Spring makes us think anew about birth and how babies’ brains develop and thrive. Food, of course, plays a central role in healthy brain development. Each of us begins as one cell, a fertilized egg. By birth, that single cell has divided into 10 trillion others. Hundreds of billions of these cells are destined to become our human brain.
As astounding as the human brain is, in the end, it is simply a finite combination of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, salts, and trace amounts of some metals and minerals. A healthy diet provides the developing mind with all of these materials.
If they continue to be available throughout pregnancy and life, the mind will develop to its maximum potential. The best ingredients for these essential building blocks are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These types of foods far outpace any others in providing what the developing mind needs.
Intriguing work observing the diet of pregnant women strongly suggests that a high-sugar and/or high-fat diet during pregnancy has an impact on brain development of the child later in his or her life, specifically a rewiring that heightens a sense of reward when these children eat sugars and fats.
A diet without additives helps the mind function at its full potential. Vitamins and supplements cannot replace nutritious foods, nor do they promote brain function and healthy development. Many infant formulas, for example, contain the added fatty acids DHA and ARA, but consuming more of them as additives in formula does not improve brain performance.if the
Many parents worry about getting their children to eat nutritious foods. The answer to this is surprisingly simple: If the only foods available in the home are healthy foods, then no matter what food the picky eater settles on, it will be healthy.
Meanwhile, the biggest hazard to neurocognitive development in our food chain is neurotoxins. Recent studies by the nation’s leading experts on this issue have revealed profound and important effects of many neurotoxins on our children.
Leading the list of worrisome neurotoxins are lead (in our environment), mercury (in fish and air), air pollution, flame-retardants (not just in baby pajamas, but in all cushions and computers), insecticides (on fruits and vegetables), and plastics (not just BPA, but all phthalates). These and other compounds play a critical role in the development of autism, ADHD, and learning disorders. These problems now appear in one out of six children. The best approach to protecting our children from this damage is to work together to ensure that industry no longer releases these neurotoxins into our children’s world.
Many of these same concerns about the brain align with making sure our children’s bodies grow. The number one nutritional threat to our children’s health is obesity. Affecting one in three Americans, the obesity epidemic has diminished the life expectancy of our children, the first such drop in U.S. history.
Eating primarily fruits, vegetables, and whole grains sharply reduces the chances of developing obesity. A good rule of thumb is that if a food can be created only in a factory, it is more likely to cause obesity than a food harvested directly from a field or a tree—what we call “whole foods.”
So, as the flowers bloom, the bees buzz, and the sun shines, as we are able to see all of nature flourish in its glory, let’s keep in mind what it takes for our children’s brains and bodies to thrive: good food, protection from harmful toxins, and avoidance of junky foods and drinks.