With a title like that, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying academic intelligence is everything; I would actually go as far as saying emotional intelligence is more important. Yes our children use their brains for learning English and Math and for understanding the world around us, but they also use it for everyday cognition (thinking) AND emotional control. As a parent of a twice-exceptional kid I totally get that both academic and emotional intelligence (including acceptable behaviour) need to be fostered!
So it’s absolutely important to supply our kids’ brains with the right nutrients.
I’m increasingly coming across questions like the following as I talk with mums concerned about their children’s learning and behaviour.
- What foods are good for brain development?
- I’ve heard about omega 3’s and omega 6’s. What’s the best way to get them into my children?
- Is it safe nowadays for my children to eat fish?
- Are some cooking oils better for the brain than others?
Fats make up nearly 60 percent of the brain. So it’s essential to feed our children’s brains with the right fats. The better the fat in the diet, the better the brain will function – including how it influences their learning, moods and behaviour.
Increasing the Good Fats
Most important to brain function are the two essential fatty acids omega-6 and omega-3. Western diets contain too many omega-6 fatty acids and too few of the omega-3s so this is where we need to look first.
Omega-3 can be obtained from coldwater fish (like tuna and salmon), walnuts, brazil nuts, olive oil and/or a fish oil supplement.
Brain (or bliss) balls are a great way of getting your kids to eat walnuts and brazil nuts – just make sure the sugar content isn’t too high; although you can get away with that a bit if you use dried fruit rather than liquid sweeteners like honey or agave syrup. China is the world’s biggest producer of walnuts so look out for country of origin on labeling and please buy those grown elsewhere (I have written a previous blog about that).
With fish there are a couple of concerns. One is mercury content – I wouldn’t be recommending any more than one small tin of tuna a week (for kids and adults). Salmon is fine. Fish and chip shops sometimes use shark – stick to an occasional blue cod!
The other concern re fish that I have seen in the media a lot lately is microplastics. At this stage scientists seem to think that microplastics remain in the guts of fish and do not move into muscle tissue, which is what we eat. But how do you feel about that?
So the best option in my opinion is to supplement with an omega-3 that has gone through a rigorous distillation process to remove impurities. More so, when choosing an omega 3 supplement consider the ratio of EPA to DHA – for school-aged children I recommend using a product with about 1 ½ x as much EPA as DHA. DHA plays a crucial role in the formative phase of brain development but EPA is the one which impacts cognition and emotional health. Liquid or capsule forms of omega-3 fatty acids are best. The gummy and chewable versions have lower amounts of EPA and DHA; your child would have to take too many of them to reach the recommended dosage.
Reducing Unhealthy Fats
Good and bad fats occupy the same space in your brain. So as well as increasing the good fats, try reducing unhealthy saturated and trans fats.
- Cut down on fried foods.
- Use healthier cooking fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) like olive oil.
- Choose lean meats and poultry without skin.
- Try vegetarian once a week!
Note that some vegetable oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids (including canola and rice bran oil) which I have already explained we generally have too much of already.
What we Do
In our house we cook mainly with extra virgin olive oil (which undergoes minimal processing) packed in a dark-tinted glass bottle (to reduce exposure to light). Luckily my kids like raw nuts, I like them dry roasted, plus I still make brain balls occasionally or buy some cocoa-free ones for a healthy lunchbox treat. We have salmon every other week plus supplement with USANA BiOmega and BiOmega Jr.