Exam time is just days away for many children in South Africa. Testing for the National Senior Certificate begins on Monday, October 26 and the exam marks the last qualification that many children will pick up before leaving secondary school with the results closely monitored by the country’s colleges and universities.
Many parents will be wondering what they can do to help their children cope with this stressful time and improve their chances with the exam. While maintaining a healthy balance between study and relaxation is important, diet can also play a significant part in helping a child do their best in exams.
Recent studies have shown fatty acids are particularly important for children as they develop and for their concentration. In particular, a 2011 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition1 found that the omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), plays an important role in cognitive functions linked with memory, concentration and focus in children of school age. It demonstrated a clear link between low levels of DHA and brain development disorders in children who displayed poor concentration in class and behavioural problems at home.
DHA is found in high levels in certain types of fish including salmon as well as poultry and eggs and is easily assimilated.
Proteins are essential as messengers in the brain, helping children to concentrate for longer and process information faster as well as being able to hold on to it for longer. Foods rich in proteins – particularly red meat, poultry, fish, legumes like beans and peas and milk – are needed for the body to make brain enzymes and chemical messengers. The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Ageing recently published research which showed a clear link between protein deficiency and poor brain development in young children and teenagers.
Other research has concentrated on vitamins and brain development. One vitamin in particular – B12 – has been shown to be vital for healthy brain and nerve development in both infants and children. Without sufficient quantities of vitamin B-12 in his or her diet, a child can develop developmental problems with a link shown between a deficiency and depression in young adulthood. Children who don’t have enough of it in their diet risk atrophy – where the brain shrinks – and the onset of cognitive problems. As with protein, vitamin B-12 should not be a problem so long as a child is eating a balanced diet with sufficient quantities of red meat and poultry.
Other vitamins also play a central role in brain development and proper functioning of the nervous system in childhood. Another study by the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Ageing, identified thiamin (vitamin B-1), riboflavin (B-2) and niacin (B-3) as central to the ability to think in abstract terms. Vitamins A, E, B-6 and B-12,¬ all found in brightly coloured fresh fruit and vegetables, have been found to be important for a child’s visual memory – something that is critical to achieving success in the forthcoming exams.
1 Boucher, O. – Neurophysiologic and neurobehavioral evidence of beneficial effects of prenatal omega-3 fatty acid intake on memory function at school age.
If you think your child could do with polishing their exam skills, you might find the FutureSchool online tutoring system is exactly what they need. Find out more here.