A child’s nourishment during the first years of life is essential for proper growth and development, including a child’s brain which continues to grow and develop long after birth. With billions of cells developing well into childhood, it’s necessary to understand the role of specific nutrients to help them learn, communicate, socialize, and adapt to new environments.
During the first 12 months breast milk and formula are the primary source of complete nutrition, including high quality protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. However, baby may be developmentally ready to explore solid foods as early as 4-6 months of age. Consult with your pediatrician as to the appropriate time for your baby to start solids. At this time pay special attention to make sure that your child gets the ‘brain’ nutrients listed below.
Protein is crucial for the growth of brain cells during development. A young child needs about 19 grams of protein per day. Protein is found in animal products like meat, milk, and eggs. Vegetable proteins include soy, legumes, nuts and seeds.
The brain is 60% fat. Fats are essential for proper brain function. Omega-3 DHA and omega- 6 ARA fatty acids are especially important to brain function and development and can be found in foods like cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, herring, and sardines. Seeds and vegetable oils like Flax seed oil contain a significant amount of omega 3 ALA essential fatty acids.
Iron is critical for the development of the brain and nervous system, and it is the mineral that must be consumed in the diet of older babies and toddlers, through iron-fortified infant cereals, as the iron stores babies are born with become depleted. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for infants 7-12 months old is 11 mg. Foods naturally high in iron include meat, fish, dark leafy greens and beans.