Essential Child’s Healthy Brain Development

Which Foods To Eat And Foods To Avoid

Early childhood is a time of tremendous brain development. The young developing brain changes shape and size in response to everything encountered in the early years. New environments, life experiences, caretakers, and relationships can affect how complex brain circuits are wired. This network of synaptic connections will ultimately determine brain function and the development of behavior.

A baby’s brain at birth has roughly 86 billion brain cells (neurons)​​, almost all the neurons the human brain will ever have​​. Although a newborn has about the same number of neurons as an adult, it has only 25% of the adult size.

Infant neurons are connected by roughly 50 trillion new neural connections, called synapses, whereas an adult brain has about 500 trillion of them​​. By age three, the synaptic connections have grown to 1000 trillion, and 90% of brain development is complete by age five.

During early adulthood, at age 16, the synaptic density will be half that of a toddler at age two.

The human brain does not stop developing until around age 25. Parts of the brain involved in decision-making do not fully develop until that age. However, female brains typically develop around two years earlier than male brains.

The prefrontal cortex, which begins to develop around the onset of puberty, does not complete its development until age 25. This brain section controls impulse inhibition, goal planning, and organization. The brain’s reward system also becomes highly active around puberty, receding to an average adult level around 25. 

The Role of Nutrition and Brain Development

The role of nutrition and its correlation to brain development is complex. The long-term impact of nutrient shortages depends on the duration and extent. Early nutrient shortages can reduce brain cell production. Later nutrient shortages can impact cell size and complexity. Nutrient deficits also impact the complex chemical processes of the brain and can lead to less efficient communication between brain cells. All nutrient shortages affect brain development and cognitive function.

Which Foods Promote Healthy Brain Development?

The early years of your child’s life are critical for cognitive and neurological development. The foods your child eats are essential to their brain development, particularly during their early years of development. Several foods will help your kids stay focused while positively affecting their brain development.

–   Eggs: Rich in protein, the nutrients found in eggs promote brain development, concentration, and mental focus in children. Additionally, egg yolks are one of the richest sources of the B-complex vitamin choline, associated with improved neurological function.

–   Greek Yogurt: Healthy fat is essential for brain development. A full-fat Greek yogurt has more protein than other yogurts and impacts communication between brain cells, promoting the ability of these cells to send and receive information. A fun food, you can even mix healthy granola and fruits into your yogurt to pack an extra punch of vitamins and minerals into each spoonful!

–   Leafy Greens: Both spinach and kale are considered super foods packed with folate, vitamins, and antioxidants, which promote the development of new brain cells. Leafy greens are also rich in vitamins K, C, E, and folic acid, improving cognitive function.

–   Fish: Full of vitamin D and omega-3s, fish is a nutrient-rich brain food. Both vitamin D and omega-3 protect the brain from memory loss. Salmon, tuna, and sardines are all great sources of omega-3.

–   Nuts and Seeds: Various nuts and seeds are packed with protein, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals essential for brain development. Walnuts have a significantly high concentration of DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid that promotes cognitive development in children and prevents age-related cognitive decline during the later stages of life. Almonds, Brazilian nuts, and macadamia nuts also contain brain-boosting omega-3 vitamins.

Foods To Avoid

When in doubt, avoid processed foods. Most processed, fast, pre-made, and boxed foods include polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats can cause inflammatory responses in brain tissue, damaging brain cells. Foods with high polyunsaturated fats include sunflower, safflower, and corn oils. These oils are found in processed foods such as fries, fried foods, salad dressings, and margarine.

Avoid excess amounts of processed sugars and monitor your child’s sugar intake. Excess sugar intake can lead to insulin resistance, affecting blood glucose levels. High glucose levels in the blood may be detrimental to the developing brain of young children. A delicate balance of the right kind of carbohydrates is needed to maintain a balanced diet. Simple carbohydrates (i.e., cookies, cake, and candy) instantly turn to sugar in the body. Avoiding simple carbohydrates and focusing your nutrition on complex carbohydrates (i.e., brown rice) guarantees your body’s carbohydrates are balanced.

Children who are malnourished are not just fussy eaters but are genuinely deprived of adequate calories and protein in their diet. Throughout this period, children with good nutrition grow physically and mentally well. They get better at thinking, remembering, and focusing. Their brains are good at absorbing and learning new things. A well-balanced diet with essential nutrients helps the brain develop well.

So, what are these essential nutrients?

Here Are Four Essential Nutrients For Children’s Brain Development

1. Omega-3 Fatty Aids

Our brains depend on a sufficient intake of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) for optimal development. The body can change ALA to EPA and DHA, which form the building blocks of brain cells and play vital roles in brain, eye, and nervous system development. DHA is primarily concentrated in brain areas responsible for learning and memory.

Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with better cognitive function, including improved memory, attention, and problem-solving skills. It is advisable to include fatty fish (like salmon, mackerel, and tuna), flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts in the child’s diet. 

A diet that supplies ample EPA and DHA may have benefits for supporting cognition and social behavior in children. Children who increase their ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid intake may experience support for learning, attention, behavior, and emotional health. Children’s diets with consistent omega-3 fatty acids may support healthy brain development.

Recommended Sources

  • Cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines
  • Seeds such as flax and chia
  • Walnuts
  • Fish oil supplements to support healthy brain function.

2. Multivitamins and Vitamins

Picky eating habits, allergies, and busy schedules are fundamental life factors compromising a child’s nutrition. Adding a high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement to the diet will help fill nutritional gaps and ensure that children get the complete range of vitamins and minerals needed for optimal growth and development.

Micronutrients play numerous direct and indirect roles in brain structure and function. For example, the brain contains high levels of iron that helps deliver oxygen to its tissues. B vitamins play essential roles in energy, memory, and mental calmness, while vitamin C has been shown to help with cognitive health and wellbeing in students. Many vitamins and minerals also support immunity, leading to fewer sick days from school.

3. Probiotics

When the delicate balance of a child’s intestinal microflora is altered by the occasional illness or unbalanced eating habits, it can lead to temporary uncomfortable digestive upsets, nutrient loss, and mood imbalances.

One of the best ways to help your child maintain a healthy intestinal flora is by including probiotic-rich foods in their diet and giving them a daily probiotic supplement. This will help them maintain healthy intestinal populations of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Enterococcus, and Saccharomyces species while lowering the number of pathogenic microorganisms in their gut.

Maintaining a healthy intestinal flora will also benefit school-age children by supporting their immune systems. A regular probiotic supplement may help reduce the number of days from school due to occasional common childhood complaints related to the ear, nose, throat, and respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.

4. Antioxidants                                                                                                     

Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals in your body. Free radicals are compounds that can cause harm if their levels become too high in your body. Your body has its own antioxidant defenses to keep free radicals in check. However, antioxidants are also found in food, especially in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based, whole foods. Several vitamins, such as vitamins E and C, are effective antioxidants. These are found in colorful fruits and vegetables, such as beetroot, carrots, tomatoes, plums, berries, and spinach.

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