30 APRIL 2021

Five brain care tips to support your child’s learning


The following article has been written by Bel from The Root Cause.

As our kids return to school and learning re-commences, the pressure is on for our kids to remember a lot of information and achieve great results. It can be a stressful time for kids and us parents, but did you know that the food and drinks our kids consume in the lead up to and during tests has the ability to:

  • energise and support them, calm them, improve their alertness, and help them sustain focus for longer; or
  • it can make them feel tired, anxious, and stressed. It can hinder their attention span and ability to concentrate.

Some foods boost our brain function and other foods hinder brain function. Scientific studies show that:

  • a healthy diet improves learning and memory 1
  • junk food decreases academic performance 2
  • higher fruit and vegetable intake is linked to better school performance levels 3

The foods that support our kid’s body and brain during exam time are wholefoods – fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, good quality meats, fish, eggs, and wholegrains. These foods increase blood flow to the brain, boost memory function, and can calm nerves. On the flip side, processed foods contain sugar, additives, and preservatives that may negatively impact memory, the growth of new brain cells, and mood.

It is not uncommon for parents to tell me that the foods that help our kids are the foods they find most difficult to get their kids to eat. Whereas the foods that hinder our child’s brain function are the foods they want to eat. But when children understand the reasons behind making better choices, they are more likely to accept it and make changes. That is why I encourage you to have this conversation with your children about the importance of taking care of their brains.


“Imagine your brain is like a mobile phone” – A way to talk to your kids.

Like a mobile phone, your brain has lots of apps and storage space that need to be updated regularly. The apps of our brain include things like how to walk, talk, see, hear, feel, think, and remember things. The storage space is where what we learn and experience is filed away.

Sometimes when apps get updated, but you don’t install the update on your phone, the app can get glitchy or some functions won’t work. The same happens with our brains. If we don’t continually update the apps and recharge our brain, we might not be able to concentrate, focus or remember things as easily as when it has been updated.

The best way to update your apps and recharge your brain is to continually nourish it with food and drink that boost your brain health.


How to recharge your brain and update its apps daily


1. Drink plenty of water

Scientists estimate your brain is made up of about 75% water. When your brain doesn’t get enough water, it can lead to headaches, concentration problems, memory problems, and sleep issues.

Sugary drinks (including juices and flavoured milk) and energy drinks can cause your blood sugar to spike. When it drops, you feel tired, and this impacts your concentration.

The best drink to have all the time and especially during exam time is water.


2. Get a good night’s sleep

Restful sleep is important for your brain to work properly. A tired brain is often unable to concentrate and even the simplest of questions or tasks seem difficult and take longer. You may find yourself needing to reread questions, wasting valuable test time.

Get a good sleep the night before your test. Turn off screens at least one hour before going to bed. Stop studying early in the evening and trust you have done as much as you can. Take time away from your test notes, eat dinner, pack your bag, and get your clothes ready for the next day. Then shower and get to bed early, so you have the right amount of sleep for your age.

A well-rested brain can think more clearly. You will be able to concentrate and focus for longer.


3. Eat breakfast

Quite simply, your brain needs food for it to work properly. Your brain is a very hungry organ and uses 20% of all the energy you take in each day. Ever heard of the hangries? Well, it’s true, when you're hungry, your brain will be focusing on your hunger and you’re less likely to make logical decisions.

A great breakfast has a mix of protein, complex carbohydrates, and good quality fats. Some examples are scrambled eggs on sourdough toast with avocado, or yoghurt with homemade muesli topped with fruit.

Even if you don’t usually eat breakfast or feel too nervous, try to have a smoothie made with fresh fruit and vegetables. Add in some nuts or other protein sources to help keep you full.


4. Eat brain-boosting foods

  • Foods containing omega’3s such as salmon, sardines, flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and edamame. Omega’3s are a major building block of the brain and are recognised for enhancing memory.
  • Good quality protein. Protein helps you feel fuller for longer and helps your brain send messages around your body. Examples are eggs, grass-fed beef, organic or free-range chicken, legumes, nuts and seeds, and organic dairy.
  • Berries contain anthocyanins and can improve mental performance by enhancing learning and memory.
  • Avocados and other monounsaturated fats such as olive oil and nuts. Monounsaturated fats have been linked to better memory and brain function.
  • Walnuts, which amazingly look like a brain, are considered one of the best nuts you can eat for brain function as they improve the ability to learn and remember.
  • Dark Chocolate helps with memory, attention span, and your ability to solve problems. Eat in small snack amounts only.

Avoid sugary and other processed foods and drinks as these hinder your brain performance.


5. Snack smart

Keep your snacks (and meals) light. Heavy foods or overeating can lead to your body using its energy to digest food rather than for thinking. Have snacks on hand that keep you alert. A trail mix of nuts (if you can have them), seeds, and dried fruit with some cacao nibs is a great smart snack.


Simple swaps

  • Breakfast cereal – Eggs and sourdough, porridge topped with nuts and fruit, or chia pudding.
  • Biscuits, cakes – Homemade pikelets topped with cream cheese and raw honey or mashed banana. Wholegrain crackers with cheese.
  • White bread sandwich with a spread as the filling – Wholegrain chicken or salad sandwich or mashed chickpeas and salad.
  • Chocolate, lollies, ice cream – Fruit and natural Greek yoghurt.
  • Chips – Nuts and seeds, trail mix.
  • Juice, flavoured milk, energy drink – water, milk, 100% coconut water.

I hope this article gives you loads of ideas of how to nourish your child’s brain and have the confidence to talk to your children about the importance of taking care of their brain to support their learning.

Visit therootcause.com.au or reach out to your local Certified Instructor for more information to help you empower your kids to make better food choices.

References

  1. Nutrition and Academic Performance in School-Age Children The Relation to Obesity and Food Insufficiency
  2. Nutrition and Academic Performance in School-Age Children The Relation to Obesity and Food Insufficiency
  3. Dietary Habits Are Associated With School Performance in Adolescents