Whilst you shouldn't believe all the hype around 'superfoods', there is strong scientific evidence that certain foods can improve the development of the brain and your cognitive functions. We're not talking weird supplements and pills that might be dangerous for your kids, but natural elements, compounds and vitamins present in everyday foods. Including a sensible amount of these foods in the diets of your little ones can only be a good thing.
Vitamin C is known to enhance mental agility, not because of the effect it has on the brain itself, but because as an antioxidant it prevents other more harmful minerals ('free radicals') from reaching the brain. Vitamin C is present in citrus fruits, brassica's (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower etc), potatoes and strawberries, although you should avoid feeding strawberries to babies under six months because they are a common allergen.
Deficiency of Vitamin B12 is linked to memory loss and other cognitive deficiencies. Minor deficiency of B12 is linked to fatigue and depression. Many breakfast cereals are fortified with B12 making this a great start to the day. B12 is also found in animal products including meat, eggs, milk, fish and shellfish.
Magnesium is important for the development of all the cells in our bodies. High levels of magnesium are obtained from foods such as nuts, spices, coffee and cocoa - none of which, perhaps with the exception of cocoa, are common in children's diets. Spinach is another good source of magnesium that is perhaps easier to include in your kids' diets.
Omega-3 fatty oils are found in marine and plant oils and are associated with improving mental health. Although the scientific evidence is not fully established, it is widely believed that Omega-3 helps to treat ADHD and other autism spectrum disorders.
All these substances, and many more, are available as supplements from a pharmacy, but a healthy, balanced diet should give the body all it needs.
We all want our children to grow strong and healthy, so it's only natural that when a food is hailed as a superfood, we try to add it into our diet. However, the term 'superfood' is not a scientific one, and many health benefits touted by marketing agencies are unsubstantiated. In 2007, the EU passed legislation banning the term 'superfood' unless claims were backed up withj scientific evidence proving their value. Food manufacturers and supermarkets had until this year to phase out such claims unless scientifically proven.
Before the ban came into effect, over 100 foods had been awarded 'superfood' status by marketers. The list of superfoods included soy, spinach, broccoli, beetroot, blueberries, fish and green tea. Oprah Winfrey brought international attention to the acia berry which she featured on her show, inadvertently creating a scam market of bogus acai supplement suppliers employing unwholesome marketing techniques.
The major beneficiaries of so called superfoods are food producers and supermarkets. Between 1995 and 1997, sales of blueberries in the UK rose by 132%, spinach sales grew 40% and salmon sales increased over 30%.
It's not that superfoods aren't good for you - they generally contain higher concentrations of chemical deemed to be healthy, such as vitamin C, flavonoids, or Omega-3 fatty acids. However, these foods should be used as part of a balanced diet and often may be little more beneficial than many other foods. Also noteable is the fact that many superfoods are exotic and therefore have a far higher carbon footprint than locally produced foods.
With the implementation of the EU ban on the term 'superfood' reaching completion, we're far less likely to hear these claims being touted, but if we do, we know now that they will have been scrutinised properly and that the claims really are super!