What your teenager eats affects how their brain works in a number of ways. With a constant communication between the cells in the brain, a good diet is critical to ensuring that messages and information be transmitted effectively. A tired brain – or one that doesn’t get proper nutrition – will therefore not help teens (or adults for that matter) perform at their best.
Many studies show kids that head off to school with no breakfast are more sluggish, less focused, and not as attentive in the classroom. Kids who do eat breakfast, however, are more focused, have better moods, and more energy for school work.
Of course, not all breakfasts are created equal when it comes to enhancing memory and learning. Breakfasts that include whole-grains and low-glycaemic foods provide a sustained source of energy because they are digested more slowly than low-fibre (<2 grams/serving) and refined breakfast foods.
Low-glycaemic breakfast foods include:
Eggs – but more importantly, the egg yolk – are one of the best brain foods for kids because of a vitamin-like compound called choline. Choline is essential to maintaining healthy brain cell membranes, and is a building block for acetylcholine which can boost memory.
So instead of an egg-white omelette, add a yolk or two to reap some brain benefits! If your teen however is not keen on eggs, there are other choline-rich foods, they include edamame (soybeans), peanuts, peanut butter and green peas.
Did you know that the brain is made up of 60% fat? Oily fish like salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines supply an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, in particular DHA, which is essential for brain development and function.
A steady supply of omega-3’s help maintain flexibility in the lining of the brain cells which allow messages to transmit more easily. For this reason, teens are advised to eat omega-3 fatty fish at least twice a week. Canned albacore tuna is also a good source of omega-3’s, but if your teen doesn’t like fish, they can try DHA-fortified milk, omega-3 rich eggs, or a fish oil supplement.
Iron is another major factor in a kid’s ability to learn. Even in the absence of anaemia, low iron levels can impair concentration and memory in both young children and teenagers.
Good sources of iron include:
If your teen is a menstruating female or vegetarian, consider adding a multivitamin and mineral supplement to help meet their daily iron needs.
Food choices not only influence brain development and memory, they can also have a direct impact on test performance. The winning pre-exam meal should consist of high fibre carbohydrates with some lean protein. This ensures an awake and alert student, unlike sugary sweets and junk foods which will likely lead to brain fog at crunch time.
Wholesome carbohydrates like fruit, vegetables, and wholegrains, provide a gradual rise in blood glucose (sugar for the brain), while proteins like turkey, chicken, eggs and beans, help to stabilize blood sugar and prevent distracting hunger pangs.
Oatmeal topped with ground flaxseed and blueberries; use organic milk or unsweetened dairy-free milk beverage that has some protein (soy milk or pea protein milk).
Whole-grain, low sugar cereal with sliced banana (“Whole-grain” means it should provide at least 3 grams or more fibre per serving, and no more than 6 grams of sugar per serving).
Scrambled egg sandwich (with yolks!) on a whole-grain English muffin or pita pocket.
Breakfast burrito made by stuffing a whole-wheat tortilla with black beans and/or scrambled egg, shredded cheese and salsa.
Turkey-avocado sandwich on whole-grain bread with a side of sliced red bell peppers or baby carrots.
Cold whole-grain pasta mixed with tuna or salmon and a little Italian dressing, mashed avocado or mayonnaise.
Leftover chicken stir-fry with a little brown rice or whole-wheat noodles.
If it’s an afternoon exam make a burrito by stuffing a whole-wheat tortilla with black beans and/or scrambled eggs, shredded cheese, and salsa.