 eggs, ground nuts or nut batter, buckwheat or high fibre flour options
Some brain food snack ideas….
- hummus with raw carrots and broccoli
- falafels in a corn wrap with salad
- an apple with some cheese
- avocado sliced on some gluten free toast with hummus
- sardines (tinned fine) on gluten free toast
- homemade smoked mackerel pate on GF toast
- trail mix
- Lizi’s low sugar granola with apple puree and probiotic yogurt
- probiotic yogurt with nuts and seeds mixed in
- chicken drumstick
- boiled or hard boiled egg
- lentil, vegetable or chicken soup.