Can an unhealthy breakfast harm your child’s school performance? – Expert advice

Mother giving child breakfast
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The food your child eats for breakfast can have a negative or positive impact on their performance in the classroom.

Breakfast is deemed the most important meal of the day because it gives the body energy and helps the brain to function better.

“In the morning you need something that will give adequate energy to your brain for it to function to its optimal level. Unlike when you were sleeping, in the morning, the rate of your thinking is faster and higher, and your brain relies on omega 3 to function. This is why breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it gives your brain what it needs so that you are able to sustain your thinking throughout the day,” says dietician Sylven Masoga, who works as a lecturer at the University of Limpopo in the Department of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

Although breakfast is the most important meal of the day, a study by Unilever found that one in five South African children don’t eat breakfast, and of those that do, a large majority are not consuming what is deemed to be a nutritious breakfast.

This, according to Masoga, can have devastating results for children when it comes to their performance in school.

“When you eat you supply your brain cells with glucose. You become active in your thinking and you are able to grasp the concepts taught in class,” says Masoga.

“But when children don’t have a nutritious breakfast, they will not have the energy they need. This also has a negative impact on their brain function and their academic performance,” adds Masoga.

He recommends that good foods for breakfast are those rich in Omega 3 and those which are moderate in glycaemic index (GI 56 to 69).

“Omega 3 foods such as fish help to strengthen the brain, and they release glucose. So, for children, such foods will help them retain the memory of what is taught in class and it improves the functional capacity of brain cell memory,” says Masoga.

He adds that food moderate in glycaemic index release glucose adequately.

“Food high in the glycaemic index will give too much glucose release which might lead to the child developing glucose intolerance. Those low in glycaemic index release glucose slowly, and this might cause a child who is active before class to be fatigued later in the day because glucose is being released too slowly. Moderate GI gives adequate release of the glucose, and will help the child keep up with the pace,” says Masoga.

Masoga warns against giving children fatty foods.

“Fatty foods impede thinking capacity. Children should rather be given monounsaturated (MUFA) fats because they are healthy” he concludes.

Examples of foods that have MUFA fats are avocado and nuts.