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Power Up! Foods that Fuel the Brain

09.24.13 Power Up! Foods that Fuel the Brain

brain food

Packing daily lunches is one thing. Choosing the right healthy foods, the ones that help power the day ahead is another. Just like an athlete eats for optimal athletic performance, our kids' brains are in training too. Their brains are actively and dramatically growing just like their never-still bodies and need our mindful care. 

The early years are critical for brain development and what kids eat is one of the factors that affects their cognitive skills and how well they can focus in school. So, how can we help fuel learning rather than bog down their brain performance?

Start with trying to fit these key brain foods into their day, starting with a power breakfast and refueling at lunchtime, following up with a nourishing after-school pit stop before dinner.

Staying sharp all day starts off with an ideal breakfast of protein and complex carbs (so food is digested more slowly). Sometimes mornings can be so crazy that fitting in a proper breakfast feels like a no-can-do. Obviously if time is a restraint, breakfast gets squeezed out and you'll feel lucky if a granola bar is scarfed down on the way to school...hopefully filled with nuts!

So, first and foremost: HYDRATE! Water hydrates the brain and keeps your body in an anti-inflammatory state while keeping all the gears fully lubed. When we get dehydrated, our brain tissue actually shrinks and affects cognitive function. So fill up those reusable water bottles and remind your hard working student to DRINK!

Antioxidants: These tasty berries are loaded with antioxidants which help our bodies absorb other nutrients as well as the very important need to circulate our blood! Blueberries and strawberries work to protect brain neurons from damage, build communication receptors between brain cells and flush out waste.

Found in beans (kidney, pinto, red), berries (blue, straw, cran, black and raspberries), artichokes, pecans, apples and prunes.

What to pack? Fill a stainless steel container with fresh berries for improved learning and motor skills.

Omega-3 essential fatty acids: These are crucial to eye and brain development and also help to stabilize mood. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in healthy fats is associated with learning as the nutrients promote good blood flow, allowing efficient delivery of oxygen to the brain.

Sources: Oily Fish! (like salmon) packs serious omega-3s (the more the better for the brain's sake) and walnuts, flaxseed, eggs, greek yogurt, seaweed

For lunch, pack a serving of greek yogurt in a leakproof stainless round and an accompanying container filled with granola, berries or nuts. 

Phosphorus: Aids in cognitive growth and development...more simply, these foods help for brain processing. This essential element is found in and around the cells of the brain.

Sources: Meat, nuts, dairy, legumes, broccoli and peas

For lunch, pack a bento with leftover rice and steamed broccoli or beans. Add tasty side flavors packed in leakproof dips for a great way to jazz up this healthy dish.

Lutein: Most Americans lack the daily quota for carotenoids (the compound in foods found in amazingly vibrant colored foods like beets, spinach, kale and bell peppers). An important phytonutrient that supports eye health and helps regulate overall brain function, cognition, vision, hearing and speech.

So, if your child isn't a fan of heaping kale salads, try masking the leafy vegetables in a brain-power smoothie. Mix with sweeter fruits like apples, pineapple and mango to sneak in a dose of vitamin A for their sparkly eyes. Make your smoothies fun to drink with glass or stainless steel straws or a to-go Eco Jarz Glass Mug + bent straw!

Sources: kale, spinach, broccoli, corn, orange peppers, dark leafy vegetables and highly colored foods.

Choline: An essential nutrient for brain development and memory function -- helps the brain communicate with the rest of the body. Vitamin B is a particularly important part of brain health.

Sources: Eggs (especially the yolk), beans, brussels sprouts, broccoli, peanuts, soybeans, potatoes, cauliflower, lentils, oats, sesame seeds, grass-fed beef, flax seeds.

Grab a Lunchbot quad and fill the 4 sections with a combination of different memory enhancing foods. Your kids will love the assortment and may even randomly try new foods if they keep appearing in their lunches!

Taurine: Another essential amino acid that is important in the health of our vision, brain and central nervous system.

Sources: chicken, turkey, dairy (cottage and ricotta cheese), granola, oat, wheat germ, eggs, parmesan, cod and seeds.

On a frigid day or when a nasty cold is running through your house, pack an insulated thermos container filled with chicken soup to warm that little bod and boost the brain. 

OTHER BRAIN-BOOSTING FOODS?
  • Nuts + Seeds: Pumpkin seeds are especially good with your recommendation of zinc (enhances memory and thinking skills) covered with just one handful!
  • Beans (stabilize blood sugar)
  • Tomatoes, avocados, bananas, canteloupe, cheese, lean meat, milk, oranges, oatmeal, wheat germ, tuna, turkey, caffeine and DARK CHOCOLATE among others...
AND BRAIN DRAINERS TO AVOID: excuse the obvious...
  • Artificial food colorings, flavors and sweeteners
  • Soda
  • Corn Syrup
  • Frostings 
  • High sugar "Drinks" -- not to be fooled by vitamins included..
  • Hydrogenated fats 
  • white bread
  • sugar
WHAT ARE YOUR GO-TO FOODS FOR A BRAIN FUEL?
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