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Over the course of the last two blogs on childhood nutrition, covering optimal nutrition for newborns to 1-year-old and ages 1 to 5-years-old, we’ve discussed the importance of Vitamins A and D for your growing child. These nutrients will continue to be important for childhood nutrition ages 6-12.
However, in today’s blog, we’ll focus on how you can support optimal brain function. Now that your child is in school full-time, it will be important to provide them with the best nourishment possible to allow them to focus and learn new things in a new, more structured environment.
A specific form of vitamin B6, pyridoxal 5′-phosphate (PLP), is necessary for the production of several neurotransmitters, including:
- For reinforcement and motivation
- Produces calming effect and focus
- Increases alertness
- Stabilizes mood and increases happiness
Vitamin B6 is so important to brain health that concentrations in the brain are about 100 times higher than levels in the blood. Additionally, there is exciting research on Vitamin B6 for helping children with attention deficit disorder and autism.
The RDA for Vitamin B6 is 1 mg/day for children 6-12 years old.*
High-quality food sources include:
- Tuna – 3.5 oz (100gr) contains 60%
- Salmon and chicken breast – 3.5 oz – come in at a close 2nd with 56%
- Sweet Potato – 1 cup contains 35%
- Acorn squash – 1 cup contains 23%
Magnesium is required for optimal learning and memory function. This mineral leads to the enhancement of learning ability, working memory, and short and long-term memory. In addition, there are very encouraging studies that highlight the benefit of supplementing a specific form of magnesium (magnesium-L-threonate) and Vitamin B-6 for helping children diagnosed with ADHD and autism. The magnesium hyperlink above will take you to some of those studies.
The RDA for magnesium is:*
- 130 mg/day if child is 6-8
- 240 mg/day if child is 9-12
Three good food sources include:
- Pumpkin seeds – 1 ounce – 156 mg
- Cooked spinach – ½ cup – 78 mg
- Peanut butter – 2 TBS – 49 mg
Though the liver makes small amounts of choline, it’s very important to get the majority of this nutrient through food. It plays a key role in life-long memory function. One of the ways choline does this is in its manufacturing of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
- Acetylcholine is crucial for memory and learning
The RDA for choline is between 250-400 mg/day, based on age of child.*
The best three food sources of choline include:
- Egg yolks – the very best source
- Organ meats – have you noticed a theme over the past blogs on childhood nutrition?
Iron is needed for proper development of oligodendrocytes (the brain cells that produce myelin – the protective wrapping around nerve fibers). It is also a required to help make neurotransmitters. Therefore, iron deficiency during various stages of brain development has detrimental consequences.
Studies have shown that if a pregnant mom has iron deficiency it can result in decreased iron concentrations in the brain of the infant and permanent changes in memory, performance and behavior can occur. Iron deficiency during perinatal stages (from week 20 in pregnancy to 28 days AFTER birth) results in persistent deficits in learning and memory. Moreover, iron deficiency in later stages of development, such as during childhood, may be associated with impaired cognitive development. However, it’s important not to go overboard with this key mineral. While iron is essential for brain function, it can be toxic at high concentrations.
The RDA for iron is between 8-10 mg/day for children 6-12 years old.* (Please re-read our last blog on Childhood Nutrition – Ages 1-5 years old. It highlights the differences between heme and non-heme iron as well as the best foods for your child to meet this important need.)
A word about RDA – and what it really means
The medical definition is: “Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) are the levels of intake of essential nutrients that, on the basis of scientific knowledge, are judged by the Food and Nutrition Board to be adequate to meet the known nutrient needs of practically all healthy persons.”
I mention this because the RDA values don’t take into consideration what optimal levels would be, nor do they take into consideration the needs of someone who is not healthy. These numbers are just guidelines and can be increased or decreased, based on specific needs. Working with a Nutrition Therapist Master will ensure that your child is getting the ideal levels of vitamins and minerals to allow for optimal development. If you feel like you need a bit of guidance, seek the help of a trained holistic nutrition professional from Nutrition Therapy Institute. Or attain a holistic nutrition certification yourself! Want to learn more about how to prepare nutritious meals for you and your family? Check out NTI’s Natural Food Chef Program.
As always, here is a recipe that will feature the foods mentioned in this blog. After following Nutrition Therapy Institute’s blog for a few weeks, you will discover that it’s fairly easy (and tasty) to meet your nutritional needs with delicious, homemade meals.
Spinach and Chicken Frittata (for breakfast or dinner)
When I make frittatas, I always make a double batch to keep on hand. It makes it easy to grab a quick breakfast in the morning…..or…..warm for an easy dinner at the end of a long day.
1-2 cups fresh spinach
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
2 chicken breasts, cooked & shredded
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup cream or milk (I prefer heavy whipping cream but regular milk works well, too)
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large basil leaves, torn (optional)
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Heat a cast iron skillet and add olive oil and spinach; cook about 2 minutes until spinach shrinks down.
Add the garlic, mix well; add the tomatoes and allow to cook while you crack the eggs.
In a large bowl mix cream and salt with the eggs and whisk until well mixed, but don’t over beat.
Add the chicken to the skillet and mix well; then add the basil and pepper; cook one minute.
Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables and leave it.
Sprinkle both cheeses over the top evenly, allow mixture to cook for 5 minutes.
Transfer to the oven, and bake for 15 minutes at 350°.
Allow frittata to cool, then slice, and serve.
As I’m sure you know by now, optimal nutrition is important for your child’s physical and mental health. Learn more about how to nourish your little ones as they grow up and head off to school, and during their teenage years.
About the author: Dr. Becky Spacke, teaches holistic nutrition courses at Nutrition Therapy Institute. In addition, she has a private practice, working with people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
About Nutrition Therapy Institute’s Holistic Nutrition Certification
Nutrition Therapy Institute (NTI) is a leader in holistic nutrition education. Since 1999, NTI has provided students with the highest quality in nutrition training by offering comprehensive holistic nutrition courses. Offering online and in-person nutrition course options to help students achieve thriving careers as holistic nutrition therapists.
Images: Photo by Marta Wave from Pexels; Image is licensed under CC BY 4.0; Image by Bree Anne is free for use by Unsplash
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