The human brain is an incredibly complex organ, containing a compact network of nerve cells that rely on the release of chemicals to communicate with each other. From birth to age 2, your baby’s brain will triple in volume. By the time they reach age 5, their brain will have reached 90 percent of its adult size. At age 6, your child has more brain synapses than at any other point of their life; during this period of rapid growth, the brain consumes over half of the child’s total nutrition energy. As a result, early nutrition has a huge impact on how cerebral nerves develop and send messages to each other.
However, the brain is particularly vulnerable to nutritional deficits. Poor nutrition can contribute to temper tantrums, restless sleep, poor attention span, difficulties, or hyperactivity. I would venture to say that many children with learning or behavioral problems have a history of poor nutrition. Prevention is easier than correction, so it’s best to ensure good nutrition from the beginning. Here are some simple guidelines:
Eat the right fats and avoid the wrong ones. The brain is 60 percent fat, so following this simple rule can have an immense impact on a child’s brain development. Supplementing with Omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and breastfeeding contribute important fats from the mother, but the baby’s needs don’t end there. Once children start on solids, put them on the “right fats” rather than a low-fat diet. Include fats from eggs, olive oil, fish, avocadoes, and free-range animals, and avoid trans fats – including those hiding in baby biscuits.
Make sure your baby eats real food. Many expats bring imported foods for safety or familiarity. However, these are often processed. While not necessarily bad as part of a regular diet, additives in processed foods can have a cumulative effect on developing brains.
Sugary treats should be the exception, not the rule. Sugar is a highly-addictive compound, so avoid offering it as a reward or as the regular end to a meal. Plus, the highs and lows created by a sugar rush affect learning, behavior, and mood.
No medical treatment can overcome a diet of junk food during this critical stage of your child’s development. So toss out the Froot Loops in favor of apples or organic eggs – your child’s brain will thank you.