Your baby’s brain is an organ that requires a steady stream of nutrients in order to grow and to function. Since her brain goes through such rapid growth and development between conception and age two, healthy nutrition during this time has a lifelong positive impact on your baby’s cognitive abilities.
For structural strength and healthy development, your baby’s brain needs energy from protein, carbohydrates, fats, micronutrients, and good hydration. Many studies have shown that breast milk is the best brain food available, and that children who were breast-fed tend to have higher IQ scores and to perform better in school. According to scientists, breast milk contains the right combination of nutrients, growth factors, and hormones. Although formula has yet to duplicate this exact combination, if breast-feeding is not possible, you can still promote healthy brain development.
Whether you are pregnant, nursing, formula-feeding, or serving your baby solids, healthy foods for your baby’s optimal brain development include:
- Complex carbohydrates for balanced blood sugar levels: whole grains, including brown rice, oats, millet, and quinoa
- Proteins to aid with your baby’s brain growth: legumes, seeds, nuts, and lean fish
- Essential fats to form myelin, which enables neuron transmission in your baby’s brain: ground flaxseed, fish, seeds and nuts (if not allergic), and avocado
- Vitamins and minerals for building her brain: fresh vegetables (especially leafy greens and sea vegetables), fruits, and whole grains
- Iodine and salt for metabolism and intellectual development: sea vegetables and sea salt
- Fermented foods and probiotic booster for a healthy gut: pickles, miso, fermented drinks, and yogurt
Antinutrients are foods that can inhibit your child’s healthy brain development. For instance, refined sugars, hydrogenated fats, chemical food additives, and highly processed foods rob your child’s brain of nutrients. Many food additives and food colorings are neurotoxins. Finally, genetically modified foods, foods containing growth hormones, and antibiotics in animal foods can have negative effects on your child’s mental health.
People sometimes refer to the digestive system as a second brain because the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal system are intimately connected through pathways of nerves. These systems have a two-way communication path. The brain affects the stomach by releasing stomach juices in response to hunger or by causing an upset stomach in response to anxiety. The intestines send alert signals to the brain if there is a problem, even before the body can feel the symptoms. The gut lining is the core of the body’s immune system. If the body is deficient in nutrients or the digestive system is not working properly, mental health disturbances, such as depression and anxiety can occur.