Want to give your child a head start in life? Then think about changing your diet now to help optimise your child’s brain development early in life for long term consequences with respect to education, job potential, and mental health (1). If you provide your child with 5 crucial nutrients, you will increase their future success. Read on to find out what they are:
Why it is so important to eat healthy for children?
Children’s brains possess two unique properties: first, following a tight developmental timeline, their brains are particularly vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies; second, the young brain is remarkably plastic. Therefore, a great deal of the brain’s ultimate structure and capacity is shaped early in life so this is when dietary changes will have the biggest impact (2).
The largest effects are achieved during pregnancy and the first three years of life (3), but even beyond this time window there are plenty of benefits of a healthy diet for brain development. Did you know that what you eat during pregnancy isn’t only directly important for nutrient supply for your child, but also influences your and your child’s microbiome? (read here about why the microbiome is so important for your health). Additionally, even beyond birth, what you eat influences your child through breastmilk, which again delivers not only nutrients, but also live bacteria and helps your child establish a good microbiome.
Moreover, while this is especially evident in the development of the brain, the same also applies to the development of other organs in the body.
5 absolutely crucial nutrients for your child:
All nutrients are important for neuronal cell growth and development, but some appear to have a greater effect during this critical time window: these crucial nutrients for brain development include protein, iron, zinc, selenium, iodine, folate, vitamin A, choline, and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (3).
In fact, eradication of the three most prevalent micronutrient deficiencies—iron, zinc, and iodine–could increase the world IQ by 10 points (4).
Protein is especially important for a normal growth and development of the entire body, and it has been shown that disruptions have especially large effects on neurodevelopment (3). Foods that are high in proteins include:
- beans and peas
- soy products
- nuts and seeds
Preclinical studies indicate that zinc deficiency can result in poorer learning, attention, memory and mood (5). The food with the most zinc is, interestingly, oysters, but it is also found in:
It has been clear for a long time that iron plays a key role in brain development and the earlier the brain is protected from a deficiency in iron the better (6). Additionally, iron is also important in the development of a range of hormone systems, including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which are crucial for normal behaviour and mental health (7). Amongst others, you can find iron in:
- fortified cereals and breads
- dark leafy vegetables
- baked potatoes
Iodine is important in supporting thyroid hormone synthesis, which controls growth, metabolism and many other body functions. Severe iodine deficiency during pregnancy can even result in deficits in hearing, speech, and gait, as well as a lower IQ (8). Cognitive abnormalities include poorer learning and memory, sensory gating, or increased anxiety (9).
So, it is essential that you are getting enough iodine in your diet through:
- dairy products
- enriched grains
5. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs)
Finally, some studies suggest that a good supply of LC-PUFAs during pregnancy, lactation and early childhood is essential for childhood cognition and attention. Although this link is not definitively proven, it is well known that LC-PUFAs are important for our health. Some evidence also suggests that LC-PUFAs status influences the development of the visual system and areas of the prefrontal cortex that mediate attention, inhibition, and impulsivity (10).
A well-known example of LC-PUFAs are omega-3 fatty acids. These are most easily found in fatty fish and fish oils, but can be found in some other oils, and many foods are also fortified with them.
For some pregnant women and children, getting all of these nutrients can be a challenge. Families who are vegetarian, especially those who are vegan, may find it particularly challenging. Here at RYH we are here to help you find a meal plan which ensures a supply of all these crucial nutrients for your child’s brain development and health, while taking into account any dietary requirements and preferences.
How you can support your child with Reset Your Health!
RYH provides personalised daily meal plans tailored to dietary requirements and health. Not only this, the plan offers a huge range of recipes that work to strengthen and benefit your general health. The simple 4-week plan is designed to reset the balance of your gut bacteria and gut health making lasting lifestyle changes that will benefit your health! Click here to join today. If you’re still not sure about the power of your gut, then have a read of ‘Gut Well Soon’ by Catherine Rogers.
- Walker SP, Wachs TD, Gardner JM, Lozoff B, Wasserman GA, Pollitt EA, et al. Child development: Risk factors for adverse outcomes in developing countries. Lancet. 2007;369:145–157.
- Fox SE, Levitt P, Nelson CA. How the timing and quality of early experiences influence the development of brain architecture. Child Development. 2010;81:28–40.
- Cusick SE, Georgieff MK. The Role of Nutrition in Brain Development: The Golden Opportunity of the “First 1000 Days”. J Pediatr. 2016;175:16-21.
- Morris SS, Cogill B, Uauy R. Effective international action against undernutrition: why has it proven so difficult and what can be done to accelerate progress? Lancet. 2008;371:608–621.
- Golub MS, Keen CL, Gershwin ME, Hendrickx AG. Developmental zinc deficiency and behavior. J Nutr. 1995;125:2263S–2271S.
- Cusick SE, Georgieff MK. Nutrient supplementation and neurodevelopment: Timing is the key. Arch Ped Adolesc Med. 2012;155:481–482.
- Lozoff B, Beard J, Connor J, Felt B, Georgieff M, Schallert T. Long-lasting neural and behavioral effects of early iron deficiency in infancy. Nutrition Reviews. 2006;64:S34–S43.
- Skeaff SA. Iodine Deficiency in Pregnancy: The Effect on Neurodevelopment in the Child. Nutrients. 2011;3:265–273.
- Navarro D, Alvarado M, Navarrete F, GIner M, Obregon MJ, Manzanares I, et al. Gestational and early postnatal hypothyroidism alters VGLuT1 and VGAT bouton distribution in the neocortex and hippocampus, and behavior in rats. Front Neuroanat. 2015;17:9.
- Neuringer M, Connor WE, Lin DS, Barstad L, Luck S. Biochemical and functional effects of prenatal and postnatal omega 3 fatty acid deficiency on retina and brain in rhesus monkeys. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 1986;83:4021–4025