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How does a healthy diet during a child’s early years assist in his brain development? Why?

A healthy balanced diet comprising foods from all major food groups is essential for optimal growth which in turn aids the child’s intellectual growth. This is because the early years of life are characterised by rapid growth and development.

“A well-nourished child will have the energy to respond to and learn from the stimuli in their environment,” says Jasly Koo, Dietitian, from the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital​, a member of the SingHealth group.

What other essential nutrients contribute to the brain development of a child from toddler to preschooler age?

Iron is another nutrient important for brain development and cognitive performance. Iron in foods is found in two forms, heme and non-heme iron, whereby the former is more easily absorbed by the body.

Heme-iron rich food sources are generally of animal origin such as meat, poultry and fish.

Non-heme iron food sources include

  1. grains
  2. ​vegetables
  3. dried fruits such as raisins and apricots
  4. iron-fortified products such as cereals and breads.

Depending on age, a 1-2 year old child needs ½ a serving (45g) of meat and alternatives a day, and 3-6 year old child requires 1 serving (90g) of meat and alternatives a day.

To help with non-heme iron absorption, vitamin-C rich foods like fresh fruit and lightly-cooked vegetables are also encouraged with meals.

Choline has been shown to play a significant role in the foetus’ and infant’s brain development, affecting the parts of the brain that are involved in memory and life-long learning abilities.

Choline like DHA, is also found in human milk. Other food sources of choline include meat, poultry, fish, egg yolk and wheat germ.

What about antioxidants – what role do they play in aiding brain development? What are the sources of antioxidants?

Fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidant vitamins, which protect the brain from oxidative damage by free radicals.

As a general rule of thumb, the darker the colour of the flesh, the higher the antioxidant level. As some antioxidant vitamins like vitamin C are water-soluble and destroyed by heat, cut your vegetables after (not before) washing, and cook them lightly.

See previous page to learn how consuming fish and DHA can benefit children.

See next page the top 10 foods for your child's brain development​.​​

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