Snack Unknown

As Rosh Hashanah and the new school year draw closer, we naturally focus more on our children’s academic performance.  For optimal cognitive functioning at any age, begin with breakfast.  The Food Research and Action Center reports that children who skip breakfast show impaired ability to learn and perform in school, whereas those who eat a healthy breakfast tend to work faster on math problems, make fewer mistakes, remember more, and score higher on vocabulary tests. 

Similarly, adults who eat a nutritious breakfast generally perform better at work.  This is because eating in the morning – after fasting overnight – replenishes blood sugar levels, thus providing the energy needed for concentration, alertness, and productivity.  Protein foods are particularly important to be eaten in the morning, since they help stabilize blood sugar and sustain energy levels, in addition to their role in providing essential nutrients that serve as building blocks for brain chemicals.  Best choices are eggs, low fat yogurt or cheese, nuts, seeds, and whey protein shakes. 

Complex carbohydrates are also needed, in order to provide a stable supply of blood glucose and to move essential neurotransmitters into the brain.  Whole grain cereals, pancakes, crackers, and bread are all good examples.  Best breakfast cereal choices are unsweetened ones, such as oatmeal.  Other good options are any cold whole grain cereal with less than ten grams of sugar and two or more grams of fiber per serving. Fresh or frozen fruit are recommended as well. Throughout the day, avoid sweetened fruit juices and dilute unsweetened juices with water, due to their naturally high sugar content.       

For peak alertness and performance, combine complex carbohydrates with proteins.  Consider the following: yogurt with fresh fruit, peanut butter on whole grain crackers, eggs and whole wheat toast, and oatmeal with almonds or ground flaxseeds.  On the other hand, avoid high sugar content breakfasts, consisting of items such as frosted cereals, doughnuts or other sweetened pastries, and white rolls or other white flour products.  Refined sugars and carbohydrates spike glucose in the blood and lead to a quick energy boost, but then cause a severe drop in blood sugar due to the overabundance of insulin released to deal with the crisis.  This sets off a vicious cycle for both children and adults, which can create an addiction to sugar and white flour.  In turn, rapid blood sugar fluctuations may contribute to low energy, mood swings, overeating, and obesity, and in some case be the catalyst for long-term anxiety and hyperactivity.

Of course, healthy eating must extend far beyond breakfast.  For optimum development, children should consume adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish and drink sufficient water on a regular basis.  The number of recommended servings per day and serving sizes both increase with a child’s age.    Results of a recent study conducted at Harvard University suggested that about half of American children and teen-agers don’t ingest enough water, resulting in headaches, irritability, poor circulation, reduced physical performance, and poorer mental functioning.  However, by increasing water intake by even one cup or eight ounces per day, children’s hydration status can be improved, which may allow many of them to feel better throughout the day and do better in school.

I wish all my readers a healthy, happy new year.

Dr. Shmuel Shields is a N.Y.S. Certified Nutritionist who works with children and adults.  His Torah-based book on health, L’Chaim: 18 Chapters to Live By, is available directly through the author, online, and at Jewish bookstores near you.  For more information about his book and unique line of multivitamin-mineral supplements,  To order directly through the author or for a consultation with Dr. Shields, contact him at or call (718) 544-4036.  Most insurance plans are accepted.  House calls, phone and e-mail consultations, and guest speaking can be arranged. 

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