How Can I Make My Child's Brain Sharp
As a parent, you can raise a smart, confident child by focusing on brain development and the factors that contribute to increased brain power

As a parent, you can raise a smart, confident child by focusing on brain development and the factors that contribute to increased brain power.

Your child brain is complex, made up of various functional regions, cells, and circuits. As the brain matures, it needs to be built and maintained with a strong nutritional foundation.

How do different nutrients affect brain development?

Nutrition plays a key role in making the brain sharper. Macronutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, and fats, along with vitamins and other trace elements, help a child’s brain to develop optimally.

Table. Nutrients and their effect on cognition and emotion
Nutrients Effects on cognition and emotion Food sources
Omega-3 fatty acids (for example, docosahexaenoic acid)
  • Prevents the formation of damaging clumps in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s disease
  • Elevates mood
  • Linked with lower levels of depression
  • Fish (salmon)
  • Flaxseeds
  • Krill
  • Chia
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Butternuts
  • Walnuts
Curcumin
  • Prevents memory loss
  • Improves memory and attention
  • Helps the growth of new neurons
  • Turmeric (curry spice)
Flavonoids
  • Improves short-term concentration boost
  • Help solidify new memories
  • Improved mental function
  • Improves memory
  • Cocoa
  • Green tea
  • Ginkgo tree
  • Citrus fruits
  • Dark chocolate
Saturated fat
  • Breakdown of plasticity of brain cells
  • Less information processing
  • Leads to memory loss and thinking problems in women
  • Peanut, almond, and cashew butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Palm kernel oil
  • Dairy products (cheese)
  • Meat
B vitamins
  • B6, B12, or folate has considerable effects on memory performance in women of various ages
  • Lower odds of getting dementia
  • Various natural sources (Vitamin B12 is not available from plant products)
Vitamin D
  • Prevents declining mental skills
  • Improves mood
  • Fish liver
  • Fatty fish
  • Mushrooms
  • Fortified products
  • Milk
  • Soy milk
  • Cereal grains
Vitamin E
  • Prevents cell damage associated with oxidative stress
  • Boosts visual memory and language development in children
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach
  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Olives
  • Red palm oil
  • Vegetable oils
  • Wheat germ
Choline
  • Regulates memory
  • Elevates mood
  • Helps with better muscle control
  • Results in lifelong memory
  • Egg yolks
  • Soy
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Veal
  • Turkey liver
  • Lettuce
Combination of vitamins (C, E, carotene)
  • Reduces memory loss 
  • Promotes overall cell health
  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, plants and vegetables, calf and beef liver
Calcium, zinc, selenium
  • Elevates mood
  • Helps form new memories
  • Associated with better memory and learning
  • Calcium: Milk, coral
  • Zinc: Oysters, a small amount in beans, nuts, almonds, whole grains, sunflower seeds
  • Selenium: Nuts, cereals, meat, fish, eggs
Copper
  • Positive influence on thinking, reasoning, and remembering
  • Oysters
  • Beef or lamb liver
  • Brazil nuts
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Cocoa
  • Black pepper
Iron
  • Positive influence on learning
  • Promotes better school performance
  • Red meat
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Lentils
  • Beans

Which superfoods can increase brain power?

1. Fatty fish

Fatty fish is the richest source of:

These nutrients are essential for preventing declining mental function and memory loss. They are also known to lower beta-amyloid levels in the blood. Beta-amyloid is known to form clumps in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Examples of fatty fish include:

  • Salmon
  • Cod
  • Tuna
  • Pollack

Some ways to include fish in your child’s diet are:

  • Grill fish and serve with a dipping sauce
  • Add fish to tacos
  • Make tuna sandwiches

2. Green, leafy vegetables

Green, leafy vegetables are rich in nutrients such as:

These nutrients improve concentration, thinking, and reasoning abilities. Examples of green leafy vegetables that should be included in your child’s diet include:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Collard
  • Broccoli

Try adding greens to your child’s diet in the following ways:

  • Add spinach or kale into smoothies
  • Make kale chips
  • Add greens to omelets or lasagna
  • Stir fry greens and add spices

3. Berries

Berries are rich in:

  • Antioxidants 
  • Flavonoids

Both are known to improve memory. Examples of antioxidant-rich berries that can enhance brain health include:

  • Strawberries
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackcurrants
  • Mulberries

4. Eggs

Eggs are a good source of:

Eggs help prevent brain shrinkage and alleviate cognitive delay.

5. Nuts and seeds

Nuts are a rich source of:

These nutrients protect brain cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals. They are responsible for elevating mood and keeping the nervous system in check.

What activities can enhance brain power?

Brain-stimulating activities and playtime can also help your child’s brain development. Activities you can try to make your child’s brain sharper include:

  • Reading books together, which can boost activity in the part of the brain that is responsible for:
    • Language
    • Literacy
    • Imagination
  • Giving them age-appropriate toys to enhance their cognitive skills
  • Solving puzzles and crosswords together
  • Singing together teaching them to play an instrument
  • Building routines for meals, play, and sleep

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Medically Reviewed on 3/23/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

Gómez-Pinilla F. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008;9(7):568-578. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/

Harvard Health Publishing. Foods linked to better brainpower. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/foods-linked-to-better-brainpower

American Academy of Pediatrics. 5 Secrets to a Smarter Baby: School Readiness Can Start Now. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/The-Secret-to-a-Smarter-Baby.aspx