It is widely accepted that good nutrition is essential for healthy development in early childhood.
During the first 1,000 days of life, from conception to the third birthday, nutrition profoundly impacts children’s future health, well-being and productivity.
Consequently, from breast milk to baby formula to solid food, understanding how the nutrients in all of these foods influence a baby’s developing brain can be life changing.
In this regard, it is important to know that baby food is not just food. It is a nutritional powerhouse that can have lasting effects on a child’s brain development.
Read on to learn more about the importance of nutrition in early childhood and how to ensure your little one is getting all the nutrients they need for proper development.
Early childhood nutrition and brain development
The first three years of life are characterised by rapid growth and development.
During this time, the brain undergoes its most dramatic growth, more than at any other point in a person’s life.
And nutrition plays a vital role in this process, as specific nutrients essential for the shaping of proper brain structure and capacity are acquired through a child’s diet.
Nutritious foods for brain development
Some of the most critical nutrients for early brain development include macronutrients such as proteins and essential lipids (or fats), as well as micronutrients like iron, iodine, zinc, and vitamins A, B, C and D.
All of these are nutrients found in breast milk, which is why it is often called ‘nature’s perfect baby food’.
However, if you are feeding your baby formula, choosing one fortified with these essential nutrients is crucial.
Proteins are the building blocks of the brain and are essential for its growth and development, while iron is essential for the formation of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to the brain.
A measure of iodine is necessary to produce thyroid – a hormone that regulates brain development, metabolism and growth. And zinc is involved in cell growth and other neurodevelopmental processes.
For a variety of other brain functions, like vision, immune function, mood and behaviour, vitamins A, B, C and D are also necessary.
While all these nutrients are vital, recent research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids are essential for early brain development.
Omega-3 fatty acids are abundant in breast milk but are also available in supplement form.
There is no denying that these essential fats are necessary for developing the brain’s structure and function – building mental stamina and enhancing cognitive development, visual acuity and motor skills.
In addition to the direct impact that nutrition has on brain development, early childhood nutrition is also linked to increased physical activity levels and cognitive function later in life, as children who are well-nourished during the first three years of life tend to have higher IQs than their peers who had these nutrient deficiencies.
Benefits of adequate nutrition in early childhood
It is often said ‘you are what you eat,’ and this statement is as true for children as it is for adults.
A well-nourished diet during the first 1,000 days of life has a profound and lasting impact on health, well-being, and productivity into adulthood.
Some of the core benefits of healthy eating in early childhood include:
- Improved immunity against various infectious diseases
- Proper development of the brain and other vital organs
- Enhanced cognitive development and brain function
- Reduced risk of developing chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes later in life
- Increased IQ
- Improved mental health from childhood through adulthood
Developing healthy eating habits early in life
To sum it up, healthy eating in early childhood remains a huge factor in proper brain development.
Whether through breast milk, formula or age-appropriate solid foods, it is important to ensure children get all the nutrients they require.
For infants, breast milk or a fortified formula is best. However, you can introduce solid foods as the child gets older.
So, going forward, let each meal be a solid investment toward your child’s future health and vitality.