We all know something about healthy eating. Many of us are friends with the guilt of not feeding our kids a perfect diet. You, like me, may have spent hours researching which dietary advice is really backed by science and which is a bunch of hoopla. This post is not about feeling guilty, it is not about spending hours making everything from scratch or about trying to force yourself and your kids to like liver. One. More. Time.
No, I am going to dive into some specific foods that are great for your brain and why. You may find you already eat some of these and all you need to do is keep it up. If I cover a food you hate, don’t worry about it, many nutrients are found in a wide variety of foods, just do a simple googles search of food high in that nutrient and pick a different one. I am trying to focus on foods that are easy, believe me, the last thing I want to do is make more work for mom.
Walnuts have a high concentration of DHA an important Omega-3 fatty acid for brain health. Walnuts are a bit more bitter than other nuts and because of this, your kids may not enjoy eating them straight. But you can add them into things such as brownies, cookies, on the top of cobbler (just trade out some of the oats for walnuts). If your kids don’t like the crunch they add to desserts just grind them up in the food processor first. Love nuts?
Blueberries are considered brain food because of the high levels of antioxidants they contain. Getting plenty of antioxidants protects your brain from oxidative damage. Blueberries have the highest levels of antioxidants when they are picked ripe. They will be a nice dark color when they are picked ripe. Frozen blueberries are picked during peak ripeness and are also much more affordable than fresh berries. Frozen berries can be thawed by running cold water over them and added to any number of salads, yogurt, muffins etc. Or you can just eat them plain in a bowl. My kids like a bowl full of thawed frozen berries with whipped cream on top for a dessert. You don’t have to eat blueberries to get your antioxidants, any brightly colored food has antioxidants. You can challenge your kids to eat a cup of brightly colored foods every day. One of the really convenient things about getting your antioxidants is that they come in many tasty foods.
Of course, this is my favorite one! One of the most interesting studies actually scanned people 30 and 60 minutes after consuming a 48 g portion of dark chocolate (70%) and found increased brainwaves (specifically gamma waves) in several areas of the cortex, most notably in areas of memory and cognition. Do we need an excuse to eat more chocolate? Your kids may not like dark, but they will still benefit from milk chocolate, there is just not as high a dose of concentrated cocoa powder, of course, the studies were done with adults and kids may respond to even smaller doses. You can also, of course, get more cocoa into your kids by making hot chocolate, homemade brownies, or chocolate pudding. But now we are starting to drool and get a sugar high. The point is, it isn’t hard to eat chocolate, and it is good for you. Eating healthy is not diametrically opposed to eating yummy.
Another kind of fat that keeps our brain healthy in monounsaturated fat, which is found in high doses in avocados. Monounsaturated fats increase the production of acetylcholine which is a neurotransmitter used in learning and memory. 1
Now, I understand, not every kid loves avocados. If you have trouble getting fresh avocados or using them up before they go bad, consider some of the premade guacamoles sold at many grocery stores. If your kids hate avocados do a little research and make sure they are getting the monounsaturated fat their brain needs from another source.
You may have been waiting for me to get to this one. You probably either love it or hate, and your kids may be the same way. Some of my kids eat as much salmon as I can afford to feed them, and others avoid it like the plague. Salmon is good for your brain because it is hight in Omega-3 fatty acids, just like walnuts. It is also loaded with magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, and vitamin D. You can find all these nutrients in plenty of other foods, which is why I don’t worry about my kids who hate salmon. Salmon is so easy to prepare, I just make sure it is added to dinners as a second protein option for anyone who wants to choose it over another option. One option for being able to afford a little more of this not-cheap food is to buy it canned.
You may be wondering if you really have to buy wild-caught salmon to get the health benefits, as many sources say, or if you can get the more affordable and easier to find farmed salmon. This study can give you all the gritty details you need and you can let your budget make the rest of the decision for you.
I could go on and on listing foods that would be good for your brain, but I am going to stop here. Taking care of our brain does not have to be overwhelming. Our brain is mostly fat, so make sure you are getting some quality fats in your diet. If you hate one of these foods, look up some replacements. Sometimes we think eating healthy is about taking care of our bodies. In a culture that prizes the mind above the body, it is time to start reminding ourselves they are connected and so the habits that help one also help the other.
I think it is important to remember that many foods are full of a wide variety of healthy nutrients. Sometimes it is better to focus on putting a lot of good healthy things into our bodies than it is to obsess over what to keep out. Instead of stressing over a perceived dietary failure, just focus and getting good stuff in and being grateful for the large variety of delicious and easy foods available to us.
Want a way to get omega's in your kids without serving fish? Check out my Brain Muffins recipe.