Brain Child

Eggs and Other Heady Proteins
Eggs contain choline, an essential nutrient required for healthy brain and nerve function. Research shows that choline enhances memory and lifelong learning ability, especially in developing fetuses, newborns and young children. Yet only 10 percent of U.S. children consume the recommended amounts of this vital brain-building nutrient.

Toddlers and preschoolers need just 200 milligrams daily of choline, which is easy to incorporate into a child’s diet. Egg yolks are the best source, with one hard-boiled egg containing 294 milligrams. Chicken liver, soybeans, beef, milk and peanuts are also good sources.

And all protein foods, whether or not they contain choline, are vital to your child’s brain development. Beef, chicken, fish, nuts, beans, tofu and other sources of protein are crucial in times of growth (such as pregnancy and early childhood) because they are the cellular building blocks.

Sugar Smarts
There are good sugars for your tot’s brain, and there are some really bad ones. Your assignment, Mom, is to learn the difference.

The body doesn’t store glucose (energy from carbohydrates), so it needs to be replenished on a regular basis. Foods that contain natural (not added) sugars—such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy products—provide the brain with a sustained, long-lasting source of glucose. Studies have shown that children who eat foods containing these healthy sugars perform better in school, can focus longer and score higher on tests. Foods like strawberries, carrots, oatmeal and unsweetened yogurt all contain good-for-the-brain sugars, for example.

Bad-for-the-brain sugars are rapidly digested, low-fiber carbohydrates such as sweetened cereals, soda pop, candy, cookies and chips. These foods provide the brain with an initial jolt of glucose because they raise blood sugar levels quickly. After that peak, however, brain function suffers because there’s nothing left in the glucose tank. These brain-drainers do not provide the prolonged mental energy your child needs to think, pay attention and recall.

“Remember, the foods that are bad for your child’s developing body are also bad for his brain,” affirms Hans Kersten, MD, medical director of the Grow Clinic at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, a medical center that evaluates diets in order to promote children’s mental and physical development. He explains that children’s overconsumption of foods that cause poor weight gain, such as juice or soda, can adversely affect brain development and IQ over the long term.