"You are what you eat" doesn't just apply to a kid's skin, muscles and bones. Nutrition affects mental processing and acuity in children as well. Alan Greene, a pediatrician at Packard Children's Hospital, says that what you feed your child has profound effects on behavior and academic performance. If your child needs help with focus and concentration, examine his diet and consider making some changes.
Colorful fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants that boost memory and brain function. The antioxidant vitamin E is specifically linked to the improved health of brain membranes and neuroplasticity, reports a paper published in "Neuroscience" in 2008. Vitamin E is found in fortified grains, such as 100 percent whole-wheat bread, and nuts. Other kid-friendly foods that include ample antioxidants are berries and citrus fruits.
The brain is about 60 percent fat. This isn't the flab you find around your middle, but an important building block that the brain uses for normal function. DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is one of the primary fatty acids that supports healthy brain growth. In some studies, including one published in a 2009 issue of "Paediatrics and Child Health," supplementation with fish oil -- a major source of DHA -- improved symptoms, including inattention, of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Foods that naturally contain DHA are fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, and seaweed. If your child won't sit down to a gourmet salmon dinner, make his tuna salad with canned wild salmon instead, or offer up crisp seaweed snacks that come flavored like chips.
The trace mineral iron plays a role in brain development. A paper published in a 2003 issue of "Food and Nutrition Bulletin" notes that iron-deficiency anemia affects infants' psychomotor development. The effects can linger into childhood, showing up as poor cognitive test performance and hand-eye coordination. Walnuts, lentils and beef are good sources of iron. Add walnuts to muffins or cereal, make lentil soup at lunchtime, and serve up meatballs for dinner.
Foods with Magnesium
Magnesium deficiency can lead to decreased attention span and mental confusion, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Magnesium calms the brain, which can help kids focus better. Sources of magnesium include whole-grain bread, pumpkin seeds, cashews and walnuts. Peanuts and peanut butter are other kid-friendly magnesium-rich food options. These foods also contain zinc, which helps regulate several brain neurotransmitters that are essential to focus.
Foods containing B vitamins may improve alertness in kids who are deficient. Vitamin B12 deficiency may cause fatigue, which diminishes focus, so ensure that your child gets plenty of animal proteins, such as beef and chicken, and sprinkle cheesy-tasting nutritional yeast on his popcorn. Choline, another B vitamin, helps with development of memory stem cells and is readily available in eggs. A study published in "Magnesium Research" in 2006 found that supplementing ADHD-diagnosed children with a combination of magnesium and vitamin B6 improved symptoms, including inattention. Find vitamin B6 in foods such as bananas, nuts, chicken, meats and whole grains.
- Center for Ecoliteracy: Brain Foods for Kids
- Parenting: Best Brain Foods for Kids
- Neuroscience: Brain Foods: The Effects of Nutrients on Brain Function
- Neurobiology of Aging: A Blueberry-Enriched Diet Provides Cellular Protection Against Oxidative Stress and Reduces a Kainate-Induced Learning Impairment in Rats
- Paediatrics and Child Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acid Treatment of Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study
- University of Maryland Medical School: Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
- Food Nutrition Bulletin: Effect of Iron-Deficiency Anemia on Cognitive Skills and Neuromaturation in Infancy and Childhood
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- Additude Magazine: Ten Foods to Boost Your ADHD Brain
- Magnesium Research: Improvement of Neurobehavioral Disorders in Children Supplemented with Magnesium-Vitamin B6. I. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders