Did you know your child’s brain produces a million connections every second from infancy to three years old? How your baby’s brain develops depends on three key factors: their relationships, experiences, and the environment. Environmental factors from the air they breathe to the foods they eat can impact how their brain develops. Young children also need a wide range of foods to support healthy brain development. So what brain foods can help build strong noggins?
The real question is what vitamins and nutrients are critical for developing brains. We’ve spelled them out below, along with examples of foods that are good sources of each. Although meat provides many of these nutrients, there are a lot of substitutes you can try if your child isn’t ready for or doesn’t like meat.
What Brain Foods Support Healthy Brain Development?
Folate: Starting from conception, pregnant mothers should be eating folate-rich foods like spinach, liver, and fortified cereals and breads. Foods high in folate play a major role in the development of an unborn baby’s brain and spinal cord.
Protein: Protein can be found in a number of different foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, soy products, nuts and seeds, and dairy products. Protein is needed for your child’s brain to function and grow properly. It also builds and repairs cells, enzymes, and hormones.
Iron: Iron can be found in meats, beans, fortified cereals and breads, lentils, dark leafy vegetables, and baked potatoes. Babies and children need iron for their brains to develop and function normally. A lack of iron can lead to poor concentration and a shorter attention span.
Iodine: Brain foods that contain iodine include iodized salt, seafood, seaweed, dairy products, and enriched grains. All people need iodine to help synthesize thyroid hormones. These hormones are needed for brain development during the fetal stage and early postnatal life.
Zinc: The best foods for zinc are meats, fish, dairy products, nuts, and enriched grains. Oysters are very high in zinc, but to avoid risk of viruses and bacteria, children should only eat cooked oysters. Zinc is a major nutrient present in the brain. It binds with proteins to support the formation and function of the brain.
Vitamin A: High amounts of vitamin A can be found in liver, carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach. Vitamin A is needed for proper development of the nervous system in a growing embryo.
B Vitamins: B6 can be found in fish, starchy vegetables, fruit, and organ meats while vitamin B12 can be found in eggs, dairy, fish, and other meats. These vitamins play a vital role in many neurological processes such as the synthesis of DNA, RNA, and signaling molecules. They are also essential in cell repair.
Vitamin D: Good sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, cereals, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, and foods fortified with vitamin D. Evidence suggests that vitamin D affects proteins in the brain that are directly involved in learning, memory, and motor control. It can possibly also have an impact in social behavior.
Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Fatty acids, such as omega-3 fatty acids, are commonly found in fish oils and fatty fish like salmon, albacore tuna, and herring. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids play an important role in how the brain is formed and functions. For example, one of the fatty acids, called DHA, is essential for short term memory and association.