Infant nutrition: 5 foods that will make your baby smarter

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?

Just by adding small amounts of fermented vegetables to your baby’s cereal, you double the bioavailability of iron.

Early Brain Support Is Essential

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.

Baby foods for brain development

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.

It Starts Young: 5 Baby Foods for Brain Development

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:

1. Wild-Caught Fatty Fish.

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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2. Fish Roe and Egg Yolks.

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

3. Liver.

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:

  • Important brain-building minerals like iron and zinc
  • Most B vitamins, including folate
  • Vitamins A and D
  • Choline

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.

4. Fermented Spirulina.

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.

5. Fermented Foods.

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.

Try fermented first foods like: coconut water kefir or the brine from a jar of homemade cultured vegetables.

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.

What To Remember Most About This Article:

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:

  1. Wild-caught fatty fish. Salmon, herring, and sardines are prime sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in brain tissue. These ultra-nourishing fats also strengthen immunity and help regulate gene expression in the brain.
  2. Egg yolks/fish roe. Egg yolks and fish eggs are rich in vitamin D, folate, and choline. Choline plays an important role in brain health — it supports DNA expression, neurotransmitter synthesis, and memory function.
  3. Liver. While hardly a popular modern-day baby food, liver is a highly nourishing food for pregnant women and infants. Liver provides critical brain-building minerals like iron and zinc, along with vitamins A and D, folate, and choline.
  4. Fermented spirulina. In addition to a full amino acid profile, fermented spirulina contains an assortment of bioavailable minerals, like iron and calcium. Fermented spirulina is also a prebiotic that supports friendly bacterial growth in a baby’s developing gut.
  5. Fermented foods. Fermented vegetables and kefir are the easily digestible, enriching foods that many babies are missing. Fermented grains, like those found in InnergyBiotic, produce important vitamins and help with digestion and the assimilation of nutrients. Introducing a small amount of fermented foods at a young age can help to cultivate a baby’s inner ecosystem with probiotics — encouraging a healthy gut that can influence immune and brain health.


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  8. Chen, T. C., Chimeh, F., Lu, Z., Mathieu, J., Person, K. S., Zhang, A., … & Holick, M. F. (2007). Factors that influence the cutaneous synthesis and dietary sources of vitamin D. Archives of biochemistry and biophysics, 460(2), 213-217.
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  10. Zeisel, S. H. (2006). Choline: critical role during fetal development and dietary requirements in adults. Annual review of nutrition, 26, 229.
  11. Boeke, C. E., Gillman, M. W., Hughes, M. D., Rifas-Shiman, S. L., Villamor, E., & Oken, E. (2013). Choline intake during pregnancy and child cognition at age 7 years. American journal of epidemiology, kws395.
  12. Zeisel, S. H. (2013). Nutrition in pregnancy: the argument for including a source of choline. International journal of women’s health, 5, 193.
  13. Michaelsen, K. F., Hoppe, C., Roos, N., Kaestel, P., Stougaard, M., Lauritzen, L., … & Friis, H. (2009). Choice of foods and ingredients for moderately malnourished children 6 months to 5 years of age. Food & Nutrition Bulletin, 30(3), S343.
  14. Schoenfield, Pam. “Vitamin A: The Scarlet Nutrient.” The Weston A. Price Foundation.
  15. “Foods to avoid or limit during pregnancy.” March of Dimes.
  16. Puyfoulhoux, G., Rouanet, J. M., Besançon, P., Baroux, B., Baccou, J. C., & Caporiccio, B. (2001). Iron availability from iron-fortified spirulina by an in vitro digestion/Caco-2 cell culture model. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 49(3), 1625-1629.
  17. Bhowmik, D., Dubey, J., & Mehra, S. (2009). Probiotic efficiency of Spirulina platensis-stimulating growth of lactic acid bacteria. World Journal of dairy & food sciences, 4(2), 160-163.
  18. Zhai, Q., Narbad, A., & Chen, W. (2015). Dietary Strategies for the Treatment of Cadmium and Lead Toxicity. Nutrients, 7(1), 552-571.
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  20. Desbonnet, L., Garrett, L., Clarke, G., Kiely, B., Cryan, J. F., & Dinan, T. G. (2010). Effects of the probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis in the maternal separation model of depression. Neuroscience, 170(4), 1179-1188.
  21. Hotz, C., & Gibson, R. S. (2001). Assessment of home-based processing methods to reduce the phytate content and phytate/zinc molar ratio of white maize (Zea mays). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 49(2), 692-698.
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