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Every parent wants the best for their child. However, in between ferrying kids to school, enrichment classes and checking their homework, it’s easy to overlook one of the most important and underestimated parts of raising a child – their diet!
Although it may seem relatively unimportant, what you feed your child has a powerful effect on your child’s ability to learn. A study published in Child: Care, Health and Development found that children’s test scores in maths and reading tended to decrease as fast food consumption increased, indicating an adverse relationship between poor nutrition and cognitive ability.
Therefore, it’s important to pay attention to what your child eats throughout the day. Aside from simply avoiding unhealthy snacks, there are certain food groups you can seek out that will boost your child’s focus and mental skills. Fortunately, most of these items can easily be found in your local grocery store.
It’s essential to include oily fish such as tuna, mackerel, sardines and salmon in your child’s diet. These fish and some seafood such as oysters, mussels and clams contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which are not produced by your body but are vital for brain and eye development. According to paediatric dietitian Meave Graham, children need to consume oily fish at least once a week to get adequate amounts of Omega-3 fats.
Next time you prepare breakfast, try swapping out your child’s high-sugar cereals for a bowl of oatmeal topped with strawberries and other fruits. In a study conducted by Tufts University, children who ate oatmeal for breakfast performed notably better in a spatial memory test than children who ate sugary cereal.
Although both meals have a similar sugar content and the same number of carbohydrates, oatmeal has a much lower glycemic index, meaning that it takes a longer time for the carbs to convert into fuel. All food with a low glycemic index – such as whole grains, pasta, fruits and non-starchy vegetables – provide the body with a slow rise in blood sugar and tend to be a longer-lasting source of energy.
A staple in any kitchen, eggs are also an important source of choline, a little-known nutrient that is essential for brain development and memory function. Other choline-rich foods include yoghurt, tofu, broccoli, and lean beef.
Dark, leafy greens
By now, everyone is well aware of the nutritional value of vegetables. However, an impressive 2006 study reported in Neurology Journal concluded that people who consumed more than two servings of vegetables a day had a significantly lowered rate of cognitive decline, which means that they functioned on the same level as people five years their junior. If your child is picky about eating greens, you can start by throwing spinach or kale into a fruit smoothie for a refreshing afternoon snack.
While it’s a given that all fruits are healthy, it’s useful to know exactly which fruits are the healthiest. Here’s a little tip to remember next time you’re in the produce aisle: pick the most colourful fruits. The more brightly-coloured fruits are packed with extra antioxidants, protecting your child’s brain from harmful free radicals. Other fruits high in antioxidants include blueberries, plums, oranges and raspberries.
“Families should eat together and enjoy food together,” shares paediatric dietitian Meave Graham of Child Nutrition Singapore. “The most important thing is that parents be good role models for their children”.
Therefore, to ensure a smoother transition into a healthier diet for your child, simply make the change for the whole family and reap the benefits together!