Nutrition is a key actor in your little one’s development, whether physical or cognitive, and can complement contributions from genetic and environmental – physical and psychosocial – factors.
A balanced diet comprising carbohydrates, proteins and fat along with vitamins and minerals is essential for optimal growth. Dr Suresh Birajdar, Neonatologist and Paediatrician at Motherhood Hospital, Kharghar lists certain key food items that could drive and support a child’s development.
Proteins are the key drivers of a child’s growth and development. They are also an important ingredient of antibodies – an infection fighting protein. In addition, the amino acids derived from proteins play a critical role in repair of tissues, synthesis of neurotransmitters as well as hormones. Proteins are obtained from plants as well as animal sources. Both sources are equally effective. Choices could be made from pulses, legumes, dairy products (milk/cheese or paneer), eggs and animal proteins.
Fats are very important for brain development. Polyunsaturated fatty acids and mono-unsaturated fatty acids are healthier than saturated or trans fatty acids. Major sources of healthy fats are vegetable oil (soya/olive/sunflower) and fish oil. It is the right quantity as well the way oil is consumed that matters more than a brand or source. Oil used for deep frying is less likely to contribute to development than sprays or oil used for light cooking. In addition, whole-grains and other cereals have natural oils in their husks/brans that are very healthy.
Iron plays an important role in formation of hemoglobin. Deficiency of iron can result in anemia that in turn can alter learning and memory processes. Iron rich foods include vegetables such as spinach, peas, broccoli, nuts, raisins and legumes (chickpeas, lentils). The animal sources of iron include liver, salmon, eggs etc. A child needs to consume the correct portions of these sources to maximize absorption of iron from the stomach.
Iodine is a trace element essential for synthesis of thyroid hormone – an important hormone for brain development in infants. In addition, thyroid hormone also regulates protein synthesis. Naturally, iodine can be found in abundant quantities in a variety of seafoods. Dairy products also contain small proportions of iodine. However in countries like India where iodine deficiency is endemic, the best source of iodine is through regular consumption of iodized salt.
Folic acid and B group of vitamins
B group of vitamins are required as cofactors for various metabolic processes and enzymes in the body. These processes help in overall growth as well as development in children. Folic acid is especially significant in pregnancy for fetal brain development. In addition, Folic acid is required for the synthesis of DNA in many cells. Also helps in prevention of certain anaemia. Green leafy vegetables as well as fresh fruits such as oranges, apples etc are great sources of vitamins. Boiling and deep frying can result in significant loss of these vitamins. Therefore, fruit and vegetables are best eaten raw or lightly sautéed. Whole Grains with their husks are abundant in some B Group of vitamins.