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Nutritional Health|06 December 2022

Top brain foods: what should you include in your child’s diet to help them study better?

Written by Divya Gandhi
Founder/Owner/Dietitian at Diet and Cure Clinic with 10 Years of experience. Double Diploma from VLCC & IGNOU, BBA from IP University

According to nutritionists and experts, the very first of the body’s organs to absorb nutrients from the food a child eats is the brain. Brain food for kids is as significant as any other nutrient for a child’s growth and development. 

The growing years for kids and teens are critical for brain development, and the food they eat affects their cognitive skills and focus. Cognitive skills are the core skills your brain uses to think, read, learn, remember, reason, and pay attention. Put together, cognitive function gathers incoming information and moves it into the knowledge bank of a child’s brain, which they use every day at school and in life.

4 Essential Nutrients For Brain Development in Kids

Although all essential nutrients make the mark on the priority list in a child’s diet, these four nutrients are particularly good for brain health.

1. Antioxidants 

Antioxidants are especially important for brain health, as the brain is highly prone to oxidative stress and antioxidants protect your child’s brain from normal wear and tear. Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of antioxidant vitamins. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight against the free radicals that can damage brain cells.

2. Choline

Choline was acknowledged as an essential nutrient by the Institute of Medicine in 1998. Choline is an organic and water-soluble compound, which is neither a vitamin nor a mineral. It is considered beneficial brain food for kids, as it helps build a healthy nervous system and cell structure. 

Choline is needed to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in regulating memory, mood and intelligence. It’s also required for the process that synthesizes DNA, which is important for a child’s brain function and development 

Dietary sources for choline are broccoli, cauliflower, soybean oil, milk, cottage cheese, legumes, and peanuts.

Dietary intake of choline

AgeBoysGirls
9–13 years375 mg/day375 mg/day
14–18 years550 mg/day400 mg/day

3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are especially beneficial for kids’ brain health. They may improve brain function and memory in children. Several studies suggest that omega-3 fats also help prevent depression and mood disorders in young children. 

According to experts, omega-3 fatty acids might also promote better sleep, and improve ADHD and asthma symptoms.

Omega 3-rich brain food for kids: soybean oil, kidney beans, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, edamame, and wheat gram.

Dietary intake of Omega 3 Fatty Acids

AgeBoysGirls
9–13 years1.2 grams/day1.0 grams/day
14–18 years1.6 grams/day1.1 grams/day

4. Complex Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are one of the most important brain foods for kids. They are the main source of energy for a child’s brain. Complex carbohydrates are whole grains rich in fiber. 

Although it makes for only 2% of your body weight, the brain uses 20% of your daily energy. After carbs are consumed they get digested and broken down into smaller sugar molecules called glucose, which gives energy.

Foods such as peas, beans, whole grains, and vegetables contain complex carbohydrates.

Dietary intake of complex carbohydrates

AgeBoysGirls
9–13 years31 grams/day26 grams/day
14–18 years38 grams/day31 grams/day

9 healthy brain foods for kids 

Want your child to study better and be a star kid at school and in other spheres of life? 

Here are 9 superfoods for the crucial intellectual growth of your kids: 

1. Berries

Berries are highly rich sources of antioxidants. They contain a compound called ‘anthocyanin’, beneficial for the brain health of kids. It helps increase blood flow to the brain and aids the production of new nerve cells.

According to various studies, berry intake positively impacts a child’s cognitive function, and improvises academic performance in children.

Daily intake: about 200 grams of berries (like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.) is optimum for children in the age bracket of 9-18 years. 

Serving idea: Add blueberries to Greek yogurt along with some nuts and banana slices, or make a strawberry smoothie.

2. Green leafy veggies

Leafy vegetables are brain food for kids rich in minerals, and iron. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and lettuce are loaded with brain-protecting nutrients such as folate, flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamins E and K1.

Daily intake: Approximately 50 grams of green leafy veggies per day is recommended for growing kids and teens. 

Serving idea: Make spinach, tomato, and cheese sandwich for breakfast. 

 3. Oranges

Oranges are perfect sources of vitamin C, a nutrient quintessential to brain health. Vitamin C plays a vital role in proper brain development, better performance in tasks involving concentration, memory, attention, recall, decision-making, and recognition.

Daily intake: One medium-sized orange contains the entire recommended daily dose of vitamin C for growing children.

Serving ideaA mix fruit bowl with orange or a glass of orange juice.  

4. Beans

Beans are a powerhouse of energy with protein, complex carbs, fiber, and lots of vitamins and minerals in them. They are an excellent brain food for kids, as they keep a child’s energy and thinking level high throughout the day.

Beans take longer to digest and hence the brain loves them. While digesting slowly they give the child’s brain a consistent supply of glucose.

Pinto and Kidney beans contain a large amount of omega-3 fatty acids as compared to other beans. 

Daily intake: 3 cups of beans per week are recommended for growing children between the ages of 9-18 years.

Serving idea: Use kidney beans in salads and tacos, or add baked beans to the breakfast menu for your kids. 

5. Nuts & seeds

Almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, etc. are great brain foods for kids. They contain essential nutrients like vitamin E, zinc, folate, iron, and protein. These nutrients help in boosting cognitive function and concentration in kids. 

Daily intake: Children above the age of 9-years-old are recommended around 65-70 grams of nuts & seeds intake daily. 

Serving idea: Top salads, Greek yogurt, desserts with nuts and seeds. 

6. Milk & yogurt 

Dairy products are packed with calcium, protein and B-vitamins, which are vital for brain tissue growth, neurotransmitters, and enzymes. Milk and yogurt also provide adequate quantities of both protein and carbohydrates, a big source of energy for the brain.

Dairy derivatives like yogurt are packed with iodine, a nutrient needed for brain development and cognitive function. Additionally, this brain food for kids contains many other important nutrients for brain development and function, such as protein, zinc, B12, and selenium.

Daily intake: Approximately 200 grams of yogurt and 3 cups of milk are recommended on a daily basis, for kids above 9 years of age.  

Serving ideas

  • Churn some yogurt to make buttermilk and add some spice to it with cumin powder, salt, and mint, and serve with lunch. 
  • Serve up a glass of Bournvita milk with breakfast and evening snacks. 

7. Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is an excellent source of Vitamin E, and antioxidants that shield nervous membranes. They also contain thiamin to help the brain absorb glucose for energy.

Daily intake: Around 2 tablespoons (32 grams) of peanut butter is recommended for kids aged between 9-18 years. 

Serving idea: Smear some peanut butter on a bread toast for your kid’s evening snack.

8. Oatmeal

Protein and fiber-rich oats are a very nutritious ‘grain for the brain’. Oats are also good sources of vitamin E, B-vitamins, potassium and zinc that make a child’s brain function at full capacity. Oatmeal cereal is popular and beneficial brain food for kids.

Daily intake: One cup of cooked oatmeal suffices the daily dietary requirement for growing kids above 9 years of age.  

Serving Idea: Drizzle a bowl of oatmeal with applesauce and cinnamon for a twist. 

9. Cocoa

Cocoa and cocoa-derived products are brain food for kids that provides flavonoid antioxidants, comprising catechin and epicatechin. They have brain-protective properties. Cocoa increases blood flow to the brain, enhances visual processing, and cognitive performance in tasks related to verbal learning and memory in kids. 

Daily intake: Cocoa consumption needs to be monitored, as it contains some amount of caffeine. Generally, a square of chocolate in a day fares well with kids and teens. Cocoa powder mixed in drinks needs to be fed at a low dose and then gradually increased (starting with 3-5g/day and the maximum dose from 19-45g/day). 

Serving idea: A glass of Cocoa powder banana milkshake, or a piece of your kid’s favourite chocolate.

Allow your children the luxury of rich brain foods by incorporating them into their diet plan and daily food menu, in innovative ways. Brain health is the utmost priority to make your child perform better in academics and all other spheres of life. Brain foods for kids give a boost to your child’s brain development and enhance the power of their brain. Almost all nutritionists and dieticians recommend adding brain foods to a growing child’s diet chart. 

The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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