Nutritionists have long since identified that there is a strong link between eating a nutritious balanced diet and healthy development. In particular, children are especially dependent on receiving sufficient nutrients, as their brains are still developing.
How Nutrition Affects the Child’s Brain – Healthy Brain Development in Children
Research into brain development and nutrition has shown that it is not just the child’s body which desperately needs proper nutrition to develop, but also the brain. That can be achieved without brain pills. This means that what a woman chooses to eat during her pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding, in addition to the diet her child is fed will likely have a large impact upon brain development. In Help Your Child Succeed at School, Hancock highlights that specific parts of a child’s diet, especially nutrients and micro-nutrients affect both brain growth and development.
Intake of foods which contain fatty acids, vitamins and minerals are identified as being most important during times of rapid growth. As recognised by Hancock, these key times in terms of the child’s brain development, include the following:
- third trimester of pregnancy
- first few months after birth
- ages 2-4
- ages 6-8
- ages 10-12
- ages 14-16
How Fatty Acids Help Children’s Brains Develop – Why Kids Need Omega-3, Omega-6
Two kinds of fatty acids, known as Omega-3 and Omega-6 are vital for helping children’s brains to develop. Omega-3 is found in oily fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, as well as in egg yolk and walnuts, although supplements are available. In contrast, Omega-6 is much more readily available in the average diet, found in common foods including milk, eggs and meat.
Both Omega-3 and Omega-6 are crucial for mental functioning as they play a key role in communication and thinking, through the development of systems responsible for brain chemical messengers, known as neurotransmitters. According to Hancock , Omega-3 fatty acids have multiple benefits for thinking and learning, including as follows:
- boost speed and connectivity of brain
- decrease hostility and anger
- remove emotional barriers to child’s learning
- vital for mental well-being
Boost Your Child’s Brain Power with Vitamins and Minerals
It is not just fatty acids that are absolutely essential to healthy brain development, a range of vitamins and minerals are also necessary for child development. Vitamins which are proven to affect development, include vitamin C, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, while key minerals include iron, calcium and folic acid. As recognised by Hancock, these vitamins and minerals have many benefits in terms of brain development and function, including the following:
- vitamin C – used to make neurotransmitters, found in kiwis, oranges, broccoli
- vitamin B12 – helps protect brain cells, found in meat, dairy products
- vitamin B6 – helps energy , concentration, found in banana, tuna, asparagus
- iron – improves cognitive development, found in red meat, fish, pulses, green vegetables
- calcium – helps children concentrate, learn and bone development, found in dairy products
- folic acid – necessary for brain’s chemical communications, supplements available
As highlighted above, nutrition plays a key role in helping children develop, in terms of both physical and mental health. Healthy brain development requires a range of fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, making it vitally important to ensure children consume a healthy diet.