Friday, March 11, 2011

Tip 20 - Food for Thought

Are you confused about the best diet for your child? Have you heard about gluten-free diets or considered limiting milk products? Neuroscience research suggests one simple meal you can make each day that will help the brain learn and function better, and it doesn’t involve major dietary changes.

Breakfast of Brainiacs  - All ages - A fantastic way to get the brain started each day and perhaps prevent depression, is a breakfast that almost all children love; hot oatmeal  (made with milk or soy milk instead of water) with raisins (or any dried fruit), little or no sugar, and after cooking, add  1/2 tbsp ground flax seed on top. With fresh orange slices on the side this breakfast can't be beat! Oatmeal is gluten free and a great source of fiber while the dried fruit provides important antioxidants and is sweet enough that no sugar is needed.   But the real brain-builder is the uncooked ground flax seed. It has a nice very mild nutty flavor and is packed with Omega 3’s (cooking it depletes the Omega 3's so add it after the oatmeal is fully cooked). By limiting sugar you are also helping to decrease the insulin response to the breakfast so it is filling and satisfying. By making the oatmeal with skim milk or soy milk instead of water, it tastes better, has extra protein and adds calcium. And the orange slices on the side provide vitamin C, more Omega 3 and fiber.
WHY?  Fats (lipids) make up the basic building blocks of the human nervous system.  Probably the most important brain food studied to date for its effect on brain development and mood is a kind of fat, Omega 3. These polyunsaturated fats are called essential fatty acids because you have to get them from your diet, your body cannot make them.  Researchers have known since 1998 that countries with low fish consumption have higher rates of depression and research on obesity suggests that a primary problem with a high saturated fat diet is an Omega 3 deficiency. 

A new study just published last week in Nature Neuroscience by Mathieu Lafourcade and his colleagues in France indicates that animals with low levels of Omega 3 (technical term is n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids) had chemical reactions in the brain that led to behavioral alterations which would be associated with depression in humans. Since Omega 3 deficiency is often observed in western diets, a simple solution is to add foods rich in Omega 3’s to your diet and also your child’s. Cold water fish are often good sources of Omega 3’s but many young children do not like fish. And by the way, it is preferable to get the Omega 3’s from real food sources rather than taking supplement pills.

Flaxseed is hard to digest if it is not ground and when ground it needs to be kept cold (refrigerated). So, if you want to add Omega 3’s at other meals or in other ways, good sources beside ground flaxseed are: 
  • oils (like flaxseed oil, linseed oil, canola oil, walnut oil, wheat germ oil and soybean oil) - but they will need to be kept refrigerated as well
  • green leafy vegetables (like lettuce, broccoli, kale,  and spinach)
  • legumes (like kidney, navy, pinto, lima beans, peas and split peas)
  • citrus fruits, melons, cherries

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