Nutrition and recipes

Brain food

By Cara Mullin

Nutrition plays a critical role in building a person's overall intelligence.


Nutrition plays a critical role in building a person's overall intelligence.

Minerals, vitamins, proteins, right fats - the brain needs it all, and the best way to go is to shun the processed foods and the 'white' foods such as white flour products, white bread, pasta made from semolina or white flour, white rice, white sugar, and 'white' colourless supermarket oils. All the foods in a child's diet should be nutrient-rich natural foods, like whole grains and legumes, eggs from free-range chickens, fish, nuts, seeds, fruit, and vegetables.

A steady diet of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids is crucial to a well-functioning brain. Good dietary sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are high-fat, cold water fish like salmon, sardines and trout (mackerel is an oily fish too, but often has high mercury levels). To boost your supply of Omega-6 fatty acids, look for foods and supplements that include evening primrose, borage, and black currant seed oils. Healthy monounsaturated fats are found also in avocados, peanuts, walnuts, almonds, pecans, chicken, beef, turkey, eggs, mackerel, and herrings, as well as in sesame, palm, corn, sunflower, and soybean oils.

Fatty acids and brain growth:

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are good fats. EFA supplementation can help with health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, diabetes, high blood pressure, PMS, depression, ADD/ADHD, Alzheimer's, and can reduce the risk of heart disease and breast cancer.

There are TWO essential fatty acids ALA and LA. Essential means you NEED to get them from the diet because the body cannot manufacture them. ALA belongs to the omega-3 family of fatty acids. You can find ALA in linseed (abundantly), and in small quantities in walnuts, cold pressed canola oil, wheat germ (the part taken out when making white flour), and dark green leafy vegetables (in tiny amounts). By far the best food source of ALA is linseed and linseed oil. LA is the other essential fatty acid, belonging to the omega-6 family of fatty acids. It is found abundantly in soya oil, sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, tahini, corn oil, and in most nuts.

The right ratio of LA versus ALA in the diet is important. It should be around 3:1 or 2:1, meaning two-three times as much LA as ALA.

There exist also other (non-essential) omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which your body can manufacture from the two essential ones. Non-essential omega-3 fatty acids include DHA and EPA, which the body makes from ALA. DHA is very important for the brain. Infants and children need DHA for proper brain growth from their diet (and breast milk can have a lot of it!), so in that sense we could classify DHA as an essential fat for children. Non-essential omega-6 fatty acids include AA and GLA which your body makes from LA.

Should you take fish oil supplements?

This will depend on factors such as your diet, the quality of the fish you are consuming and the quality of fish oil supplements available to you. Here are some facts to consider:

ONLY ONE of the omega-3 fatty acids is essential (that is ALA ), and a healthy body can make the others (DHA and EPA). Fish oil contains the non-essential omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. Since the body can make them from ALA, it follows that it is not absolutely necessary to eat fish or take fish oil supplements BUT in all cases it is necessary to get ALA since it is the ESSENTIAL omega-3 fat.

The best source of ALA is linseed and linseed oil, but when adding linseed to the diet, one needs to make sure that you are not deficient in the other vitamins and minerals (vitamins C, B6, B3, and enough zinc and magnesium) that are needed for the conversion to DHA. You also need to make sure that your diet does not contain too much omega-6 fats in comparison to ALA (as is usually the case in western diets), as this slows the conversion down.

If you are not sure that you are getting sufficient ALA and the other essential vitamins and minerals in your diet that you need for the conversion to DHA, then you could err on the safe side and eat oily fish like salmon, trout, herring or sardines which contain DHA or take fish oil supplements. You should be aware that many fish oils, especially those derived from fish livers, are contaminated with mercury, PCBs, organo-chlorine pesticides, and dioxins. These toxins can be largely removed by processing, but the processing results in fish oil molecules being damaged and becoming toxic. Please choose your fish oil supplements carefully. Increasing your intake of ALA is safer because it gives the body better metabolic control and prevents DHA overdosing.

Here is a recipe for Linseed Muffins:

The following is the recipe used in clinical research on linseed seed and breast cancer. The recipe yields a week's supply of muffins (7 muffins). Each muffin provides 25 grams of linseed seed.

5/8 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup ground linseed
3/8 cup brown sugar
1/2 tblsp baking powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups skim milk

Bake muffins at 350°F for 30 minutes.

Here follows a second recipe from the web site of Dr David Williams:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour + 1/4 cup gluten flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups ground linseed
1 teaspoon nutmeg or cardamom
1/2 cup packed brown sugar + 1/3 cup molasses
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 mashed ripe banana
2 handfuls nuts or raisins

Bake in an unlined muffin tin sprayed with cooking spray at 350° F for about 30 minutes. Makes 8 big muffins. They don't rise much, so it's ok if the cups are filled fairly full.


About the author:
Cara Mullin, is the founder of, an online resource directory and ezine for parents. She has two creative, spirited kids plus a bunch of pets that keep her on her toes and constantly require food and attention! Her cat Sophie is the most demanding of the lot! She loves crafting, creating, science experiments, writing, photography, cooking (kitchen experiments!), karate, reading nutrition and psychology books and extremely corny jokes.

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