The brain has needs. To manage all of our physical, social, emotional, and intellectual living takes fuel. And that’s no mystery. The brain is a body part; so, what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Poor diet choices drain the brain, leaving us with less successful living, including brain fog, fatigue, and frustration. And, it’s no surprise that those issues are extra hard on anyone with learning challenges like ADD, ADHD, and Dyslexia. But good diet choices can help reclaim the brain’s power and produce smart brain rewards: increased concentration, clarity, creativity, and critical thinking. And switching is surprisingly easy to do.
How To Fuel the Smart Brain
Good nutrition works! For some, simple diet changes reap results within a week or two; for others, it’s more gradual. Here are 8 diet shifts that can make a big difference.
1. Drink enough water.
The Drain: Dehydration shrinks cells and leads to spacey thinking, concentration problems, and forgetfulness for all of us. For those with learning challenges, the drain means extra mental work – an unnecessary challenge on top of a challenge!
Reclaim: The body and brain need a lot of water! The amount needed for kids might surprise you: the rule of thumb is 1 cup for every year of age up to 8. Then for teens and adults, a rough estimate is half your weight in ounces.
2. Fuel up at breakfast.
The Drain: After a night of fasting, the body needs fuel. Skipping breakfast or using sweets and caffeine to “get going” wreaks havoc with blood sugar balance, leading to energy highs and lows, difficulty maintaining attention, and real problems with learning and memory. For those with ADD/ADHD, a poor start can even increase hyperactivity.
Reclaim: Protein is the go to food category for sustained attention and cognitive control. Try adding nut butters, dairy, eggs, lentils, beans, tofu, edamame, and/or meats to the breakfast menu.
3. Refuel at lunch.
The Drain: Ever wanted a nap or found it difficult to do good thinking and learning after lunch? Skimpy lunches and high carb/sugary snacks are often the culprits.
Reclaim: Instead of vending machine choices or more caffeine, eat a meal with good protein, like tuna, lean meats, or plant based proteins, along with fruits and vegetables. Then, round it all out with healthy snacks like trail mix, cheese, nut butters, nuts, seeds, and fruit.
4. Go for daily balance.
The Drain: Imbalance leaves out something needed. Quick meals with highly processed foods – think the center aisles in a grocery store – are often low in nutrients. They affect the brain quicker than the body, diminishing concentration, comprehension, thinking, learning, and memory.
Reclaim: Go for overall, daily balance. Here’s how:
- Include protein, low fat dairy, and complex carbs – veggies, fruits, and whole grains — in the right amounts for kids and adults. In short, feed the brain the vitamins, minerals, calcium, and antioxidants it needs.
- Use The Eat Well Plate as an easy visual guideline: fill ½ of the plate with fruits and veggies, ¼ with whole grains, and ¼ with protein.
5. Get enough Omega 3.
The Drain: Despite our battle with the scale, many children and adults are deficient in fat – that is the good Omega 3 fatty acids that are essential for brain development, focusing, and thinking.
Reclaim: Getting enough Omega 3 can have significant benefits for all of us. Eggs, some veggies, nuts, and cold water fish like salmon and tuna are diet suppliers. In addition, adding a supplement may be a good option for adults as well as kids.
6. Keep sugar intake low.
The Drain: Sugar is everywhere. You’ll find it added to most packaged cereals, sodas, snack packs, crackers, fruit juices and, of course, sweet tooth treats. It can even be added to milk. And it all adds up to more than we need, making the brain mentally hyperactive. Even worse, that unnatural “high,” can become addicting.
Reclaim: Read labels and count it all up! The math is simple: 4 grams is 1 teaspoon. Then, use these recommendations: 6 teaspoons total per day for children and 6-9 teaspoons for adults. Considering that a 12 ounce can of soda has 8 teaspoons of sugar, you can see how easy it is to overdose. The point isn’t to throw out all treats. Instead, be mindful and make choices about what’s worth it.
7. Avoid additives.
The Drain: Chemical additives are deliberately included in processed foods as flavor enhancers, coloring dyes, and preservatives. They are artificial and neither the body nor the brain needs them. In fact, experts often advise that they are a serious cause of the learning challenges many students face.
Reclaim: Read labels. If you can’t pronounce an additive, your body doesn’t need it. Look for products with the shortest ingredients list and find substitutes for those with sugar, caffeine, dyes, and preservatives.
8. Eat organic whenever possible.
The Drain: Pesticides are poisons. Used on many food crops, they don’t just linger on the surface; many infiltrate the parts of foods we eat. Strawberries, peaches, apples, and tomatoes are among those. The effects of pesticides are severe. The Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), has publicly stated that a failure to ban dangerous pesticides “puts children and future generations at greater risk of learning and developmental disabilities, attention and behavior disorders.”
Reclaim: The Environmental Working Group (EWG), publishes lists of the Dirty Dozen produce items of most concern as well as the Clean Fifteen safest ones. It’s worth checking out! But, the overall guideline is to shift to organic options whenever you can.
In the End…
The human brain is a learning machine! It’s meant to operate efficiently with ever ready responses. But daily fuel and care is needed. These 8 guidelines are a great maintenance plan for creating the smart brain we were all born with. Our choices matter!
- Drink enough water.
- Fuel up at breakfast.
- Refuel at lunch.
- Go for daily balance.
- Get enough Omega 3.
- Keep sugar intake low.
- Avoid additives.
- Eat organic whenever possible.