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Food for Thought: Nutrients to Support the Brain

The summer is winding down, and that means back-to-school season will be in full swing before we know it. Nutrition has a great impact on learning and the brain, so give your child a healthy edge by supplying the nutrients she needs most to support brain health.

Researchers report that many kids (and adults) aren't getting enough of the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium and support bone growth and strength. Vitamin D is also critical for proper brain development. There's evidence that vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy may be linked to impulsivity, aggression, and ADHD in the next generation. Studies also suggest that vitamin D has a protective effect on the brain.

Vitamin D is naturally found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, as well as in cheese, egg yolks, and fortified milk. Look for a children's supplement containing vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol, the most active form of the vitamin.

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are critical for normal brain development, and they're found to positively affect learning and memory and support a healthy mood. A deficiency of omega-3s is linked to an increased risk of ADD and depression, as well as impaired learning and memory. In one study, kids who were given omega-3s along with zinc, iron, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, B12, and C scored higher on tests measuring verbal intelligence, memory, and learning after six months and a year than children who did not receive the nutrients.

Since the body can't manufacture DHA on its own, we must obtain it through diet and supplements. Salmon, cod, and sardines are good dietary sources, and a children's DHA supplement is a convenient way to ensure adequate intake.

The B vitamins play a role in growth and development, so they're a crucial part of any child's diet. They are needed for a variety of mental functions, including thinking skills, attention, and memory. However, it's not uncommon for kids to be deficient in one or several of the B vitamins, and poor memory, fatigue, and irritability may be signs that your child isn't getting enough.

Eggs, dairy, green leafy vegetables, and whole grains are good dietary sources of B vitamins, and a high-quality children's multivitamin formula will supply adequate amounts of all the B vitamins and fill any gaps left by the diet.

Zinc is essential to brain health and learning. It aids the process of cementing new connections between neurons in the brain, and it plays a major role in the formation of memories. A children's multi will provide the proper amount of zinc. Include a mix of nuts and seeds in your child's lunch box as well.

A diet low in overly processed foods and rich in brightly colored fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats is a great start for delivering the nutrients essential for brain health. Also look for individual supplements of these brain-friendly nutrients as well as multivitamins specially formulated for kids.

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