Adding intelligence to the breakfast menu

April 27, 2011

Julie Godfrey

What you feed your children for breakfast is likely to affect their mental development and subsequently their behavior and ability to learn, says Dr. Alex Richardson, a senior research fellow at Oxford University in England. Diet and IQ were also examined by academics at Bristol University; they concluded that processed foods consumed during early childhood adversely affect intelligence.

Richardson links diet to brain chemistry, arguing that typical breakfasts of sugar-loaded processed cereals or white-bread toast with jam serve to create temporary highs followed by energy crashes midmorning. The body responds to this by releasing adrenalin, which creates moodiness.

Processed foods in general, with their hydrogenated and trans fats, refined carbohydrates, high sugar content and additives, are also attacked by Richardson. She even says that commercially bought cakes can alter your child’s brain chemistry, linking the bad fats typically found in these to dyslexia, dyspraxia (coordination difficulties that affect thought, movement and language) and learning problems. Incidentally, Richardson is a huge advocate of omega-3 fatty acids, which the brain depends on. While necessary for people of all ages (TT, March 25), they are vital for children, who are still building their brain and neural connections.

Breakfast is the meal that refuels the body, readying it for the day ahead. An ideal breakfast plate should include fruit for energy, fiber, vitamins and antioxidants, complex carbohydrate for fiber and a slow, sustained release of energy, and protein for growth, development and general functioning of the body. Ideal and convenient, though, is a difficult combination to pull off. Toast and jam or a bowl of cereal is very convenient. An ideal breakfast is more time-consuming both to prepare and to eat. The challenge of pushing a decent meal down your half-asleep cherished ones during the demonic morning rush for school is not to be underestimated.

For those with some flexibility, gallo pinto, the quintessential Tico breakfast dish of rice and beans – which can be made the evening before – is an excellent start to the day alongside fresh fruit. Something on toast will work if the something is poached or scrambled eggs and the toast whole wheat or rye. Alternatives to eggs are sardines, nut butters or good-quality ham and a slice of cheese. Cereal is fine if largely unprocessed and low in sugar. Porridge or oat-based cereals such as muesli with no sugar added are good choices.

For those on the run for the early school bus, a healthy breakfast to go is still possible. Smoothies made with fresh fruit and natural yogurt (no added sugar, please) are bursting with nutrients. Try a breakfast wrap such as scrambled egg with ham and chopped tomato tightly folded into a tortilla. If that seems a little messy, go for a chunk of cheese instead of the egg. Avoid packet drinks, replacing them with a reusable bottle filled with homemade versions. Lastly, add an apple or pear with a handful of nuts for a midmorning snack.

While convenient foods are, well, convenient, do consider the consequences. Some planning and effort in the short term can reap huge benefits in the health, well-being and future of your children.

Julie Godfrey, B.Sc. (Hons), is a nutritional therapy practitioner and full member of the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT). For more information, see www.foreverhealthyco.com or email jgodfrey@foreverhealthyco.com.

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