Six Nutrients for School Success

Going back to school involves rituals that help spark the excitement of a new year of formal learning. You'll buy new shoes and a lunch box and get your kids a fresh haircut. When taking stock of things your children need, also take note of their diet. The foods your children do and don't eat can have a big impact on school success. These nutrients play a critical role in brain development and function:

  1. Glucose: A child's brain depends on glucose for fuel. Something as simple as skipping breakfast can cause enough of a deficiency in blood sugar (glucose) to impair cognitive abilities. Kids who skip breakfast have shorter attention spans, score lower on tests and concentrate with more difficulty than well-fed classmates. A child's liver can store only four hours' worth of glucose, so a child needs to eat every four to five hours during the school day to keep blood sugar high enough for optimum brain function.
  2. Iron: Iron-deficiency anemia is common in children. A child's brain is sensitive to slightly lowered iron levels even before blood tests indicate trouble. Iron plays two important roles: it carries oxygen in the blood and helps transport that oxygen into the cells where it is used. Iron-anemic children have decreased attention spans and are less motivated to persist in intellectually challenging tasks. Serve iron-fortified cereals for breakfast. Include red meat, tuna, salmon or chicken on the menu at least three times per week. Serve lots of dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli and legumes.
  3. Folic acid: Folic acid is essential for the formation and maturation of red and white blood cells. A student with a deficiency in folic acid is tired, apathetic, irritable and forgetful. Raw fruits and vegetables, especially orange juice and spinach, are the best sources of folic acid.
  4. B vitamins: The B vitamins act to help unlock the energy in glucose. A deficiency in B vitamins can interfere with learning by causing personality changes including aggressiveness, hostility and depression. No one food supplies all the necessary B vitamins, so a variety of foods is important. Fortified breakfast cereals are also a good source of B vitamins.
  5. Vitamin A: This nutrient is needed for proper development of the nervous system in the growing fetus. There is also growing evidence that it is needed for optimum brain function during life. Vitamin A is found in the form of beta-carotene in dark green and deep orange and yellow fruits and vegetables.
  6. Zinc: Zinc is an integral part of the communication structure between nerve cells. Therefore it is important to proper brain function and deficiencies in zinc appear to be linked to cognitive impairment. Meat and seafood are the best sources of zinc. Peanuts, wheat germ, whole-grain cereals, and pumpkin and squash seeds are also high in zinc.
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