If you’re like most new parents, then chances are you’ve been reading lots about your baby’s developmental milestones and how you can help them reach these milestone moments. But did you know that the nutrients you provide to your baby matter just as much as how you interact with them during these first two years of life? Well, according to most medical experts, your baby needs these 13 nutrients to help foster brain development during this early stage in life, making nutrition all the more important for parents to focus on.
16 Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a critical role in your baby’s health. In fact, vitamin D is one of the top nutrients for brain development and a healthy immune system. However, since vitamin D is most prominent in foods like fish and eggs, many people don’t always get the amount of vitamin D they need. Luckily, vitamin D is also included in many fortified kinds of cereal and yogurt, both of which are foods babies often enjoy.
According to Dr. Teresa Purzner MD, PhD, a practicing neurosurgeon and Co-Founder of Cerebelly, your baby’s cognitive development and attention is all thanks to a key brain region called the parietal lobe. Protein and iron become important nutrients for this region, especially as your baby starts learning how to talk. If you want to add iron to your baby’s diet, Dr. Purzer says to consider winter squashes, pumpkin, sweet potato, mushrooms, algae-like chlorella, kelp, and leafy greens.
14 Vitamin A
Elder, Dr. Purzner says vitamin A, along with a few other nutrients, helps develop the regions of the brain responsible for visual processing and visuospatial perception. This makes vitamin A especially important as your baby hits the 6-month mark. Vitamin A can be found in several foods including carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, and butternut squash.
13 Vitamin B₆
Vitamin B6 is essential for the central nervous system both during its development and as a coenzyme to help your child’s brain process neurotransmitters. Luckily, bananas are a popular first-food for babies, and contain high levels of B6. Additionally, grain cereals, carrots, eggs, legumes, peas, potatoes, and spinach all contain B6.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid. It’s a primary structural component of the brain and cerebral cortex, making it important for our daily diet. Oily fish like salmon, tuna, trout, anchovies, herring, mackerel, and fresh-water algaes contain DHA. Luckily, research shows it’s now better to introduce these and other high allergy foods at a young age instead of waiting, so you can start serving up fish and other sources of DHA as you begin to introduce your baby to solids.
11 Vitamin B₁₂
All babies need B12 so their bodies can produce red blood cells. However, vitamin B12 is also a critical nutrient for brain development as well. Many infants receive adequate amounts of this vitamin from breast milk or formula, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CVC) says mothers who are vegetarian or vegan should monitor their baby’s B12 levels as the mother may not provide enough B12 since this vitamin typically comes from animal products.
As your baby starts learning to crawl and walk, balance and coordination become more and more important. These skills are driven by the cerebellum, and it needs foods like zinc to function optimally. You can find zinc in foods like spinach, beans, egg yolks, and beef.
Many people do not know that niacin is another B vitamin. It helps your body turn food into energy, plus it helps keep your nervous system and digestive system healthy. However, niacin is also one of the nutrients your baby’s cerebellum needs to aid in coordination and balance, meaning niacin is another important nutrient as your baby starts to crawl and walk. Niacin (vitamin B3) appears in squash seeds, beans, and legumes.
According to guidelines published in the medical journal Pediatrics, folate is another critical nutrient for your baby’s developing brain. In fact, babies from 0 to 6 months need 65 mcg of folate in their daily diet, and this amount increases to 80 mcg as your baby grows during the second half of their first year. To add folate to your baby’s diet, try things like legumes, broccoli, and leafy greens.
Believe it or not, copper helps maintain the nervous and immune systems, not to mention it’s a critical nutrient needed for early brain development. While many babies receive enough copper in utero to last through weaning, they will eventually need copper in their diets as they begin eating solid foods and start growing. Beans, beef, liver, mushrooms, and nuts are all great sources of copper.
Selenium is a critical component of many enzymes and proteins that protect against cell damage and infections. This can be important as your baby’s brain develops, which means it’s always good to make sure you provide foods that contain this nutrient. Whole grain and dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, are great sources of selenium.
Thyroid glands need iodine because it helps produce hormones that control our growth, development, and metabolism. Without a proper amount of iodine in your baby’s diet, your baby may experience stunted growth or intellectual impairments. Therefore, you should make sure your baby gets enough iodine in their diet, which they can do by eating kelp, seaweed, shrimp, eggs, and bananas.
While you may not have heard of choline, it is a nutrient that helps brain cells function, meaning it is very important for your baby’s brain development. While it doesn’t fit into the category of a vitamin or mineral very neatly, the experts at Healthline say it is often grouped with B vitamins due to its properties and function. While choline is most prevalent in liver and seafood, you can also feed your baby eggs, cauliflower, or broccoli to help them get their daily dose of choline.
As you can imagine, your baby’s brain and body need protein to function optimally. Without it, your child’s brain development and IQ can be impacted. In addition to breast milk, lean meats, fish, chicken, beans, lentils, and chickpeas are all great sources of protein for your little one.
2 Vitamin E
As your baby continues to develop and grow, their frontal lobe development becomes more and more important since it helps them work through more complicated thought processes and learn new words. Vitamin E, along with iron, protein, and DHA, are essential for your baby’s frontal lobe development. Many nuts and seeds contain vitamin E, including sunflower seeds, almonds, and hazelnuts.
Like vitamin A, lutein helps with visual processing and visuospatial perception development. Lutein is most commonly found in peas, broccoli, leafy greens, and winter squashes like pumpkin.
As you can tell, your baby’s brain needs many nutrients as it develops during the first two years of life. While it may seem like a lot to remember, the most important thing you can do during this time is expose your child to a wide variety of foods and make sure their daily diet consists of everything from fruits and vegetables to proteins and more. This will help your baby’s brain grow to its full potential.
Sources: Dr. Teresa Purzner, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PediatricsHealthline
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