10+ Vegan Superfoods to Consider for Your Child’s Brain

Diet can play a role in symptom management. Whether your child is bottle-fed, tube-fed, or fed by mouth, each of these superfoods is loaded with brain-powering nutrients.

Always make sure to speak with your child’s doctor or dietitian to ensure a well-balanced diet, with enough calories, and to avoid any ingredients that may not be suitable for your child’s needs. For example, many epileptic children do well with a ketogenic diet, and many children with acid reflux are advised to avoid foods with high acid content.

Vegan Superfoods to Consider for Your Child's Brain
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Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries are packed with antioxidants and flavonoids that protect brain cells by combating oxidative stress in the brain and increasing blood flow to the brain. Studies show they may enhance cognitive function, memory, and brain plasticity. Berries are also anti-inflammatories, making them ideal for decreasing the risk of brain cell damage and damage related to brain cell neurodegeneration.

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Bananas are a good source of vitamin B6 and potassium. Vitamin B6 is involved, and in some cases, required, in the conversion of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) into neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. Neurotransmitters regulate mood, motor control, cognition, sleep, and more! Potassium supports nerve functioning and nerve signaling (nerve communication). This is crucial for sensory perception, emotion regulation, and motor control.

quino vegan superfoods
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Quinoa is considered a “complete protein,” which means it contains all 9 amino acids. It is also a great source of magnesium. Magnesium is important for regulating neurotransmitter balance, and muscle contraction, thereby promoting relaxation. Quinoa also has B vitamins, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids, and has a low GI (glycemic index). It’s no surprise quinoa has become a popular superfood!

avocado super food
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Outside of containing antioxidants, B vitamins, and potassium, avocados are also rich in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid. Oleic acid is a component of brain neuron membranes, contributing to brain development and functioning. You may have heard of oleic acid before – it is one of the key ingredients of “Lorenzo’s Oil,” the oil developed with the hope to treat ALD (adrenoleukodystrophy). Avocados contain anywhere from 55%-80% oleic acid!

nut butter
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Nut butter is often found in formula recipes due to its high-calorie count and fat content. Nuts are also packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals such as vitamin E, B6, and magnesium. Nuts like hazelnuts are also a good source of arginine, an essential amino acid for childhood growth and development. Arginine is also responsible for immune function and wound healing. Hazelnut butter has a much milder flavor than some other nut butters, making it an easy superfood addition to a child’s diet.

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Mangos are less studied, and therefore less often referred to as a superfood. Yet, they are rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamin C, beta-carotene (vitamin A), vitamin B6, vitamin E, and folate, contributing to neuroprotection and the reduction of oxidative stress. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, which may promote bowel regularity. In addition, their high water content increases hydration while contributing to softer stools.

Coconut oil
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Supporters of current research love coconut oil for its medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), such as caprylic acid. MCTs can be converted into ketones, acting as an energy source for the brain. Ketones have also been shown to promote brain connectivity between brain regions, thereby helping communication between neurons. MCTs have also been shown to have positive effects in treating Alzheimer’s, by helping with cognitive function, memory and overall brain health.

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Lentils contain antioxidants, B vitamins, and magnesium, like many of the other superfoods. Lentils are also at the top of the list for vegan sources of iron. Iron is crucial for transporting oxygen to the brain, and this, in turn, is crucial for cognitive function. Low iron can affect memory, concentration, and focus. Low iron can also contribute to irritability, anxiety, and depression.

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Papaya is rich in vitamins A, C, E, and folate (vitamin B9), all of which contribute to cognitive health and prevent cognitive decline. Papaya also contains the enzyme papain, which aids in digestion. This enzyme ensures that nutrients from foods are properly absorbed in the digestive tract, allowing for optimal utilization of vitamins and minerals in the brain. Papaya, therefore, makes an excellent complement to the diet, both for its vitamins as well as its digestive enzymes.

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Kale offers a wide range of benefits. It contains vitamins C, E, A, folate, iron, omega 3’s, and iron. It’s also a great source of vitamin K. Vitamin K not only maintains the health of cell membranes and supports the communication of neurons, but it also indirectly plays a role in the formation and maintenance of the myelin sheath. The myelin sheath is the protective layer that protects nerve fibers, ensuring good communication between nerves. Studies have found individuals with epilepsy to have less than optimal myelin.

As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine.” Though food alone may not be able to cure all ailments, a healthy diet can certainly promote brain health.

References and Further Reading:

NIH – National Library of Medicine, Postepy Hig Med Dosw, Scibior, D., Czeczot H., Arginine–metabolism and functions in the human organism

Univ. of Rochester Medicine, n.d., Potassium

NIH – National Library of Medicine, Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 2021, Lindez A., Reith W., Arginine-dependent immune responses

Advances in Wound Care, 2014 Alexander J., Supp D., 4 Role of Arginine and Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Wound Healing and Infection

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