The brain has priority in nutrient supplies above all other organs, utilising 20% of oxygen and calorie intake making it the most metabolically active part of the body. Understanding how the brain develops, functions and an appreciation of its needs can help support optimal brain development.
The developing brain:
Brain structure is laid down by both genetics and environmental factors such as food, learning and exercise. Early nutrient deficiencies can impact on the growing brain and an awareness of key nutrients for brain development can be a factor that parents/carers can influence and therefore support optimal brain health for their child/children. Brain development is on-going inline with its amazing plasticity. Significant stages of brain development include the third trimester until age 2 when the brain undergoes rapid growth and adolescence when the brain undergoes pruning.
Key nutrients for brain health include:
- Protein provides the building blocks for brain structure and neurotransmitters.
- Focus on: Eggs, fish, meat, nuts, seeds, legumes, lentils.
- Fats are essential for all cell membranes, cognitive function and mood. Omega-3 fatty acid DHA is key.
- Focus on: Eggs, fish, meat, nuts, seeds, avocado.
- Carbohydrates provide glucose and fuel for the brain.
- Focus on: Rainbow of vegetables, oats, avoiding processed, refined carbohydrates.
- Iron is important for brain energy, neurotransmitters and development.
- Focus on: Liver, broccoli, eggs, quinoa, chicken.
- Iodine is needed for central nervous system development and any deficiencies can impact on intelligence.
- Focus on: sea vegetables, eggs, fish.
- Zinc is abundant in the brain and contributes to function, growth and structure.
- Focus on: Fish, seeds, nuts, red meat, chicken.
Talking to children about ‘Feeding their growing brains’ can provide an ideal opportunity to explain what their brain does and introduce key foods that support their brain to grow and develop. Hard boiling eggs, vegetable kebabs, fish pate, liver pate and avocado mousse recipes can be simple ways to engage children in cooking with a very clear purpose for their own health and development.
A key factor for brain health, concentration and mood is ensuring meals and timings support a balanced blood sugar. Focusing on protein, fibre and slow release carbohydrates are key to keeping levels even.
Anti-nutrients are factors, which may have a detrimental affect on brain health for some individuals. These include trans fats, gluten, artificial sweeteners, high sugar, caffeine, and high toxin exposure (cigarette smoke, household chemicals, toiletries etc.).
Lifestyle factors that support brain health include keeping well hydrated, getting adequate sleep, exercise and learning.
Being aware of many of these factors such as key nutrients, lifestyle factors and anti-nutrients can be beneficial for brain health and also help to educate children and families and ultimately support optimal brain development.
To find more out about your brain health or for more specific health concerns consider a telephone, Skype or face-to-face appointment at The Food Teacher Clinic where a registered nutritional therapist can talk about your individual needs and support you through the development of a bespoke programme.