That Austin, TX sunshine is here and that can only mean one thing: sweet, sweet summertime!
Summers with kids usually mean being on the go, traveling, summer camps, vacations… which in turn, means easy-to-make foods, processed snacks, eating out, and food being whatever is easiest, not necessarily what’s best.
The foods we consume play a big part in the structure and health of our brains, and a brain-boosting, superfood-focused diet can support both short- and long-term function and development. From improving mental tasks such as memory and concentration to enhancing overall brain structure, a healthy diet can keep your brain sharp and will increase your odds of keeping a healthy brain as you continue to grow and age.
It’s important to incorporate superfoods into your child’s diet — there’s a magnitude of benefits when it comes to their brain function and development. (That’s really just scraping the surface, here’s tons of examples of the benefits of superfoods.)
Not sure what exactly constitutes a superfood? Let’s take a look...
The word “superfood” is used a lot when it comes to food- and health-related conversations.
Although there’s no standardized, scientifically-backed criteria for what makes something a superfood, the term generally refers to foods that contain high levels of at least one important vitamin or mineral. A quick Google search will tell you it’s “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.”
I bet your family is probably already incorporating some of these foods into your meals! Don’t let the word make you think it’s “too healthy,” meaning your child will turn their nose up.
I know my toddler snacks on about three of the foods I list below and loves every second of it!
There are many common superfoods that can be added into your child’s diet so they can reap the health benefits. Here are some great superfoods for kids (all while promoting healthy brain growth and development).
Here’s some of my kids' go-to's…
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Broccoli and other cruciferous (plants of the cabbage family) vegetables are rich in fiber and nutrients — making them an easy top pick.
I love how versatile this vegetable is. It serves as a quick and easy snack, can be made into a casserole, or eaten for dinner as a side!
As well as being a low-calorie source of dietary fiber, broccoli is beneficial for the brain. It’s rich in compounds called glucosinolates. When the body breaks these down, they produce isothiocyanates.
Isothiocyanates may reduce oxidative stress and lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
Broccoli is also jam-packed with vitamin C and flavonoids, and these antioxidants can further boost a person’s brain health.
And if you get tired of broccoli, the good news is that there’s other cruciferous vegetables that contain glucosinolates. These include:
A diet rich with healthy unsaturated fat supports brain function and combats cognitive decline. Avocados are technically a fruit, and one that’s packed with good-for-you monounsaturated fats that promote healthy blood flow and support information-carrying nerves in the brain. They are also loaded with several of the brain’s most valued nutrients, including folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, and copper.
Consuming unsaturated fats may reduce blood pressure, and high blood pressure is directly linked with cognitive decline. So in turn, by reducing high blood pressure, the unsaturated fats in avocados can lower the risk of cognitive decline. When I do the math, it’s a no-brainer to eat these almost daily!
Other sources of healthful unsaturated fats (spoiler: many of these are on our list!) include:
Nuts such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, Brazil nuts and peanuts
Seeds like flaxseed and chia seeds
Soybean, sunflower, and canola oils
Blueberries provide so many health benefits — especially for your brain. Blueberries are packed with antioxidants that may improve memory and delay brain aging.
Blueberries — and other deep-colored berries (more on that below) — deliver anthocyanins, a group of plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Antioxidants help by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. The antioxidants in berries include anthocyanin, caffeic acid, catechin, and quercetin.
Antioxidants act against both oxidative stress and inflammation — both conditions that can contribute to brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases.
Some of the antioxidants in blueberries have been found to accumulate in the brain and help improve communication between brain cells. Perfect for a developing and growing mind like your child’s!
A 2014 review notes that the antioxidant compounds found in berries have many positive effects on the brain. The include:
Improving communication between brain cells
Reducing inflammation throughout the body
Increasing plasticity, which helps brain cells form new connections, boosting learning and memory
Don’t like blueberries? That’s OK! Some other antioxidant-rich berries that can boost brain health include:
#4 Oily Fish
Oily fish are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s help build membranes around each cell in the body, including the brain cells. They can, therefore, improve the structure of brain cells called neurons.
A 2017 study found that people with high levels of omega-3s had increased blood flow in the brain. The researchers also identified a connection between omega-3 levels and better cognition AKA thinking abilities.
These results suggest that eating foods rich in omega-3s, such as oily fish, may boost brain function.
Examples of oily fish that contain high levels of omega-3s include:
People can also get omega-3s from other foods such as soybeans, nuts, flaxseed, and other seeds.
Speaking of... That brings me to out next and final superfood.
Eating more nuts and seeds are good for the brain, as these foods contain omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Studies have found that higher overall nut intake was linked to better brain function in older age.
Nuts are also rich sources of the antioxidant vitamin E, which protects cells from oxidative stress. Research has found that vitamin E may also contribute to improved cognition and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Several nutrients in nuts, such as healthy fats, antioxidants, and vitamin E, may explain their beneficial effects on brain health. They also contain a host of brain-boosting nutrients, including vitamin E, healthy fats, and plant compounds.
According to NickiRD, a nutritionist and dietician, “You can find amazing omega-3 fats in hemp, flax, chia and pumpkin seeds. Create your own trail mix with these seeds as the front runner alongside coconut chips, cacao nibs, walnuts, and almonds.”
But it’s not all about the brain! Research has shown that eating nuts has a direct correlation to your heart health, and having a healthy heart is linked to having a healthy brain.
Pro-tip: While all nuts are good for your brain, walnuts may have an extra edge, since they also deliver anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
Your Superfood Summary
The foods we discussed today are great ways to help improve a person’s memory and concentration. They can also help improve the structure of brain cells called neurons.
Brain-boosting foods tend to contain one or more of the following:
Antioxidants, such as flavonoids or vitamin E
Omega fatty acids
There’s tons of foods out there that can help keep your brain healthy, and keep your child developing their cognitive skills.
You can help support your brain health and boost your alertness, memory, and mood by strategically including these foods in your diet.
P.S. Jill’s Tutors is here to help you and your kids stay on track this summer! Just give us a call or text at 512-812-9502 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org — after that, we’ll set you up with one of our talented, remote educators.