WHY is brain food so important for your growing baby?
I was in the car on my way to pick up my 7 month son from nursery, while half listening to a radio programme about babies and nutrition. I remember sitting bolt upright and tuning in attentively as the scientist that was being interviewed said,
'The brain is 60% fat. This fat cannot be made by your baby’s body it has to be eaten through the food you give them'
When your baby is born the brain is not fully developed, it is still work in progress. It only controls the vital body functions; breathing, heartbeat, circulation, sleeping, sucking, swallowing. The 'higher' functions develop over the next 3 years under your watch. Your baby’s development is about the growth of the brain and not of the body.
The first 3 years of your baby’s life is when the brain grows to nearly the size of an adult brain. Your baby is completely dependent on you to give them the right food, care and huge amounts of love so their brains become beautiful, fully developed adult brains that create a healthy body and mind.
The most important foods we should be feeding our babies are ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS as the brain is 60% fat.
Don't panic like I did when I realised how important the right food is for my baby's brain, as the ingredients needed to make a brilliant brain are in my recipes.
If you are cooking from scratch and giving your baby lots of vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, dairy and grains (including pasta) then you are already feeding your baby the right foods. They will also be getting most of the nutrients they need from breast and formula milk (both are rich in essential fatty acids).
Now, you just need to think about putting some more essential fatty acids in your baby's meals to ensure they get the right fat for their brains when they stop breast feeding and drinking formula milk.
BRAIN FAT essential fatty acids
Essential fatty acids are Omega 3 and Omega 6
The important point I hadn’t realised until I started reading up on these amazing fats is that you have to eat both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats, you can’t get away with just eating a bit of the one you like or the one that is easiest to cook with as they do not substitute for each other.
Green leafy vegetables
Walnuts, flax and rape seeds
Olive oil, rapeseed oil (extra virgin)
Grains (wheat, oats, barley, etc)
Meat, eggs, dairy (milk, cheese, butter, yoghurt, cream)
Evening primrose oil
Like me, you probably eat lots of meat, eggs, dairy, vegetables and fruit, but not enough fish and seafood. If you only pick up one thing from this page, it is EAT MORE fish and seafood.
Fish and seafood are the only source of Omega 3 DHA and EPA which are vital for developing your baby's brain.
And, lastly do not give your baby margarine or any foods made with hydrogenated and trans fats (found in commercial fried food) as these fats compete with the essential fatty acids that you are lovingly giving your baby.
All the other important nutrients;
Protein: Meat, beans, eggs, fish and soy
Choline: Eggs, wheat, soybeans (Edamame beans), milk, cauliflower and kale
Vitamin A: Egg yolks, dark green leafy vegetables, orange and red vegetables and fruits
Vitamin B6: Cereals, milk, egg yolk and beans
Vitamin B12: Dairy, meat and eggs
Iron: Meats, egg yolks, enriched grains, dark green vegetables, dried fruits and molasses
Zinc: Shellfish, meats, beans, milk and wheat bran
Copper: Shellfish, nuts, cherries, whole grains and beans
Selenium: Grains, onions, meats and milk
Iodine: Seafood and iodized table salt (of course, you can't give your weaning baby salt, I kept Iodine in the list for your reference!)
If you would like to know more I found these references very useful;
Food and Behaviour research
They are what you feed them, Dr Alex Richardson
Brain development, ZERO TO THREE: National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families
Nutrition and the developing brain: nutrient priorities and measurement, Georgieff MK, Department of Pediatrics and Child Development, University of Minnesota School of Medicine, Minneapolis, MN, US
The importance of nutrition for mental health, Dr Alex Richardson
Nutrition and the brain, Eric H. Chudler