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Nutrition page 2

 Carbohydrates

By now you are probably aware that all of our memories, skills, and experiences are the result of neurones communicating and establishing connections to each other via synapse formation. This process involves sending and receiving electrical signals, and consumes a lot of energy. Unlike many of our other organs like the heart and the liver, the brain is unique in that it has a limited ability to burn fat to generate energy. Instead, the brain prefers to get its energy from glucose, which comes from the breakdown of complex carbohydrates and simple sugars.

A steady supply of glucose is absolutely crucial in keeping our brain ticking. Your child’s neurones are communicating to each other and repairing themselves 24/7, even while they sleep, and brain cells need to be fed around the clock. Since the brain can’t store much glucose, it’s very important that it has a constant supply of glucose from the blood.

Paradoxically, eating complex carbohydrates, rather than glucose or simple sugars like sucrose, is the best way to fuel your child’s brain. This is counter-intuitive, but it’s related to how our body digests these nutrients. Glucose and simple sugars don’t require much if any breakdown, being rapidly released into the blood and causing a sharp rise of sugar in our blood. This triggers the pancreas to secrete insulin, which lowers blood sugar by stimulating our organs to take up glucose, and store it for later use. That is, every organ except the brain, because the brain can’t store glucose. Effectively, this means that very little of the glucose and simple sugars consumed by your child will be available to their brain. By contrast, complex carbohydrates, which are made up of long chains of glucose and other simple sugars, must be digested or broken down before the body can use them as fuel. This takes time, so the glucose is gradually released into the blood as the carbohydrate is being digested. What’s more, many of the foods that contain complex carbohydrates also have fibre, which prolong the digestion time and glucose release, meaning that your child’s blood sugar level will remain fairly steady. The combined supply of glucose from the breakdown of complex carbohydrates and stored energy (body fat and stored sugars), is the fuel that keeps your child’s brain functioning day in and day out. 

Proteins

Proteins are intricately involved in neural structure and function. Proteins and fats (see below) are the key constituents in neuron construction, for communication across synapses, and for the establishment of new synapses. For instance, neurotransmitters critical for relaying signals between neurons are often referred to as amines, being derived from proteins. Protein is one of the body’s major “building blocks”, as they are the main components making up our body parts including our immune system. Antibodies, recognition of germs, and immune cell communication all require protein. It follows that a deficiency in good quality protein will reduce your immune function, not to mention a myriad of other health problems.

Both animal and plant foods are made up of proteins. Animal products, such as lean meat, seafood, chicken, eggs, and dairy, can supply us all the different types of proteins we need. If you do not eat foods of animal origin, legumes, nuts and soybean products like tofu are good sources of protein. If a vegetarian or vegan, you need to be careful to include a variety of foods to ensure that you get all the essential proteins you require.

Proteins are made up of amino acids, some of which are more beneficial for brain health and development. Acetyl L’ Carnitine (acetyllevocarnitine or ALC) is an ingredient derived from the amino acids lysine and methionine. Acetyl L’ Carnitine assists in the consumption and disposal of fat in the body, being responsible for the transport of fatty acids into mitochondria. Mitochondria are involved cell metabolism and a range of other processes, such as signaling (cell activity regulation), cellular differentiation (cell specialisation), and cell cycle and cell growth regulation. Carnitine (a component of ALC) was originally noted for being a growth factor and it has been speculated that during growth (or pregnancy) the requirement of carnitine could exceed its natural production and supply. 

Fats

Our brains are fatty. In fact, about two-thirds of the brain is composed of fats.

In the brain, fats are primarily used as a raw material to build the unique structures of neurons, or nerve cells. The neuronal membrane, which is so important in forming synapses, as well as controlling such things as taking in nutrients and getting rid of waste products, is basically a layer of fat. The myelin coating around neurons, which prevents “short circuits” and speeds up neuronal electrical signal transmission, is also primarily made up of fatty tissue.

The eyes, like the brain, consists of fatty tissue which is required for development, health and function of the eyes. Not enough dietary energy can make your child feel tired and sluggish, because all the chemical reactions in their body will proceed much more slowly. This is bad news for the neural (brain and eye) and immune systems, the latter in particular relies on speed to quickly detect and eliminate any foreign invaders. A lack of energy for long periods of time can affect the function of your thymus gland, which is involved in the development of immunological memory. Likewise, your spleen, which is responsible for the disposal of dead immune cells and invading germs, will also shrink in size due to chronic energy deficits.

On the other hand, too much energy intake can lead to obesity, especially childhood obesity, which is a growing concern in many countries. Obesity has been associated with lowered immunity, probably because obesity can mask underlying poor nutrition. To prevent childhood obesity, it is better to encourage your child to eat a variety of foods and be more active rather than diet. Diets that cut out eggs, meats, and include low-fat products are not suitable for children under 5, because they require the fat to sustain their growth and development. Moderation, as usual, is the key to any diet.

It is important however, that you should be aware of the different types of fats and their impact.

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