Latest research on best food and nutrients for baby's brain

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Make sure to add these best foods for baby's brain during the first 1,000 days of life. Read on to know why.

During the first few months of your baby’s life, a lot happens to his/her body. As new structures and connections to the brain form, what your baby eats plays a crucial role in his/her neurological development. That’s why you need to know about the absolute best food for brain growth and nutrients needed for your baby during this phase. 

Now, you might have already read plenty of articles about the best food for brain growth for your baby. But this information is constantly being updated as new research is conducted. And as you are concerned about your baby’s brain development, it’s good to stay on top of the latest research. 

So here it is, the most up-to-date scientific news related to the best-ever nourishment for your little one’s brain. 

Best Food For Brain Growth: Why Is The First 1,000 Days Crucial?

It all boils down to one thing: a critical period for brain development in a child.

Failing to provide adequate key nutrients can have “lifelong deficits in brain function” even if the nutrients are replenished at a later stage in life, according to The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP).

Child and adult health risks such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, may even be programmed by nutritional status during this period.

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Thus, the key here lies in understanding the complex interaction between “micro- and macronutrients and neurodevelopment”.

The AAP have issued a set of recommendations focusing on this recently; guidelines on food were released to ensure healthy neurological and brain development in babies during their first 1,000 days (2 years). 

However, it is more than just recommending a “good diet” to optimise the nutrients given to developing children.

As much as all nutrients/calories are essential for growth of both fetus and child, they are not sufficient for normal brain development. 

There are still some key nutrients that are crucial for neurodevelopment — so deficiencies of these “individual nutrients” may have a substantial effect on them.

So then comes the big question: what are these “individual nutrients” and where can we get them?

7 Best Food For Brain Growth For Babies: AAP

According to AAP, some key nutrients that are crucial for neurodevelopment include the following:

  • Protein 

Proteins are responsible for forming parts of the insides of brain cells and the connective tissue around them. They also produce new nerve cells, allowing your child’s brain to grow. 

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Where to get protein: They can be found in powdered milk, porridge, pureed vegetables and meat and cereal.

Protein might also be important in life, as suggested by Hourinaz Behesti, a researcher at Rockefeller University.

  • Zinc

Zinc is essential for the proper growth and development of the fetus. It is also responsible for the development and functioning of the central nervous system. 

Besides that, Zinc aids in your immune system, which helps your body fight off illnesses and infections. 

Zinc deficiencies could lead to “fluid cognitive deficits and impaired working memory“.

Where to get zinc: You can find them in whole grain cereals, nuts, potatoes, red meat and mushrooms.

  • Iron

Iron is one of the trace minerals that play a vital role in the body. If there is a lack of iron that is not corrected, it could lead to Anaemia — the most common nutritional disorder in the world.

Where to get iron: Milk, green vegetables, spinach, chard, beetroot, winter squash, sweet potatoes, beef, chicken, turkey, mushrooms and prune juice are good sources.

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  • Choline

But generally, Choline is the “building block” of more complex molecules that are vital to many aspects in our bodies, from brain function, mood control to muscle function and many more.

Although Choline can be produced in small amounts in our bodies, it’s still important to include them in our diet.

Just so you know, pregnant and lactating mums, you have an increased need for choline.

Where to get Choline: You can find them in egg yolk, yogurt, garbanzo and lima beans, lentils, almonds, cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage and broccoli.

  • Folate

It’s also known as folic acid. Folate is responsible for building cells in our bodies, and is especially important in DNA making. 

Getting the recommended amount of folate helps prevent birth defects, particularly spina bifida (“open spine”) and anencephaly (“absent brain”).

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Where to get Folate: They can be found in avocado, spinach, garbanzo beans, lentils, beetroot and asparagus.

*Do note that folate is water-soluble and is easily destroyed by cooking. Lightly cook your veggies or have them raw. Steaming them or popping them into the microwave is ideal.

  • Iodine

We need Iodine to make thyroid hormones. And these hormones affect the way our cells function. It affects the processes of our bodies, including heart rate and metabolism.

Insufficient iodine in diets could lead to iodine deficiency, causing the thyroid gland/goitre to increase in size. 

Where to get Iodine: They are found in sea vegetables like arame, hiziki, kombu, wakame, cranberries, yogurt, cheese and potatoes as well as salt.

  • Vitamin A, D, B6, B12

You can find them in foods including:

Carrots, sweet potato, salmon, fortified yogurt, orange juice, fortified milk, banana, papaya, lentils, garbanzo or chickpeas, low-fat dairy, cheese and eggs); and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in egg yolk)

Best Food For Brain Growth: What Experts Say

Dr. Sarah Jane Schwarzenberg, associate professor, Pediatrics, University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital and member of the AAP Committee shared in the statement that new parents must note that breastmilk is the best food for baby’s brain during the first six months.

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If you are really looking at developing good brain health, then you really have to look at a variety of food. | Image courtesy: Dreamstime

She says that breastmilk should be supplemented with food that is rich in iron and zinc. That’s because breastmilk doesn’t have as much of these two nutrients as is needed by a growing child. She suggests the following:

  • Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals
  • Pureed lean meat (chicken, fish, turkey, beef)
  • Some infant cereals 

“Infants are very vulnerable in the first few months of life to [nutrient] deficiencies,” says Dr. Schwarzenberg. “Their brains are developing at a rapid pace between one and two years, so we want pediatricians to be recommending a healthy spectrum of foods and not simply telling parents to give their babies certain foods. We want to make a positive statement about providing lean meats and fruits and vegetables, and also push back on the idea of superfoods,” she added.

She also pointed out that no single food item can make up for all nutritional requirements in a growing baby. 

What to remember when choosing the best food for brain growth

Dr. Schwarzenberg emphasises on two important points that new parents must bear in mind.

1. Provide nutritious food during the first two years 

She shared, “If you miss the opportunity to meet developmental milestones during the first 1,000 days of life, then there’s not an opportunity to go back and revisit them.”

That’s because the neurological development in the baby takes place during this time. And, it includes brain circuit formation as well as the processing speed of the brain. 

2. Do not allow your picky eater to be the boss

“We all have a tendency to pick one or two things the child likes and not stray too much from them. But if you are really looking to developing good brain health, then you really have to look at a variety of foods,” says Dr. Schwarzenberg.

It might be easier to feed babies what they naturally gravitate towards. But it doesn’t mean you should always let that happen. Pick the best food for baby’s brain, at least during the first 1,000 days. After that you can give your baby the freedom to chose what they like. 

Source: AAPPublications, Family & Co., Researchgate

ALSO READ: An age-by-age food guide for your little one’s healthy brain development

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