Decision-making, problem-solving, memory, and focus — these are the essential brain functions that you want your children to develop. You might be inclined to buy them toys and enroll them in toddler classes that will boost their mental capabilities, but you don’t really have to spend all that much to support their brain development.
Their natural exploration of the world around them and their interaction with different people will provide sufficient exercise to promote learning and stimulate brain function. The best thing you can do to support mental growth and development is to ensure that they get plenty of the nutrients that the brain benefits from the most.
Studies have shown that nutrition does play a key role in creating brain connections, improving focus, and sharpening the memory, as well as in acquiring knowledge and skills. What are the nutrients and nutritional blends that increase mental prowess?
1. Lutein and Zeaxanthin
More known for promoting eye, skin, and heart health, lutein actually offers wonderful benefits for the brain.
Lutein helps the brain retain and use information, speed up processing, and maintain memory. By consuming lutein in the early years, your kids have a better chance of staying sharp later in life.
In aid of optimal brain health, lutein works hand in hand with the nutrient zeaxanthin. These two are commonly sourced from green leafy vegetables as well as in other green and yellow vegetables. Top picks are kale and spinach.
2. Natural Vitamin E
This is an antioxidant found in parts of the brain associated with vision, memory, and language development. Studies show that the brain’s reaction to natural vitamin E varies from its reaction to synthetic vitamin E, so make sure food labels specify natural vitamin E in their list of ingredients. It is usually listed as d-alpha-tocopherol or d-a-tocopherol.
Vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds are some of the natural sources of Vitamin E. It is also found in green leafy vegetables, whole grains, seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, and legumes.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and DHA
When discussing brain food, the omega-3s are usually mentioned right away. Their critical role in brain health is something that many people already know about.
Unlike other brain-friendly nutrients, the omega-3s do not naturally occur in the human body, so you have to intentionally incorporate them into your diet.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is actually one of the omega-3 fatty acids. It is exceptionally beneficial to cognitive function and works to improve the brain’s ability to access and use information.
DHA, however, is easily destroyed by oxidative stress, hence the need to consistently include good sources in your diet. Some of these are fatty fish and other seafood, nuts and seeds, and plant-based oils. It is also found in breastmilk, giving another reason to encourage extended breastfeeding.
This is a nutrient that is absolutely vital for brain development and cognitive performance. Iron comes in heme and non-heme forms. The body more easily absorbs heme iron. You can source them from animal-based foods such as meat, poultry, and fish.
Meanwhile, non-heme iron sources are plant-based. Some of these are grains, vegetables, and dried fruits. Nutrition advisors recommend eating vitamin C-rich foods to aid in the absorption of non-heme iron.
This nutrient is especially essential in the brain health of young children. It plays a significant role in brain development, focusing on the parts of the brain that deal with memory and life-long learning abilities.
Choline is found in meat, fish, poultry, egg yolk, and wheat germ. There’s choline in breast milk, also fortifying the argument for extended breastfeeding. There are situations, of course, where this isn’t practical, so the alternative is to enjoy the benefits of milk that has been fortified with choline and DHA.
Knowing the nutrients that can really help your children’s brain development, you now have a better idea which foods to include in their diet and which fortified products to give them.