Culinistas's Kitchen,  Health,  Postnatal

Feed Your Baby’s Brain

by The Culinistas

To celebrate our Feed Your Brain initiative we sat down with Yumi to talk about feeding your baby's brain. Yumi produces nourishing, delicious organic baby food. With flavors like Mango Chia, Purple Sweet Potato, and Baby Borscht, they support babies’ neurological and physical development at every age and stage while making mealtime fun and colorful. We asked Yumi some questions about nutrition for the development of your young one's brain. Check it out below! 

Why is the number 1,000 so important to brain development?

Science agrees that the first 1,000 days of life, from conception, through age three are considered a golden age of opportunity. It is during this time that a baby’s brain will grow to 80% of its adult size. If that number wasn’t enough to blow your mind, go ahead and bookmark this one as well: 60% of a baby’s caloric intake will go straight to their brain.  The concept of the 1,000 days was first established in 2008, when The Lancet, a noted British medical journal, published a landmark series on maternal and infant nutrition. The report concluded that nutrition consumed during this period has a lasting impact through adulthood and that nutrient deficiencies can lead to “irreversible damage.” In short: they don’t call it brain food for nothing. 

What do these first 1,000 days look like developmentally?

During the first 1,000 days, a baby will make moves, the likes of which you’ve never seen. They will begin eating, crawling, walking, jumping, and screaming. They will develop speech. Their pincer grasp will make self-feeding possible. They’ll build block towers just to knock them down. They will learn how to play with others (and how to test your patience). The possibilities during the first three years of life are as endless as the diapers. Developmentally, it is an immensely exciting time.

What should every parent know about nutrition when it comes to brain development?

According to the Journal of Pediatrics, there are three standout factors that have profound effects on early brain development. They include: “reduction of toxic stress and inflammation, presence of strong social support and secure attachment, and provision of optimal nutrition.” At Yumi we focus on the third factor: optimal nutrition. This means getting your baby the key nutrients they need at the right time. Key nutrients for brain development are defined as those for which deficiency that is concurrent with sensitive or critical periods early in life results in long-term dysfunction. Luckily, babies can get all the nutrition they need from food. During the first months of their life, a baby will receive all the nutritional content they need from either breastmilk or formula. It’s around 5 months, when a baby first starts eating solid food that things start to get scientifically interesting. 

What vitamins and minerals do babies need for optimal brain health?

Iron is one of the most important minerals when it comes to early brain development, and it is unfortunately one of the most common deficiencies. Out of the womb, your baby’s body comes equipped with iron stores for the first 6 months. During pregnancy the mother’s body prioritizes her baby’s needs, transferring iron from her body to the baby’s. The demand for iron is so great during pregnancy that mothers often run the risk of becoming anemic during this period. Iron is integral to the transport of oxygen in the blood, which means it’s absolutely critical for brain development. An iron deficiency during the first 1,000 days is correlated with diminished mental, motor and behavioral functioning later in life. Around the 6 month mark, your baby’s natural iron stores begin to run low. In addition, breast milk will likely not be enough to replenish this iron depletion. This is why it’s so important to consider the iron content in baby’s first foods. 

Some of our other favorite vitamins and nutrients include: 

  • Vitamin A, converted from beta-carotene in the body, helps seal the gut's lining and protect against infection. 
  • Vitamin C helps improve immunity, growth and tissue repair, and it aids in the absorption of iron.
  • Vitamin B6 plays an important role in the baby’s brain, blood and cell development and hormone production.
  • Calcium is most-known for its contributions to bone health, but calcium also enables movement within the muscles.
  • Magnesium works with minerals such as calcium and potassium, and is essential for bone, heart and muscle health.
  • Potassium helps regulate blood pressure as well as aid in the maintenance of bone and muscle density.
  • Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the body, and it primarily supports bone and teeth health.
  • Folate, also known as vitamin B9, helps support infant’s rapidly growing cells as well as overall blood health and brain health.

What nutrition guidelines do you recommend parents keep to as they feed their baby?

While all the research may feel daunting, mealtime doesn’t have to feel scary. In the first 1,000 days, focus on a varied diet for you (during pregnancy and breastfeeding) and your baby when your child transitions to solids. Try to avoid feeding your child too much fruit, and do not give juice before the age of 1. Though whole fruits are definitely better than juice because of their fiber content, a diet too rich in fruits will increase fructose consumption and limit room for other nutrient-rich veggies and proteins. Variety will help you hit nutrients that young kids are typically deficient in, such as iron, and will help kids develop a real love for real food.

A special thanks to Yumi for the beautiful photograph.