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As the daily pressures of homework assignments, tests, and extracurricular activities pile up, it’s important to set your child up on the right path. While a healthy diet, a consistent sleep schedule, and daily exercise will help keep your child on the road to success, there are extra steps that you can take to further support their cognitive health and a lifetime of learning.
Brain development begins in the first week of pregnancy and continues throughout childhood and into the adult years. Prenatal and childhood are critical stages of brain development because this is when neurons are formed at a rapid rate to shape the foundation for future cognitive health and function. This sensitive period relies on optimal nutrition and an adequate intake of several key nutrients.
Our brains depend on a sufficient intake of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) for optimal development. ALA can be changed by the body to EPA and DHA, which form the building blocks of brain cells and play vital roles in brain, eye, and nervous system development.
DHA is especially concentrated in areas of the brain responsible for learning and memory, where it helps form neurons, transmit nerve impulses, and protects against oxidative stress.,
A diet that supplies ample EPA and DHA throughout childhood has benefits for cognition and social behaviour, and is believed to be a protective factor against neurodevelopment disorders, such as those characterized by sadness and difficulty focusing.
Studies show that children who increase their ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid intake experience improved learning, attention, behaviour, and emotional health.
Unfortunately, eating a typical Western diet, which is generally high in red meats, sweets, processed, and packaged foods, provides an overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids and an inadequate level of omega-3s to support children’s needs. A low omega-3 intake can have significant effects on brain development, including changes in brain receptors and the pathways for brain chemicals, such as dopamine.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recommends that children consume at least 150 mg of EPA and DHA per day for optimal brain development. In addition, Health Canada recommends that children maintain daily EPA and DHA intake within the following range:
1–8 years: 100–1500 mg/day
9–13 years: 100–2000 mg/day
14–18 years: 100–2500 mg/day
Including a variety of omega-3 containing foods in your child’s meals and snacks, as well as giving them a daily omega-3 supplement, will help them maintain an adequate intake to support healthy growth and development. Delicious and nourishing sources of omega-3s include:
Cold-water fatty fish, such as wild salmon, mackerel, and sardines
Chia seeds, hemp hearts, and walnuts
Flax, including cold-pressed flaxseed oil and ground flaxseed
Marine algae, such as roasted seaweed snacks and seaweed salad
Fun, child-friendly supplements, such as Sesame Street® Omega-3 with DHA
Omega-3 fortified foods, including certain varieties of yogurt, eggs, and beverages
Picky eating habits, allergies, and busy schedules are real-life factors that can compromise a child’s nutrition. In addition to serving your child a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein, adding a high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement to the diet will help fill nutritional gaps and ensure that children are getting the complete range of micronutrients needed for optimal growth and development.
Vitamins and minerals play numerous direct and indirect roles in brain structure and function. Examples of this include vitamin A which contributes to healthy vision, B vitamins that are involved in nutrient metabolism, energy, and mood, and vitamin C for the synthesis and activity of hormones and neurotransmitters.
The brain also relies on iron to help deliver oxygen to its tissues and for the proper function of its neural circuitry. Many vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and zinc, also support immunity, which may ultimately encourage fewer sick days from school.
When choosing a multivitamin and mineral supplement for your child, look for one that is formulated for their specific age range and is free of artificial flavours, colours, preservatives, and sweeteners.
Sesame Street Incredible Power Multi vegetarian gummies are made especially for children aged 3 and up. They encourage healthy habits and make well-balanced nutrition fun by providing the essential vitamins and minerals that children need in delicious fruit-flavoured gummies.
Multivitamin Gummies provide a fun and delicious way for children age 3 and up, as well as adults, to replenish missing nutrients in the diet.
When the delicate balance of a child’s intestinal microflora is altered by stress, antibiotics, the occasional illness, or unbalanced eating habits, it can lead to uncomfortable digestive upsets, nutrient loss, and mood imbalances. Because the gut microbiome and brain interact through the microbiome-gut-brain axis, such disruptions to microflora populations during childhood are believed to influence mental processes.,
One of the best ways to help your child maintain a healthy intestinal microflora is by providing them with probiotic-rich foods, such as cultured yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, and tempeh, or a daily probiotic supplement. This will help them maintain healthy intestinal populations of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Enterococcus, and Saccharomyces species while lowering the number of pathogenic microorganisms found in their gut.
When it comes to probiotics, regular daily intake is the key to establishing healthy microflora populations. But just like children, not all probiotics are the same. Consult your physician to figure out which strains will best suit your child’s needs.
Webber Naturals offers a range of probiotic formulas designed for specific purposes. Healthy Tummy Probiotic is a delicious berry-flavoured, gelatin-free gummy that contains one billion active cells of Bacillus coagulans to help promote a favourable gut flora in children. Other probiotic strains that are beneficial for children include:
Lactobacillus exists as a variety of different species used to support a healthy and balanced microflora while helping to prevent intestinal infections and diarrhea caused by antibiotics.
Bifidobacterium is the main group of bacteria found in the intestines of healthy newborns. They can be taken for preventing and reducing antibiotic diarrhea and rotavirus infections, as well as immune defence.
Saccharomyces boulardii is a probiotic yeast that is especially helpful for maintaining and replenishing healthy microflora populations, as well as preventing and treating diarrhea in children.
A healthy diet throughout childhood will have a lasting effect on a person’s physical and cognitive health. By helping your child meet their full nutritional needs now, you’ll be helping them reach their full potential for a lifetime.
Patience Lister, BSc
Patience Lister is a professional writer who helps to inspire healthier and more sustainable food and supplement choices.