Brain development is most sensitive to a baby’s nutrition up to around two years of age. Children who are malnourished, not receiving adequate calories and protein in their diet throughout this period do not adequately grow, either physically or mentally. Studies showed their brains are smaller than normal. Inadequate brain growth due to malnourishment as fetuses and infants suffer lasting behavioral and cognitive deficits, which lead to slower fine motor development, slower language development, and lower IQ.
A baby’s birth weight and brain size depend on his or her mother’s nutrition during pregnancy. After birth, brain growth depends critically on a child’s nutrition. Breast milk offers the best mix of nutrients for promoting brain growth, however, iron supplementation should be used beginning around six months of age. Because iron is critical for maintaining an adequate number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, which are necessary for brain growth, iron deficiency has been clearly linked to cognitive deficits in young children. Bottle-fed babies should receive formula that contains iron as well.
In addition, young children need a high level of fat in their diets. Experts suggest 50 percent of their total calories should come from fat until around two years of age. Babies should receive most of this fat from breast milk, an excellent source of liquid nutrition or formula in the first year of life remains into the toddler years. Whole cow’s milk can be introduced after the first birthday, and provides an excellent source of both fat and protein for toddlers in the second year. After two years of age, children should begin transitioning to more heart-healthy dietary fat. Lower-fat, 1% or 2% cow’s milk could be a good choice.
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