NUTRITION & YOUNG CHILDREN

Food groups to include:
• Essential fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6, are
essential for brain development and the prevention of cognitive
decline. The body cannot synthesise these ‘good’ fats, meaning
that they must be obtained from what we eat. Sources include
flaxseed and some other seeds, oily or fatty fish, as well as
some nuts and vegetables. If your child is resistant to eating
these foods, a supplementary dose of quality fish oil such as
krill oil will suffice.
• Amino acids are critical for healthy brain development and
function. The brain uses amino acids to produce the chemicals
involved in regulating mood, sustaining mental clarity, paying
attention and boosting energy levels. A diet deficient in amino
acids can result in depression and feeling tired or weak. About
half of all amino acids are essential meaning they must be
obtained from animal protein sources such as meat, fish and
eggs, and/or plant protein sources such as soya beans and
quinoa (pronounced keen-wa).
• Antioxidants can help to protect the brain against oxidative
damage that leads to cell injury, aging and disease. Essential
antioxidants, such as Vitamins C, E and selenium, must be
obtained from fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains. For a
treat, choose quality dark chocolate containing at least 70%
cocoa as this contains antioxidants called flavonoids.
Food groups to limit:
• Sugars, artificial sweeteners, colours, preservatives and
artificial flavour enhancers have been found to inhibit the
development of new brain tissue and connections when
consumed in high quantities over a long period of time.
Children who consume diets high in sugars typically display
hyperactivity, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and crankiness.
The jury is still out with regard to artificial sweeteners but
there is some suggestion that these chemicals are capable
of crossing the delicate blood brain barrier and the long term
effects of this are yet to be seen. Most experts recommend
children only consume these substances in small quantities, if
at all.
• Hydrogenated or trans-fats are not only harmful for the body
but can also distort cell membranes and reduce learning ability.
These ‘bad’ fats are found in margarine, some baked or fried
foods, as well as other long shelf-life processed foods. Most
experts recommend avoiding trans-fats altogether and instead
consuming monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such
as those found in olive oil. Another healthy oil choice is cold
pressed coconut oil.
In the real world it can be difficult to feed your child whole,
unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods all the time but it’s very
important to limit their consumption of snack foods that contain
little or no nutritional benefit. Consuming a ‘brain healthy’ diet at
least 80% of the time is not only beneficial for your child’s physical
development but has also been shown to promote healthy brain
growth, positive behaviours and learning development.

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