Increase Antioxidants. Increase Brain Health.

School is starting! How can we support our kids brain health? What if I told you there was a way you could support your brain capacity and health?! Well, it is the start of school; a logical time to introduce the amazing brain-supporting antioxidant.

An antioxidant is “a substance (such as beta-carotene or vitamin C) that inhibits oxidation or reactions promoted by oxygen, peroxides, or free radicals.” They are found in blueberries, grapes, raspberries, beans, apples, pecans, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, artichokes, and more.

But what do antioxidants do to help the brain?

Antioxidants scrub the body, including your brain, of what are called free radicals. Free radicals break down our bodies, reducing body and brain function and leading to disease. Look over this description:

The body is under constant attack from oxidative stress. Oxygen in the body splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons. Electrons like to be in pairs, so these atoms, called free radicals, scavenge the body to seek out other electrons so they can become a pair. This causes damage to cells, proteins and DNA.

Free radicals are associated with human disease, including cancer, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and many others. They also may have a link to aging, which has been defined as a gradual accumulation of free-radical damage, according to Christopher Wanjek, the Bad Medicine columnist for Live Science.

Substances that generate free radicals can be found in the food we eat, the medicines we take, the air we breathe and the water we drink, according to the Huntington’s Outreach Project for Education at Stanford University. These substances include fried foods, alcohol, tobacco smoke, pesticides and air pollutants.

Free radicals are the natural byproducts of chemical processes, such as metabolism. Dr. Lauri Wright, a registered dietitian and an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of South Florida, said, “Basically, I think of free radicals as waste products from various chemical reactions in the cell that when built up, harm the cells of the body.”

Antioxidants help balance and remove these damaging free radicals!

The above article also states that, “Antioxidants are molecules in cells that prevent free radicals from taking electrons and causing damage. … Well-known antioxidants include beta-carotene and other carotenoids, lutein, resveratrol, vitamin C, vitamin E, lycopene and other phytonutrients.”

While you can read more about the chemistry in Neuroprotective Effect of Antioxidants in the Brain, the takeaway is that when you eat real food, you are taking in compounds, like antioxidants, that will support body function and health. Like if we never wash and maintain a car, it can deteriorate and rust. Similarly, the machinery of our body runs better when it is cleaned up and fueled up with whole foods.

Another compound that partners with antioxidants to help scrub out those free radicals is magnesium. It “is involved in more than 300 essential metabolic reactions, some of which are discussed below,” quoting from the Micronutrient Information Center at Oregon State University.

To help our families get into the swing of eating whole, real foods, we can try “training your child’s taste buds,” as suggested by Pediatric Dietitian Jennifer Hyland, RD.

Kid-friendly meals for the brain and the taste buds!

In Healthy Eating for Kids: What Parents Need to Know, there are great tips on how to help your child expand their taste in healthy foods. Seriously, no one, including adults, wants to slog through flavorless cooked veggies. Instead try …

· Mix up classics. Make mini pizza with zucchini.

· Spice up fall with soup, like this herb-filled option. Several soup recipes work well in the slow-cooker, making evenings even easier. My grandson loves soup!

· Try a food adventure and get the whole family into the fun of trying new foods! Check out my previous blog.

· Travel the world with spice! One food adventure you can do with older kids is to look up other countries favorite recipes and spices — and try a new flavorful meal each week.

· Try a Salad of the Week with 21 kid-friendly salad recipes. Lettuce, kale, and other greens are in season during the fall, so it is a perfect time for salad.

· Speaking of seasonal, learn what is in season and pick a recipe. When food is fresh, your kids are more likely to enjoy the meal.

· Make it an outing! Stop by a farmer’s market or go for a u-pick outing for fresh ingredients.

· Mix up lunches with School Lunch Ideas: 40 Healthy Kid Lunches to Keep You Inspired (Also, you can reduce what toxins your kids encounter by using a toxin-free ice pack in their lunches.)

To wrap up, I’ll share one more reason to help train your kids’ taste buds: eating more fruits and veggies in childhood decreases the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes in early adulthood. If you need other ideas for how to get your kids to nosh on veggies and fruits, drop me an email or give me a call.