While the baby is in the womb, the brain goes through rapid development producing more than million neurons every minute. Even though brain development continues during the adult phase, the rate is maximum during these early years. By the age of 2, the brain size reaches around 80% of the adult volume.
Brain development of children depends upon mainly on three factors
- Proper nutrition
- Exposure to stress, infections etc.
- Experience with people and surrounding environment
Babies need extra care and protection from stress, trauma or any infections for healthy brain development. It is important to maintain a nurturing environment around the baby where he feels safe and develops a strong bond with the people around him. Apart from these external factors, the brain needs a boost of essential nutrition to support its rapid development.
What are the Nutrients essential for brain development?
A healthy diet comprised of foods providing essential nutrients is important for healthy brain development. These nutrients help the brain function properly and develop cognitive, social and emotional abilities in children.
Proteins are the building blocks of cells that help in cell proliferation and differentiation, creating connections between two neurons or a neuron and a muscle cell as well as synthesizing growth factors. Growth factors are the proteins that help in inducing long-term memory and in the development of the central nervous system in children.
Protein deficiency results in smaller brains with reduced RNA and DNA contents, fewer neurons, reduced neurotransmitters and growth factors.
Protein-rich foods: Meat/poultry, fish, beans, peas, nuts, legumes, eggs, milk and other dairy products, green leafy vegetables, fruits, and sprouted grains.
Iron is an important component of haemoglobin in blood that carries oxygen from the lungs to all the organs of the body. Lack of iron can lead to low red blood cell count, which in turn results in Iron Deficiency Anemia. Without iron, oxygen supply gets reduced and your body cannot function properly.
Iron-rich foods: Red meats, poultry, liver, whole grains, nuts, beans, beetroots etc.
Zinc promotes immunity, resistance to infection, and the growth and development of the nervous system. It also helps in the production of antibodies against intestinal pathogens.
Zinc-rich foods: Meat, cereals, bread, seeds (pumpkin, sesame, watermelon, squash etc.), chickpeas, milk etc.
Iodine is known to help in the growth and development of children by making Thyroid hormones which control body’s metabolism and other body functions. It also plays an important role in improving reasoning abilities and overall cognitive function of children.
Iodine deficiency during childhood can result in impaired development of brain and nervous system.
Iodine-rich foods: Iodized salt, eggs, tuna, shrimps, cod, seaweed, prunes, dairy products etc.
Choline is a dietary component which is essential for proper functioning of all cells. It also helps in the formation of new neurons and neurotransmission i.e., the communication between the brain cells.
Choline-rich foods: beef and chicken liver, eggs, wheat germ, bacon, dried soybeans and pork etc.
Long-chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids are the fats that the body cannot generate on its own. These are the structural components of all tissues and are essential for cell membrane synthesis.
The brain, retina and neural tissues are made of long-chain polyunsaturated acids (LC-PUFA). Out of these, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), in particular, is known to help in neurodevelopment by enhancing visual and cognitive functions as well as connections between neurons.
LC-PUFA-rich foods: Fatty fish (salmon, tuna etc.), fish oils, meat, poultry, eggs, walnuts, soybeans, flaxseed oils, sunflower oils etc.
The brain cells or neuronal cells need copper for a smooth functioning of their activities and metabolism. It also helps in forming key neurotransmitters that establishes communication between various brain cells and creating certain enzymes.
Copper-rich foods: Beef liver, chickpeas, lentils, dark chocolate, cashews, raisins, avocado, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds etc.
Proper nutrition plays a key role in healthy brain development in children which directly affects their abilities in the long run. Make sure to include lots of fruits and vegetables, grains and nuts etc. into your child’s diet. Deficiency of essential nutrition leads to inadequate brain growth which in turn results in lower IQ, slower language and motor development and poor academic performance.