Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How to Feed Your Teenager's Brain; Eighty per Cent of the Nutrients We Consume Are Used by Our Brains - and Research Shows That the Right Diet Can Boost IQ and Reduce Stress. with Exam Time Approaching, Alex Hindhaugh Explains How to Feed Your Children to Give Them an Edge

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How to Feed Your Teenager's Brain; Eighty per Cent of the Nutrients We Consume Are Used by Our Brains - and Research Shows That the Right Diet Can Boost IQ and Reduce Stress. with Exam Time Approaching, Alex Hindhaugh Explains How to Feed Your Children to Give Them an Edge

Article excerpt

Byline: ALEX HINDHAUGH

Poultry, red meat, cheese and fish

Meat, cheese and fish, all provide protein, which is needed by the neurotransmitters in the brain.

These are made from amino acids, which are found in abundance in protein-rich foods. Eating adequate amounts of protein is vital for maintaining good mental functioning as well as for lifting the spirits.

Bacon's reputation as a good preexam food has been boosted by a recent study which showed that, as part of a substantial, cooked breakfast, it could improve performance in tests by seven to 10 per cent. (PS. David Lidgate, of Lidgate's butcher's shop in Holland Park, says sales of bacon and red meat always go up at this time of year. "People definitely feed their children up with plenty of protein before exams.") How much? Ideally, include a portion of good-quality protein at each meal.

Wholegrains

Wholegrain foods such as porridge oats and wholegrain bread provide carbohydrates, the brain's main source of energy. For the supply of energy to be steady, you should get your carbohydrates from wholegrains which are digested slowly by the body, rather than from refined carbohydrates such as white bread and sugar, which take your energy levels on a roller-coaster ride of hyperactive peaks, interspersed with slumps. Wholegrains also provide B-complex vitamins, which have key roles in producing energy and balancing moods.

How much? Aim to eat five servings of wholegrains - such as brown rice and wholegrain bread - per day.

Oily fish

Fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial for the structure of the brain as well as for its function. A recent study showed that children who were given fish-oil and vitamin supplements in a three-month experiment improved their ability to read, write and concentrate, in some cases dramatically.

Twenty per cent of the brain is made up of the flexible fatty acids EPA and DHA which are found in fish oils, and our bodies are very adept at absorbing these oils.

Tinned fish is a decent source of these essential fatty acids, but does not provide such a rich supply of omega-3 oils as fresh, oily varieties.

"Fish oils are particularly important for children because the brain is mostly fat," says Ian Marber, of The Food Doctor nutrition service. "But it takes up to three months for fat to build up in the brain, so you don't get instant results. Adequate intake of fish oils improves the way the brain's neurons communicate with each other, which helps to improve general cognitive function in children."

If your children really can't stand fish, try supplements such as Efalex, EyeQ or BioCare's new LipoCell ([pounds sterling]18.95), which provide the vital oils in a capsule or liquid form - though even if these are citrus flavoured, they taste, obviously, very oily ([pounds sterling]9.99 each, at Holland and Barrett branches).

How much? Government advice is that teenage girls should eat no more than two portions of oily fish per week (teenage boys can have up to four portions; above this level, it is felt that the dangers of accumulated chemicals in the fish such as dioxins outweigh the health benefits).

Nuts

These provide omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, two different unsaturated fats which are both needed by the brain, regulating aspects of memory and mood, but which cannot be made in the body. Nuts are also high in minerals such as magnesium and calcium.

Studies have shown that omega-3 and omega-6 can increase brain size and brain cell numbers, improve vision and aid learning. Magnesium plays a role in providing energy to the brain, while calcium helps in the transmission of messages between nerve cells.

How much? A good everyday snack, but eat sparingly because of the high calorie count.

Fresh fruit and vegetables These are important for providing vitamins and minerals which convert amino acids into the crucial neurotransmitters, while antioxidant vitamins C and E can help tackle harmful free-radical molecules (particles which are thought to accelerate cellular degeneration in the body) and are vital for promoting and preserving memory. …

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