Back-to-school Season Should Start With Smart Eating!
Back-to-school season seems as good a time as any to think about boosting your kids’ brain power. This year, instead of flashcards and multiplication drills, you might want to focus on your family’s diet.
The dietary habits of children can impact their energy level, mood and academic performance now and in years to come. Simply eating a healthful daily breakfast has been linked to improved concentration and behavior, among other benefits. And we’re not just talking about getting a little extra edge for this week’s math test: While the short-term consequences of food consumption on the brain are well appreciated, many people don’t realize that nutrition has a huge impact on brain function over years and over decades. What you eat as a child — both the quantity and quality of food — can significantly impact long-term cognitive function and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
A poor diet has been linked directly to heart attack, stroke, as well as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and inflammation, all of which can have a negative impact on brain function and performance. Arterial plaque buildup from a diet high in saturated and trans fats, added sugars and refined grains not only leads to heart disease, it is also a major culprit for vascular dementia -- when the brain neurons become inflamed or don't get enough oxygen and blood flow. Inflammation and lack of oxygen result in accelerated memory loss.
The brain is a highly active organ that needs a lot of blood, a lot of oxygen and a lot of nutrients. Research (http://www.todaysdietitian.com/news/012012_news.shtml) suggests maintaining healthy weight (http://www.todaysdietitian.com/news/021512_news.shtml), as well as, a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids (for example the omega 3 fatty acid called DHA that is found in salmon, mackerel, trout, and sardines), B vitamins along with antioxidant vitamins C and E, and Vitamin D may help protect the brain.
Some studies have shown that DHA supplementation can improve kids’ memory, learning ability and cognitive performance, while low levels of DHA have been associated with smaller brain size, increased risk for Alzheimer’s and possible behavioral issues in children and adolescents. (Vegetarians and fish-haters alike can take algae-based DHA supplements.)
A recent study of healthy adults and adults with mild cognitive impairment tested out the effects of two diets. One was the "high diet," which was high in saturated fat (at least 25 percent of the diet) and simple carbohydrates (glycemic index greater than 70). The other was a "low diet," which was low in saturated fat (less than 7 percent of the diet) with a fewer simple carbs (glycemic index less than 55). Results revealed that those on the “low diet” improved or made the levels of three important markers of health.
Firstly, this diet was associated with less bad cholesterol. Secondly, the low diet was linked with lower insulin levels. Lastly, the low diet lessened the biomarkers of free radical injury, a signal of oxidative damage to your central nervous system.
In a nutshell: After just one month of the low saturated fat/low carbs diet, "visual memory" improved for healthy adults and adults with cognitive impairment. This was a small study of 49 subjects, but the implications have big promise.
Here's a quick review of which nutrients to avoid so you can steer clear:
1. Trans Fats (may be found in margarines, cookies, frozen meals, fries, chips, crackers, doughnuts) - alters metabolic processes and hardens your arteries. It is also recommended to avoid trans fats as they have also been linked to a smaller brain size and reduced function.
2. Saturated Fats (may be found in high fat meats, full fat dairy products, snack foods)- Leads to the buildup of fatty tissue on the inner linings of your arteries and turns on inflammatory genes.
3. Added Sugar (may be found in sugary beverages, cereals, and snack foods) - Excess sugar causes the proteins in your body to function improperly, aging your arterial system.
4. Refined Grains (Examples include: white bread, white rice, white pasta)- Whole grains contain a lot of fiber, which helps prevent arterial aging, whereas, refined grains do just the opposite!
The larger point is that the potential advantages of a better diet clearly go beyond the school year. Keep in mind, you can always improve brain function, no matter how old you are.
Here is a grocery bag list of foods high in the nutrients discussed above that may boost cognitive function:
5. Sunflower seeds
6. Sweet potatoes
7. Olive oil