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By Megan Garcia
By the age of two, your baby’s brain reaches 80 percent of its adult weight.1 A lot is going on in a very short amount of time. But is your baby getting all the raw material he needs to sustain such rapid growth?
Let's break this down. At 6 months, your baby needs four times as much zinc as an adult man and nine times as much iron.2 Relative to weight, protein requirements are the highest they will ever be.3 Both zinc and iron are minerals that play a vital role in the development of your baby’s brain. Yet deficiency is widespread. For example, as much 20 percent of pregnant women and children are iron-deficient.4
What's going on? In developed countries, most families aren't going hungry. But they still might be undernourished.
Probiotic-rich fermented foods help to strengthen a baby's delicate gut, while also bolstering immunity and brain development. You can offer your baby probiotics found in the juice of cultured vegetables, made from the Veggie Culture Starter.
Look at the food around you, and you might notice that the refined stuff is replacing the real stuff.5 At the same time, your baby's needs haven't changed. Your baby still needs the most nutrient-dense foods that you can get your hands on.
Here are five foods that will make your baby smarter:
Fatty fish is one of the best places to find long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are particularly important for your baby's developing brain because they're literally what a human brain is made of — 60 percent of the brain is fat. And 20 percent of that is DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid).6 Essential fatty acids don't only make up brain tissue. They also play a key role in a healthy immune system and help to regulate gene expression in the brain.7
Fatty fish is also rich in zinc and bioavailable iron, while enhancing the absorption of non-heme iron (the type of hard-to-use iron that is found in plants). Small, soft-boned fish like sardines are a good source of another mineral: calcium.
If your baby enjoys plenty of fatty fish, then he's also getting lots of natural vitamin D — although, it's important to note that vitamin D levels vary, depending on the fish. For example, wild-caught salmon contains almost five times more vitamin D than farmed salmon.8
Try fatty fish like: salmon, herring, and sardines.
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Because eggs offer everything an embryo needs to grow, they are typically packed with a spectrum of nutrients that support development.
Fish eggs — such as salmon roe — and egg yolks are a good source of vitamin D, folate, and choline.9 Choline is an important nutrient for the brain because it supports neurotransmitter synthesis and the healthy expression of DNA. Like folate, choline protects against neural tube defects during pregnancy.10 It's also essential for good memory.11,12
About 20 percent of the fat in eggs yolks are polyunsaturated fatty acids — with a good ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (roughly 4 to 5). If that's not enough reason to get eggs into your baby's diet, yolks also contain vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, and biotin.13
Like fatty fish, roe, and yolks, liver can almost do it all. But unlike these foods, liver isn't as prized in modern culture. It's usually the thing that's thrown away or fed to pets. Still, liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods that you can offer your baby and eat during pregnancy.
This is because liver contains:
As a note, there is some controversy surrounding eating liver during pregnancy, associated with potential birth defects. Excessive preformed vitamin A from liver is thought to cause birth defects in a growing baby, particularly in the first few months of pregnancy. However, the Westin A. Price Foundation disagrees -- citing moderate weekly liver consumption as a possible remedy to vitamin A deficiency among women, without exceeding an intake level that could cause toxicity.14 Even the March of Dimes and Mayo Clinic do not contraindicate liver during pregnancy, considering that a vitamin A deficiency could be a greater risk to an unborn baby.15
With all the good in liver, it's critical to source your liver from well-raised animals since it can contain contaminants from the environment.
Spirulina is blue-green algae and not true microalgae. Because of this, spirulina does not have tough cellulose walls. This means that the nutrients in spirulina are more bioavailable than other microalgae, especially when fermented.
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Fermented spirulina boasts a full amino acid profile, and it's an excellent source of minerals, including iron and calcium. According to some reports, the iron in fermented spirulina is twice as absorbable as the iron in vegetables and 60 percent more absorbable than iron drops commonly given to babies.16 Fermented spirulina is also a prebiotic — it naturally encourages the growth of good bacteria in the gut.17
Be sure to choose fermented spirulina that is grown in alkaline water. While fermented spirulina might protect against heavy metal toxicity — even during pregnancy — it can accumulate heavy metals during production.18 This tends to happen when it is cultivated in ponds and basins. Alkaline water reduces the risk of contamination or overgrowth of harmful microbes.
There are several big benefits to giving your baby fermented foods early on. Just by adding small amounts of fermented vegetables — such as cabbage, carrots, and onion — to your baby's cereal, you double the bioavailability of iron.19 As gentle and nourishing fermented foods like kefir move through the digestive tract, they introduce probiotics — good bacteria and yeast that have been found to support health. The network of support created by probiotics extends beyond the gut, influencing your baby's immune system and behavior.20
Making cultured vegetables at home for your family is easy. Start with our Cultured Veggie Kit.
Soaking grain-like seeds (amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, and millet) will help with the breakdown and use of protein. And soaking gets rid of almost all phytate, an anti-nutrient in grain that binds to the critical brain-building minerals iron and zinc.21 Fermented grains (such as those in InnergyBiotic) also help make important vitamins, like B vitamins and vitamin K, and are the key to long-term health as they aid digestion and help assimilate and boost nutrients in food.
To find out more about how you can raise a well-fed and well-nourished baby, hope on over to my website at MeganGarcia.com — and sign up to get more information about my on-demand classes, The Baby Nutrition Series.
Your baby has significant nutritional needs in the first years of his life — especially when it comes to supporting brain development. Even when your baby is getting enough food, he may still be deficient in critical brain-boosting nutrients.
Giving your baby nutrient-dense "first foods" is one of the best ways to support whole-body health and early brain development. Try:
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