Nutrition is essential in aiding the development of children’s brains, and it plays a key role in concentration and learning. Certain foods, such as eggs, oily fish, and vegetables, contain nutrients crucial for early development.
The role of nutrition in brain development
All nutrients are important for brain growth and function. However, according to a 2017 review, the following nutrients are essential during early development:
- long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids
- vitamin A
- B vitamins
- vitamin C
- vitamin D
The authors of the review point out that the first three years of a child’s life are critical for brain development. They suggest that failure to optimize brain development during this period can result in long-term consequences to their education, job potential, and adult mental health.
Nutrition is one way to optimize early brain development. Other factors are social support and attachment, and reducing toxic stress and inflammation, say the authors.
Children’s diets may also impact the brain in the context of behavior and concentration.
A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis suggested that a diet high in refined sugars and saturated fat may increase the risk of hyperactivity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, the authors point out that scientists need to conduct more studies.
Healthy brain foods
The following foods contain nutrients that are important for brain health. Adding these foods to a child’s diet may support healthy brain development and function.
Research suggests that choline is critical for infant development and brain function.
A 2017 study suggests that people in the United States achieve their choline intake by consuming eggs. According to the study, a large egg with yolk contains 125 milligrams (mg) of choline, which equates to half the requirement for children aged 4–8 years.
Children could eat a boiled egg for breakfast or an omelet or frittata made with eggs and vegetables for their lunch or dinner.
Oily fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids essential for brain function and development.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, kids need omega-3 fatty acids for brain function and development. Additionally, they suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may help manage psychological and behavioral conditions.
People can try including salmon or tuna in wraps, sandwiches, or salads. Another quick meal idea for kids is sardines on whole-grain toast with a side of salad greens.
Leafy green vegetables are a good source of folate. For example, 100 grams of raw spinach contain almost half the daily amount of folate that children aged 4–8 years need.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that women take 400 micrograms of folic acid before and during pregnancy to avoid neural tube defects.
Dietary folate is also essential for brain development and function, so parents should ensure their children have enough sources in their diet.
People can try adding the following to children’s meals:
- bok choy or Chinese cabbage to stir-fries
- steamed cabbage, kale, or cavolo nero
- raw watercress, spinach, or rocket to salads and sandwiches
If children are reluctant to eat green leafy vegetables, people can try adding them to smoothies or blending them into sauces.
Research suggests that the microbiome plays a vital role in brain development. Probiotics in fermented foods such as Greek yogurt can support a healthy microbiome.
People should choose unflavored yogurt to limit the amount of added sugars. They can add fresh fruit such as blueberries or chopped apples for extra nutrients.
For younger children and toddlers, blending Greek yogurt with fresh fruit can make a nutritious smoothie.
Porridge oats are a low glycemic index (GI) food. A small, older study of 12- to 14-year-olds found that eating a low GI breakfast was beneficial for cognitive function during the school morning.
Porridge made from whole grain oats and topped with nut butter or some toasted nuts is a low GI breakfast suitable for kids who do not have a nut allergy. For those who do, adding some toasted seeds or natural yogurt provides protein and can help to balance blood sugar.
Beans and lentils
Beans and lentils contain zinc, which is vital for brain development and normal growth in childhood.
A cup of cooked lentils contains 2.52 mg of zinc, half the daily requirement for a child aged 4–8 years old.
People can add lentils to soups, dahls, and curries. The softer consistency of red lentils makes them ideal for younger children.
People can also try making dips with chickpeas, butter beans, or cannellini beans. Kids can dip celery or carrot sticks into them.
Breakfast ideas before school
The following are some breakfast ideas that kids could eat before school to support their brain function and concentration:
- a boiled or scrambled egg with whole-grain toast fingers
- porridge oats with nut butter or berries
- a smoothie made from spinach, Greek yogurt, blueberries, and apple slices
- a whole-grain bagel with salmon and avocado
Medical reference: Medical News Today