While intelligence and cognitive development is due to a complex concoction of genetics, socio-economic, cultural and environmental factors, better nutrition and consumption of key nutrients can still give your child a leg up.
It Starts in the Womb
Your child’s brain and nervous system starts developing in the womb. Stay away from alcohol and other drugs and keep yourself adequately nourished as these could all affect brain development of the child in your womb.
After birth, your child’s brain will continue developing past infancy. Balanced nutrition then kicks in and plays a key role in attaining optimum cognitive abilities. Include these in their diets:
1. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs)
PUFAs play a role in brain formation and development. Here’s why:
- Research has found some improvements in attention and problem-solving capabilities in children who received omega-3 enriched infant formula compared to those who did not.
- Scientists believe that omega-3 PUFAs in breast milk is one of the reasons why children who are breast-fed perform better in IQ tests than those who were raised on infant formula. Adequate omega-3 in the diet seems to be especially critical for babies born prematurely.
- Some studies have also suggested possible links between low omega-3 PUFA levels with certain neuro-developmental disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia (developmental reading disorder), dyspraxia (developmental coordination disorder) and autism (developmental social and communcation disorder).
More studies are needed to test these possible links before any firm conclusions can be drawn, and omega-3 recommended as a treatment.
Foods Rich in Omega-3
- Flax seeds
- Eggs produced by hens fed on flax seeds or fishmeal
You can also consider supplements but foods are better sources. Note that excessive intakes of fish oil carry some health risks such as impaired blood clotting. Talk to your family doctor before giving your child omega-3 supplements.
Many studies have demonstrated that children whose diets lack iron perform poorly with regard to developmental levels, cognitive abilities and school performance.
This is a widespread problem – iron deficiency is common amongst all age groups (in fact iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world). It is also a very urgent problem, because the impact of iron deficiency on cognitive development continues into later life, even after iron levels in the body have been raised to normal healthy concentrations.
Foods Rich in Iron
- Whole grains (including oats, brown rice, whole wheat products such as breads, noodles)
- Dark green veggies (like spinach, peas, beans)
- Dried beans
Iodine is responsible for the production of thyroid hormones (essential for the growth and development of the brain). Iodine deficiency is increasingly rare, but can result in severe mental impairment amongst children eating poor quality diets because of extreme poverty.
Foods Rich in Iodine
- Seaweed (kelp, nori etc)
- Iodised salt
- Dairy products
How do you ensure the best for your child? Share your nutrition and parenting tips in the comments below!