Healthy kids thrive on nutritious food and plenty of exercises.
Both affect how the brain functions and can have a huge impact on mental health.
In fact, physical activity and nutrition are often the difference between healthy kids who loves school and ones who hate it.
As parents, it’s our job to help our children soak up new information.
After all, mom and dad are the original influencers for developing healthy habits.
In this article, we take an in-depth look at the relationship between diet, exercise, and learning.
It’s time to raise some healthy kids!
Healthy Kids: How Nutrition Boosts Brain Health
Brain foods matter, especially for the gray matter in your child’s brain.
Think about it…
Their little brains are running on overdrive every second of every day, burning up precious nutrients the whole time.
As a result, they need a constant supply of the right fuel.
Unfortunately, fast food and pizza won’t cut it, at least not in the long run.
The food they eat affects the structure and function of the brain as well as their mood.
After all, nobody wants a cranky kid.
High-quality foods are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to nourish and protect the brain.
When children experience stress, their bodies release inflammatory compounds called cytokines. (1)
However, healthy foods can prevent stress and keep inflammation levels low.
As a result, your child should be less likely to develop mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.
Certain foods heal the gut lining too, and soon we’ll explore why this is so important to brain health.
Here’s a closer look at the different ways that food impacts mood, memory, and concentration:
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates mood and sleep.
Believe it or not, over 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is made deep in the intestines by “healthy” gut bacteria.
These bacteria are part of the microbiome that helps digest food and guides emotions.
When you have healthy gut bacteria, it strengthens the lining of the intestines.
This not only protects the bloodstream from harmful toxins, but it also improves how your child absorbs beneficial nutrients.
Ultimately, these nutrients travel directly between the gut and the brain.
In a second, we’ll talk more about which foods to feed your kids, which ones to avoid, and why.
Memories are stored in the part of the brain called the hippocampus, and by feeding your kids healthy food, you can strengthen it.
For example, one study found that eating fish regularly can increase grey matter in the brain. (2)
The more grey matter, the better, because grey matter contains most of the nerve cells involved in memory.
Other foods, like blueberries and turmeric, can also improve memory.
Kids aren’t exactly master concentrators, especially when it comes to schoolwork.
However, the right diet can help change that.
Take blueberries, for example:
They contain antioxidants that improve communication between brain cells. (3)
Other foods that may improve focus include eggs, spinach, and wild-caught fish.
Now let’s take a closer look at the brain foods that make for healthy kids.
10 Foods that Boost Brain Performance in Healthy Kids
Brain foods that are rich in good fats, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals provide growing minds with the energy they need.
But even more importantly, they have to support the gut and the brain.
The fact is, gut hormones enter the brain and influence how your child processes new information. (4)
If you choose wisely, you’ll keep their minds and bodies in tip-top shape.
Here’s what to serve your children to keep their brains strong:
1. Salmon and Other Wild-Caught Fish
Omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA are some of the most important brain foods on the planet, and wild-caught salmon is packed with them.
So are sardines, tuna, and trout.
However, kids tend to find fish slimy, icky, and gross.
Fortunately, there are plenty of high-quality fish oil supplements to choose from, including chewable gummies.
Omega-3s keep the brain running smoothly by reducing inflammation, improving memory, and clearing brain fog.
This is great news because research shows that early-life exposure to chronic inflammation can lead to cognitive dysfunction throughout life. (5)
However, the nutrients in salmon can help prevent this.
Omega-3s are also one of the best natural remedies for ADHD and autism.
Plus, omega-3s can help prevent obesity, heart disease, and cancer.
Need any more reasons to put salmon on their plate?
Eggs are packed with choline, an important nutrient for the brain.
Choline is a precursor to acetylcholine, the main neurotransmitter involved in problem solving, memory, and logic.
Fortunately, egg yolks are packed with it.
Choline even helps fetal brain development in pregnant women. (6)
3. Green, Leafy Vegetables
Dense leafy greens like spinach, Swiss chard, kale, and romaine lettuce are great for the brain.
For starters, they’re loaded with vitamins A and K.
Both vitamins A and K fight inflammation and keep the brain strong.
At the same time, green leafy veggies contain plenty of dense fiber.
This fiber travels deep into the intestinal tract and acts as fuel for healthy gut bacteria.
Ultimately, this can boost serotonin, support mood, and improve focus in young minds.
4. Coconut and Olive Oil
Healthy fats from cold-pressed coconut and olive oil provide slow-burning fuel for the brain.
Over the years, oil has gotten a bad rap, but the right types of oils are actually essential to brain health.
For example, coconut oil is a natural anti-inflammatory.
At the same time, it destroys bad bacteria in the gut and may even support memory. (7)
Olive oil is in a similar boat…
A true brain food, adding olive oil to your kids’ diet can improve learning and memory. (8)
To top it all off, olive oil may even fight against harmful proteins called ADDLs that are toxic to the brain.
5. Bone Broth
Bone broth is the ultimate food for healing the gut and supporting the brain.
Made by boiling beef and chicken bones, bone broth can boost the immune system, overcoming leaky gut, and protect the brain from inflammation.
Plus, bone broth is overflowing with collagen to soothe intestinal inflammation.
It also contains amino acids like glycine and proline to improve memory.
Avocados are loaded with healthy fats that fuel the brain.
For starters, they’re high in nutrients like vitamin K and folate that improve blood flow to the brain.
And did we mention that avocados are also rich in vitamins B and C?
As icing on the cake, they have the lowest sugar and highest protein content of any fruit.
It’s fair to say that most kids don’t like broccoli, but it’s still worth a shot.
Thanks to its high levels of choline and vitamin K, broccoli can keep their memory sharp.
Plus, it also contains quite a bit of vitamin C, which is great for protecting the brain from toxins.
For picky eaters, try disguising your broccoli as a broccoli pesto dip, or chopping it up finely and hiding it in a stew.
Blueberries, a.k.a. “brain-berries,” are an all-natural candy and pure cognitive fuel.
Kids love them, and parents love that they’re so great for brain health.
To begin with, blueberries contain more antioxidants than almost any food on the planet.
Combine that with a hefty dose of vitamin C, vitamin K, and fiber, and you’ve got the ultimate brain food.
To top it all off, blueberries are high in gallic acid, a nutrient that’s especially good at protecting against stress. (9)
Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory powerhouse thanks to the active ingredient curcumin.
Throughout history, Ayurvedic medicine has used it to heal the body and brain.
Now today, you can use it to support healthy learning in your kids.
Not only does turmeric reduce inflammation, but it also increases antioxidants and boosts oxygen levels in the brain.
Ultimately, this helps keep kids alert in the classroom.
Even better, turmeric has a mild, earthy taste that’s easy to hide in smoothies, curries, and other dishes.
Celery is low in calories but high in brain benefits.
For starters, it’s loaded with antioxidants called polysaccharides.
These act as natural anti-inflammatories to relieve inflammation throughout the brain and body.
It’s also dense in vitamins and minerals.
Celery might not be the most fun to eat on its own, but kids usually go nuts for “Ants-On-A-Log.”
To make them, cut the celery stalk in half lengthwise, then fill the middle with almond butter and sprinkle raisins and cranberries on top.
Most people make them with peanut butter, but peanut butter is pro-inflammatory because it contains lectins.
Instead, take the anti-inflammatory route and use almond butter.
What Happens When Your Child Eats Unhealthy Food?
What you don’t feed your kids may be even more important than what you do.
Unhealthy foods like…
- Refined carbs
- Trans fats
- Processed foods
…can promote inflammation and wreak havoc on brain health. (10)
For example, sugar is highly addictive and leads to energy crashes and a poor attention span.
Even worse, gluten is known to make conditions like ADHD, autism, depression, and anxiety more severe.
These foods also act as fuel for bad gut bacteria.
Shockingly, this can trigger a chain reaction of long-term health consequences like diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and cancer.
Healthy Kids: How Exercise Can Improve Your Child’s Ability to Learn
Exercise isn’t just good for your heart, lungs, and bodyweight—it’s also good for brain function.
Regular physical activity enhances connections and carves new pathways in the brain.
Ultimately, these new connections can help children stay focused for longer.
Exercise improves memory, sleep patterns, self-confidence, and mood, as well.
Here’s a closer look at how exercise strengthens the brain:
Sprouts New Connections
It’s no secret that we humans don’t use our full brain capacities.
Exercise, however, stimulates more brain cells to join the party.
Instead of just taking up empty space, exercise triggers the brain to sprout new connections.
For starters, it boosts a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that triggers brain cells to bind together.
At the same time, it causes existing connections to become denser.
When it comes to your child’s capacity to learn, this is incredibly important for creating long-term memories.
By the way, exercise isn’t the only way to boost BDNF…
High-fat diets with plenty of omega-3 foods encourage new cell growth too.
Children who don’t exercise are much more likely to have issues with poor memory.
In fact, a lack of regular exercise also puts them at risk for memory-related disorders later in life.
The reason is that when you exercise, new cells are made in the hippocampus: the memory center of the brain.
Not long ago, scientists thought that babies were born with a limited number of brain cells and that it was all downhill from there.
However, we now know that exercise is one of the best natural ways to improve memory.
Kids are balls of emotion.
This can either be used to speed up learning or to spiral it out of control.
Fortunately, physical activity helps them manage their emotions.
For starters, exercise quickly releases feel-good hormones called endorphins.
These hormones not only reduce pain but also boost mood.
At the same time, exercise reduces the production of the stress hormone cortisol.
High cortisol, as it turns out, can trigger gut health problems and make mental health issues worse.
However, exercise is just what the doctor ordered.
For example, one recent study found that regular physical activity may reduce symptoms of depression in children ages six to eight. (11)
Aerobic exercise can improve concentration.
In fact, a half an hour a day may be all it takes to help them stay focused.
For example, one study found that just 30 minutes of exercise can improve performance on tests. (12)
According to researchers, this is because the prefrontal cortex becomes better at resisting distractions.
Exercise Helps Treat ADHD
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a commonly diagnosed condition in elementary-aged children.
Kids with ADHD have a hard time focusing and sitting still in class.
If undealt with, it can negatively affect their performance in school.
Fortunately, daily exercise can significantly benefit children with ADHD.
In the brain regions responsible for focus, organization, concentration, and planning, exercise triggers the cells to work harder.
Believe it or not, exercise targets the same areas of the brain as Ritalin-based medications.
Consistency Is Key with Diet and Exercise for Healthy Kids
Kids are notorious for hating broccoli.
At the same time, a lot of them despise exercise.
So the question is, “How do we turn healthy choices into lifelong habits?”
The fact is that exercising once isn’t going to transform your child’s brain overnight, and neither is a single plate of salmon.
However, by permanently swapping out sugar for salmon, your kid can develop a whole new brain.
In fact, you may even see dramatic improvements in their behavior.
Keep in mind that these changes can easily be reversed as soon as you switch back to unhealthy habits.
In other words, if you don’t use it, you lose it.
How Families Can Get Involved to Raise Healthy Kids
It’s time to take action for the health of younger generations.
Unhealthy temptations are around every corner, and it’s up to parents to guide them in the right direction.
Exercise is a wonderful way to bond as a family, and you’ll be improving their learning potential at the same time.
However, the best way to inspire your kids to live healthier is to lead by example.
When your children see how much fun you have exercising, they’ll copy that.
But habits can be hard to develop, especially as a family.
That’s why it’s worth considering a health coach.
Health coaches don’t just lay out fitness routines and meal plans, they take a holistic approach to the health of your whole family.
Ultimately, having a professional come by your home can be a great motivator.
The first few weeks of establishing new habits is always the hardest, and it helps to have the support and guidance of someone who’s walked the path before.
If you have any more questions about raising healthy kids with diet and exercise, feel free to contact us at Complete Care Health Centers.
We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.