There are several environmental factors that influence the neurodevelopment of the brain, and nutrition is one that parents have the capacity to influence. There is not a single magic “superfood” that can guarantee the most favorable development of the brain, but instead the brain will thrive when the body is provided with adequate nutrition through a range of whole foods.
Did you know by 5-6 years most of the brain growth has occurred in your child? The most active period of neurodevelopment happens in the child’s first 1000 days of life (from conception to the start of the 3rd year). Early childhood experiences influence the future progression of a child’s health habits and outcomes, therefore it is important we as parents build a solid foundation of eating for health as early as possible.
Enjoy these foods and support your child’s brain and body.
Your child’s brain is made of approximately 60% fat. The fat in their brain directly correlates to the fat in their diet and determines the brain’s ability to perform. The key to providing the brain with quality fat is maintaining it’s access to essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6), these fats can only be obtained through what they eat.
A brain-friendly environment must maintain an adequate omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. The Western diet provides plenty of omega-6 fatty acids, but falls short on omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore most children are not receiving enough omega-3s in their weekly meals. Wild salmon is a great choice for families looking to boost their omega-3 intake.
Sardines are also hailed for their omega-3 content and canned sardines are a relatively affordable alternative to wild salmon for many families. This little fish is well regarded for it’s position on the food chain, which means they are less likely to contain contaminants like mercury that are not great for our children’s bodies.
Pile it on your child’s favorite cracker, mix a little into their favorite hummus, or mix them into your child’s favorite dip. Canned sardines are a quick and easy breakfast, lunch or dinner to have stocked in your pantry. I understand it’s hard to imagine adding this to the routine, and we used to feel the same way. Our daughter watched another child enjoying sardines piled on a cracker and wanted to try. These have been a part of the weekly rotation ever since! The key to shifting your child’s palette is exposure and persistence.
A rich source of protein and omega-3s and more affordable alternative to wild salmon. Here is our recipe for family friendly one-pot mussels.
The antioxidant compounds in blueberries help reduce the effects on stress on the body and have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and neurodegenerative disease. All the more reason to keep these in your family’s routine.
Meat, including grass-fed and finished beef and pastured raised chicken can be a great source of protein for children. It is important for families to focus on high quality meats free of hormones, antibiotics and additives to increase the beneficial qualities, while reducing the potential harmful additions. Grass-fed beef is a great source of vitamin B6, B12, zinc, iron, and choline and these are instrumental in brain and body health. Organic pastured chicken is a great source of B6, and Zinc. Protein is critical in preventing cognitive impairments and supporting your child’s cognitive flexibility, and memory. For families that enjoy a plant based diet, there are also many alternatives to ensure your child has access to these critical nutrients.
This tree nut has the highest omega-3 to omega6 ratio, therefore helping meet your child’s daily needs for essential fatty acids to feed the brain. Walnuts also promote blood flow to the brain, which leads to overall improved brain health.
Legumes are often underestimated in the diet of Northern Americans, but are a staple around the world for being a nutrient dense and affordable source of protein. A great source of key folate, iron and zinc, which is key to support healthy brains. Bean consumption has been linked to a reduction in inflammation. The ideal preparation involves soaking beans overnight and discarding the water before cooking them in more alkaline water (which can be achieved through adding baking soda to the cooking water).⠀
Fruits and Vegetables
Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, they have been correlated to a reduction in chronic disease. These can often be a great source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Many are also a strong source of antioxidants, which can reduce the impact of stress on the body. Rich sources of antioxidantfruits and vegetables include artichokes, russet potatoes, blueberries, raspberries, prunes, strawberries, and various others. Eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables will increase the range of nutrients that can help your children maintain healthy bodies and minds
🍓 Remember, growing healthy brains is about growing healthy bodies. Continue to focus on providing your child a range of healthy whole foods with a strong focus on plant based foods, which includes fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, and whole unrefined grains. Seek out wild fish and quality animal products to support your child’s growing body.