Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

“I’m hungry, Mom!” What we give our children in response to their call makes all the difference in their learning. A child’s brain is under construction from conception right up until he is in his mid-twenties. Many nutrients are needed in order to continue developing this incredible masterpiece: the human brain. The brain is a hungry fellow, the quickest organ to absorb nutrients from the bloodstream. Brain cells are not replaced like other body cells are; they must survive all of the person’s life. Brain cells, especially children’s, are vulnerable to toxins. “Chemically laden processed foods are prime sources of toxic stress on the brain.”1 The tools needed to build up the brain are best found in God’s natural foods.

Building Them Up

Antioxidants are vital for proper brain function. Vitamin C and vitamin E are examples of antioxidants. Some perhaps forgotten sources of vitamin C are guavas; cauliflower; red, yellow, and green peppers; hot chilli peppers; kiwi; cantaloupe; strawberries; grapefruit; fresh thyme and parsley; pummelos; and black currants. Vitamin E also is found in sunflower seeds, almonds, pine nuts, peanuts, apricots, and cooked taro root. Broccoli, tomatoes, berries, and garlic are excellent antioxidants.

Calcium is another nutrient that is very important for neuron development and connections. Potassium is also essential. Without potassium, cells may shrink and lose their fluid, causing a child to be jittery and making it hard for him to concentrate. Sweet potatoes, tomatoes, bananas, oranges, dairy products, and legumes are rich in potassium.

Oxygen availability to the brain determines how well the brain develops and functions. Not only does iron carry the oxygen in the blood, but it also transports oxygen within the cell and builds up neurotransmitters in the brain. Certain minerals, such as iron, are keystones in building the brain. Natural food sources of iron are found in meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Specific iron-rich foods are parsley, Brazil nuts, and apricots.

More Than Just a Meal

Eating a balanced breakfast may contribute to an improvement in behaviour and academic aptitude.“Eating a nutritious breakfast has been linked with desirable outcomes in memory and attentiveness.”2 To start off a day of learning, it is essential to eat breakfasts that are high in protein and fibre but moderate in carbohydrates. Starches and sugars may adversely affect behaviour since eating these carbohydrates may result in problems with blood sugar levels. Protein is an essential building block to put on the breakfast plate, and fibre helps cleanse the intestines of toxins. Fibre helps maintain an effective digestive system, and since all body systems are interrelated, digestive health affects brain health.

The breakfast menu is not complete without essential fatty acids. They may help with maintaining a good mood, an alert memory, and concentration skills. The tissue in the brain is rich in fatty acids, and the brain may not function normally if there is a deficiency in these nutrients.

Mr. H2O

There is a guy on the building team who is often forgotten. The brain is made up of a higher percentage of water than other organs; therefore, adequate supplies of fluid are crucial to brain development. For girls who have started menstruation, the upset of fluid balance may be an added risk. “Dehydration is a commonly missed problem linked to poor learning.”3 Soft drinks, juice, coffee, and tea often act as diuretics and may actually aggravate a dehydration problem. Water is the one to call on to do the job.