Elizabeth Somer is a registered dietician with the uncanny ability to take something complex and scientific and make it totally practical and understandable. Using food to boost your kids memory, enhance their school performance, and amp up their energy to learn and focus may seem like the stuff of science fiction. But, in the hands of Dietician Somer, it’s as easy as breakfast, lunch, and the right kind of grocery shopping.
With the school year in full swing, lots of kids are already facing the burned-out exhaustion that comes from tests, schedules, and routines. Here’s Elizabeth Somer’s advice on how to beat the mid-year blah’s at school….
1. Eat Breakfast.Take five minutes for breakfast and your child will think clearer all day. Students who eat breakfast perform better on memory and recall tests compared to students who skip breakfast. But, I’m not recommending a Pop Tart and apple juice. Your child needs a whole grain to supply quality carbs that the brain needs to run on through the morning hours, a protein to maintain blood sugar levels and keep your child satiated, and a colorful fruit or vegetable. Examples: Shredded wheat cereal with DHA-fortified low-fat milk, and blueberries.
2. Boost Those Omega-3s. The omega-3 fat DHA is critical for brain function, memory, and recall. Since bodies can’t make this fat, it must come from the diet either as fatty seafood, such as salmon, or in foods fortified with an algal-based, vegetarian DHA (it will say life’s DHA on the label). Aim for 220mg of this fat every day.
3. Indulge in Colorful Produce.The brain consumes more oxygen than any other body tissue, which exposes it to a huge daily dose of oxygen fragments called free radicals. Free radicals are trouble makers, attacking, damaging, and destroying every brain cell in sight. The wear and tear after decades of free-radical attacks is thought to contribute to the gradual loss of memory and thinking associated with aging. Fortunately, the body has an anti-free radical army comprised of the antioxidant nutrients, including vitamins C and E and beta carotene that deactivate these harmful oxygen fragments. Colorful produce is the very best source of these antioxidants, with not only vitamin C, but also more than 12,000 phytochemicals, most of which are antioxidants. The research overwhelmingly shows that the more color-rich produce you eat, the better you think. At Tufts University in Boston, animals fed diets enriched with extra produce, such as blueberries and spinach, performed best on memory tests throughout life. The same holds true for kids. Folks who eat the most broccoli, sweet potatoes, spinach, and other deep-colored produce, maintain the highest blood levels of antioxidants. They also score highest on memory tests, exhibit the best judgment and reasoning, maintain a youthful ability to learn new tasks, and react quickly. All you need do is include two fruits and/or vegetables at every meal and one at every snack, and double a serving size of any bright-colored vegetable, and you have two servings!
4. Cut Back. On refined grains, sugary foods, and saturated fat, that it. All of these undermine memory, learning, and attention. Toss anything with “wheat” or “refined” or “enriched” wheat in the label and focus on 100 percent whole grains. Limit sugar by choosing only packaged foods that do not have sugar listed in the first three ingredients or have multiple sugars throughout the ingredients list. And switch from fatty cuts of meat to meats that have seven percent fat by weight or less as listed on the label. These include: skinless chicken breast, seafood, and extra-lean red meat.
5. Brown bag it. Skip the high fat, high sugar, high salt junk served at many schools and give kids the light, low-fat fuel their brains and bodies need to run on through the afternoon hours. That means a lean protein, a whole grain, a calcium-rich option, and a fruit or vegetable. It’s as easy as a peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat bread, a tub of yogurt, and a carton of 100 percent orange juice. Or, wrap lean ham and low-fat cheese in a omega-3 DHA fortified tortilla, add an apple and a carton of chocolate milk.
Elizabeth Somer is a registered dietitian who is also well-versed in nutrition research. Author of “Eat Your Way to Happiness,” “The 10 Habits That Mess Up a Woman’s Diet,” and the “The Food & Mood Cookbook,” Somer is also advisory board member to Shape magazine. Somer appears frequently on NBC’s “Today Show,”), and regularly on numerous national television shows, including “The Dr. Oz Show,” “The View,” CNN “WB Morning Buzz,” and several cable stations. She specializes in offering practical and insightful information on how to eat and supplement; how food affects mood; how to prevent disease and premature aging; how to have a healthy pregnancy; and attaining and maintaining a healthy weight.