The brain is a complex and not well-understood organ, but its health remains vital for our ability to interact with the world.
Development of the brain begins around four months after conception and continues into early adulthood. According to the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second during the first few years of life. These connections are so important because they will become the basis for everything we will accomplish later in life.
While the brain continues to create new pathways into old age, it is early in life where most of the simple and complex circuits are built. Development of the simpler sensory pathways (vision and hearing) and language centers of the brain peak around 10 months after birth and begin to taper off and almost stops around the tenth year of life. This is why teaching secondary languages may be easier early in life when compared to later. Higher cognitive functions build off these simpler circuits and peak around the third or fourth year of life, then gradually tapers off into the teenage years.
Understanding how the brain develops tells us a lot about how important it is to nurture the brain during these formative early years. Stress, environmental toxins, and a lack of proper nutrition has been shown to result in fewer early connections in the brain, potentially resulting in less favorable social, cognitive, and emotional outcomes later in life.
With all of this in mind, a big first step towards supporting the brain is rethinking our meals. For those of us that don’t always eat right, this means looking for opportunities to supplement gaps in nutrition with either healthier food choices or supplements. Before reading ahead and learning about those important nutrients, consult with your primary care physician to discuss what is safe for your child and if they may require additional support that nutrients can’t provide. Pregnant woman should also discuss what specific nutrients will aid fetal development.
Nutrients that Support Brain Health
ChooseMyPlate, a website operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and The Mayo Clinic offer insights into food recommendations, appropriate portions, and which food groups provide the greatest density of nutrients for people of different ages.
Both of these online resources recommend following a diet that includes the following food groups:
- Protein – Good choices include seafood, lean meats, eggs, legumes, and unsalted nuts and seeds.
- Fruits – Look for fresh, canned, or dried varieties without added syrups.
- Vegetables – Dark greens and colorful peppers are ideal sources of nutrients; if buying canned vegetables look for low-sodium varieties.
- Grains – Whole grains, oatmeal, and brown or wild rice are best; avoid refined grains that are found in white bread, pasta, and rice
- Dairy – Shop for fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese products.
Items that should be restricted from a healthy diet include added sugars, such as corn sweeteners, corn syrup, and processed honey, as well as saturated and trans fats that are normally found in red meats, poultry, and full-fat dairy products.
With the above diet recommendations, you will help to provide your family with essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, and antioxidants that the body needs to function at its best. But if adding these foods to your diet is too difficult, you do have the option to use supplements, as we’ll discuss in the next section.
Supplements for Children
If you have concerns about your family’s diet or if your child’s eating habits aren’t the best (they only want to eat macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets), adding a supplement that is formulated for their individual needs may be an ideal way to help fill nutritional gaps.
A word of warning: For infants and newborns, nutrition should come from food and formula, not supplements; so, talk with your primary care physician about safe products you can use to supplement their diet.
Vitamin Code Kids Chewable Whole Food Multi from Garden of Life provides essential vitamins minerals from 22 real organic fruit and vegetable sources for optimal support of a healthy body and mind for children ages 4 years and up.
Attentive Child Chewable from Source Naturals contains a blend of minerals like magnesium and zinc, DMAE (supports neurotransmitter production), and grape seed extract that seeks to brain metabolism, focus, memory, and much more. The Source Naturals brand is favored in the natural health world for their approach to wellness that includes finding balance through diet, lifestyle changes, and spiritual development. Attentive Child Chewable is one of Source Naturals best reviewed product and is popular with parents.
It’s clear that the brain is not something to let go to waste. Supporting the health of your child from the earliest moments in life may help to give them the best possible future. Start by looking at the dietary choices of your family and how that may affect their development. Then find solutions by adding more healthy meats, fruits, and vegetables. If that’s not enough, talk with your primary care physician about supplementation, and see if that makes a difference in your family’s health!