Cognition

Two important nutrients for brain health and cognition are found in eggs: choline and lutein. Choline plays a role in early brain development during pregnancy and infancy, particularly in areas of the brain that are used for memory and learning. Lutein has long been associated with eye health but research has discovered lutein’s role in cognition as well. For example:

  • Researchers at the University of Illinois published two studies looking at the relationship between brain lutein, as measured using a non-invasive eye test called Macular Pigment Optical Density (MPOD), and cognition in children. They found that MPOD concentration was positively associated with academic performance.
  • The American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates recommended the addition of choline to prenatal vitamins because of its essentiality in promoting cognitive development of the offspring.
  • There is evidence that infants exposed to higher levels of maternal choline (930 mg/day) during the third trimester have improved information processing speed during the first year of life, an indicator of cognition and intelligence.

Healthy Aging Month

September is Healthy Aging Month, a time to focus on the positive aspects of growing older and encourage responsibility for one’s health (physical, social, mental and financial). One way to promote healthy aging is through sound nutrition. Following a balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein can help prolong a healthy life. Additionally, some foods contain specific nutrients that have been shown to benefit older adults.

School Nutrition Professionals Think Outside the Shell

Donna Martin, EdS, RD, LD, SNS and Director School Nutrition Program for the Burke County Board of Education, and I spoke to a group of energetic school nutrition professionals at the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) Annual National Conference (ANC) last week. The room was at capacity with 240 people coming to hear our talk, “Thinking Outside the Shell for Exceptional School Meals and Performance” (sorry to those who couldn’t fit in the room).

How exactly do you think outside of the shell? Start with breakfast, of course! I started out by talking about the new nutrition standards for school meals. In addition, I reviewed the fact that childhood hunger is prevalent, and that if children miss breakfast, it can be hard for them to make up key vitamins and minerals the rest of the day.

Donna went on to explain her efforts with the program providing breakfast in the classroom in her district. She has been very successful in her Georgia schools. Below are some key points from her presentation.

How does breakfast in the classroom affect student performance?

  • More positive attitude towards school
  • Less likely to be tardy
  • Less likely to miss class
  • Improved math and reading scores
  • Fewer reported  discipline problems

What makes a great breakfast for schools?

  • Offers a variety of foods students like
  • Easy to prepare
  • Increases participation
  • Meets National School Breakfast Guidelines
  • Affordable to produce

Donna also showed many photos of breakfast successes, like Sunny Face Eggs (above), and the audience had wonderful questions regarding implementing breakfast in the classroom.

SNA ANC was a great experience. I was able to sit in on sessions and see what school nutrition professionals were doing to improve school meals even more. Plus, the exhibit hall was full of products to sample that met the new school nutrition guidelines. I was able to try a Homestyle French Toast that used eggs to provide 1 meat/meat alternative as well as 1 grain from whole wheat flour.

Elevating Awareness and Intake of Choline: An Essential Nutrient for Public Health (article review)

By: Kasia Ciaston

Today we have another blog by our Dietetic Intern Kasia Ciaston.

Early research conducted on choline from the 1930’s established the link between low choline and liver/muscle damage. Since then, choline has been deemed as an essential nutrient and the latest evidence demonstrates the increased significance of choline throughout the lifecycle.  Data collectedby the 2005 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey revealed that 90% of the U.S. population was consuming less than adequate amounts of dietary choline.  Although choline is produced internally, there are sub-populations with increased requirements due to genetic variations. A recent article in Nutrition Today explains emerging research demonstrating the vitality of choline consumption at all stages of life.

Pregnancy

Choline requirements during pregnancy and lactation are particularly high. Choline is present in high concentrations in amniotic fluid and breast milk which in turn increases maternal demand for the nutrient. A low of intake of choline in this population has been linked to preeclampsia, premature births, and very low birth weights. Emerging science shows that like folic acid, low choline intake doubles the risk of neural tube defects

In animal studies conducted with rats, low choline intake during pregnancy was linked to long-term cognitive impairment. Rats consuming adequate choline exhibited slower declines in memory and attention.

Childhood

Studies suggest that choline-sensitivity continues after birth into infancy. Adequate choline during this stage may enhance brain development, memory, and learning abilities later on in life.

Adulthood

Increased amounts of homocysteine in the body have been linked to higher risks for cardiovascular disease, bone fractures, cancer, and cognitive impairment. Due to the essential role of choline in the breakdown of homocysteine among other metabolic markers – choline has been tagged as playing potential roles in reduced inflammation and cardiovascular risk

The implications of choline within the health care field are far and wide. The importance of choline throughout the lifecycle is becoming more prominent, but more research is still needed to substantiate its claims to fame.