With exams just around the corner, parents have caused a huge increase in the sale of ‘brain foods’ in an attempt to make their children more intelligent. With no worthy scientific study in to how much a bag of nuts and seeds improves your brain power, parents are still happy to spend their hard earned cash.
Recent research by Mintel suggests the growing market for all health foods in the UK is gaining impetus from parents determined to feed their families well, despite the economic downturn. The report found that although consumer spending in general has went down, sales of healthy snacks have increased by up to 14 percent, with crisps and other unhealthy snacks down by 24 percent.
“In the last month, sales of all our foods billed as ‘brain foods’ are up massively. Sales of walnuts have increased 23 per cent, linseed by 15 per cent and sunflower seeds by 19 per cent,” said Alison Miles of the natural-food stockists Julian Graves. The chain also reported sales of dates, figs and prunes jumping up by 65 percent.
Many believe that the surge in health food buying is linked to health gurus like Gillian McKieth, whose book ‘You are what you eat’, was the most borrowed non-fiction book form UK libraries last year.
“There has been an increase in parents coming to us after seeing the Gillian McKeith programme. They are becoming more aware that what they feed their kids can seriously affect their brain power,” said Deborah Colson, nutritional therapist at the Brain Bio Centre, part of the charity Food for the Brain.
But is it all just a load of nonsense? Can ‘brain food’ really help your children?
“There is no good science to prove specific links between these foods and cognitive function,” said Lisa Miles, senior nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation. “Admittedly, dried fruits are a good source of iron, and evidence does suggest that a high iron intake can help brain function, while a low intake can impair it. But the most important thing you can do… at exam time is to have regular eating patterns and to stay hydrated,” she said.
Many doctors and nutrition experts agree however, that the consumption of essential fats found in nuts, seeds and oily fish can improve brain function
Ms Colson said: “Sixty per cent of the brain is made up of essential fats, which the body cannot make; the only way of replacing them is through nuts and oily fish. There have been studies where schools have given fish oils to children and seen an improvement in their performance.”
There seems to be little conclusive evidence as to whether or not eating these foods in the short term would have any effect on exam performance, however.
“It’s a bit like going on a bikini diet six weeks before you go on holiday,” Ms Colson said.
“You know that you should watch what you eat all year round, but you don’t. While it would be more sensible to eat these foods all year, eating them in the weeks leading up to exams would still be worthwhile.”