The developing brain is an incredible organ, and is totally dependent on what we eat. It is our “motherboard” and various nutrients found in the foods we eat will help your child’s brain to function at it’s best!
Plan meals with chicken, turkey, beef, lamb or lentils and beans for iron.
The brain and entire body requires iron, and certain centres of the developing brain, like the speech centre, will not work without adequate iron. Low iron can also affect gross motor coordination, which is governed by another part of the brain. In children, an iron poor diet can result in either low iron status or frank anemia (low hemoglobin and low serum ferritin) and in addition to poor speech, the child will also be lethargic, cranky, and lack what scientists call “exploratory behaviour.”
The situation can be corrected when the child starts to eat good sources of iron such as dark turkey or chicken; beef; lamb; pork; and vegetarian sources like lentils and beans which have good iron (non-heme iron). If those foods are consumed with some vitamin C containing foods at the same meal, it will free up the “non-heme” iron for absorption. Squeeze fresh lemon or lime on to beans, or add some orange or strawberry pieces for dessert.
Remember, just a few tablespoons of good iron containing foods twice a day will be enough to ensure good iron status. Adding veggies and whole grains will also increase total iron intakes. So if your child may be low in iron, ask your family doctor to test your child’s iron status, and some supplemental iron may be prescribed until your child begins to eat more iron containing foods.
Include milk, salmon, sardines, enriched soy beverages, and a vitamin D supplements for the brain.
Vitamin D is necessary for bone growth and development, but we also now know that it behaves like a hormone, and may prevent Type 1 Diabetes during the teen years. The brain also uses vitamin D to help regulate kidney function and sleep patterns; and aid calcium absorption.
Researchers have found that there is a wide distribution of vitamin D receptors throughout the brain. Vitamin D also has the ability to affect proteins in the brain known to be directly involved in learning and memory, motor control, and possibly even maternal and social behavior. More research is forthcoming on this important nutrient as it relates to brain function, but we do know it is very important, particularly for children.
Recently, the vitamin D requirement for children 1 – 10 years has increased from 100 IU to 600 IU. It may be a good idea to continue your child’s 400 IU vitamin D supplement after one year of
age. We are waiting for more guidance from Health Canada on this issue, as two and a half cups of milk will provide around 200 IU of vitamin D, much lower than the requirement. Cheese and yogurt in Canada do not contain vitamin D. Check with your doctor or Community Nutritionist for recommendations on supplements for your child.
Corinne is a Registered Dietitian and Pediatric Nutritionist in Vancouver, BC. She provides nutrition counseling for families and is available for workshops. She can be reached at www.eislerforkids.com.
Read Part 1 on page 10 of the Fall 2012 Issue