Give Your Kid a Brain Edge

Vertumnus_årstidernas_gud_målad_av_Guiseppe_Arcimboldo_1591_-_Skoklosters_slott_-_91503.tif

Want to give your kid a brain up? I know we think about waistlines and cavities when we think about junk food, but we really need to be giving thought to THE BRAIN!

A brain is a precious thing to waste, but indeed as parents, we are doing just that with our dangerous eating and feeding habits. The food a child eats nourishes his or her gut bacteria (or doesn’t). Then, by-products and interactions of the child’s own gut bacteria feeds forward to interact with the function and development of his or her brain.

Stomach. Brain. Connected.

Fiber Helps the Brain

Research supports that high fiber foods– and I ALWAYS suggest that any nutrient (including fiber) be eaten in NATURAL, WHOLE food forms (cook ’em, saute ’em, roast ’em, bake ’em, eat ’em raw—-don’t care–just eat them)– contribute to children’s “cognitive control.”

Cognitive control? Sounds spooky. What the heck is cognitive control? Some sort of mind straight-jacket?

Ha! NO!!! It’s simply a scientific way to say: the ability to adapt to a situation and make good decisions, to execute better behavior in it, and the ability to perform a task well.

Can anyone say, “Make a bed!” or “Put away the silverware!” or “Do your math homework!” or even “Hold still!”? All those, and so much more, require a person’s cognitive control. His or her ability to complete a task properly, to reason it out, to put a brake on talking and moving when talking and moving aren’t appropriate in the moment.

According to a study in The Journal of Nutrition, “Dietary Fiber is Positively Associated with Cognitive Control among Prepubertal Children“, dietary fiber may play a role in cognitive control among children. The children in this study, ages 7-9, who ate more total dietary fiber, insoluble fiber, and pectin performed better on the selected performance task in the study. (The performance task wasn’t making a bed but I think it should have been…)

A big, bad, sad 90% of American children do not get even close to the recommended fiber intake set (ranging for about 20 grams to 38 grams, depending on the age and sex)! AND the sources that most people turn to for fiber (breakfast cereal laden with sugar) is a sickening poor fiber food source for the gut bacteria.

[I also disagree with the use of bread for fiber, unless the bread is honest and pure. I’m sitting here looking at the bread label in my parents’ home and this is what I see: enriched unbleached flour (refined flour), high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, monoglycerides, sweet dairy whey, ethoxylated mono- and diglycerides, calcium propionate, natural and artificial flavor, calcium sulfate, citric acid, ascorbic acid, soy lecithin, and so on.

This is NOT bread. I do not know what exactly this is. But it is NOT bread. I have made plenty of bread in my life, and I did so with about five or less ingredients: flour, water, salt, yeast. If I got fancy, I added eggs, milk, and butter or olive oil. You must seek out the ingredient list and not rely on the large print on the front that ways, “Whole grain bread!”]

Where to get “Fiber”

What do I suggest instead? Real, whole food rich in plant matter (Always keeping in mind what is tolerated by an individual. I know many people don’t tolerate nuts or legumes or certain vegetables. But there IS something a person can tolerate. Find it.). Good examples:

  • Greens and lettuces
  • Broccoli and cauliflower
  • Apples, oranges, blueberries, cherries, grapes (all fruits higher in pectin)
  • Carrots and parsnips
  • Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and hard squashes
  • Nuts and seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, pecans)
  • Avocados
  • Peas, beans, lentils
  • Real, honest, pure whole grains: pure oatmeal, pure quinoa, pure wheat
  • Dried fruits: raisins, figs, apricots

Not a Matter of Your Parenting

When we feed kids diets low in lots of vegetables, fruits, and fresh produce, it’s not just a matter of “good mom”, “bad-mom.” It has nothing to do with you, mom! We’re talking about your kids. I am not here to define your parenthood by your nutritional choices.

But please know when kids don’t eat plant matter as close to the way it is found in nature, they miss out on all these complex fibers that scientists are realizing now affect us by affecting our gut bacteria. And the gut bacteria affect the development of the brain.

When your kid fusses and you want to throw in the towel and let him eat macaroni and cheese every day, realize the role you are playing in the complete development of your child’s brain, at a time when really, what goes in their mouth is mostly up to you and the groceries you bring home.

Persist, mother. Persist, father. A secure child is a child who knows that their parents will never give up on them. Your persistence and devotion is your greatest asset! Don’t stop just because of some pouting.

Be creative. Be firm. Be funny. Be loving. Be stubborn. Give rewards. Withhold rewards.

Do what it takes with love and compassion to get them there.

Your child’s gut microbiome is overwhelmingly tied to the health and function of his or her brain. Don’t give up on vegetables and fruits.

The brain of your child is at stake.

Good luck! Questions always welcomed.

Terri

 

Citation:

Kahn, Raine, et al. Journal of Nutrition. Dietary Fiber is Positively Associated with Cognitive Control among Prepubertal Children.  January 1, 2015 vol. 145 no. 1 143-149: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/145/1/143

Image from Wikipedia: Giuseppe Arcimboldo [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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