Brain food is real - and so is “brain-draining” food. So say Australian researchers who checked up on the diets of 7,000 little kids and then looked at their IQs eight years later. The study, from the University of Adelaide, found a connection:
- Kids who were still being breastfed at six months and regularly ate good-for-you foods like beans, cheese, fruit and vegetables at 15 and 24 months had an IQ up to two points higher by age eight.
- In contrast, kids who regularly munched on cookies, chocolate, sweets, soft drinks and chips in the first two years of life - had IQs were two points lower by age eight.
This isn’t the first study to find a connection between what kids eat early in life and their later intelligence - at least the kind of intelligence measured on an IQ test. In 2011, an on-going British study called the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children found that toddlers who ate more processed, fatty foods had slightly lower IQs. And the more healthy stuff a toddler ate - like fish and produce - the higher their scores.
The British researchers scored the diets of the toddlers, ages 1 to 3. For every one point increase in processed foods they ate, their IQs at age 8 were 1.67 points lower. And for every one point increase in healthy food, IQs at age 8 were 1.2 points higher. The interesting thing was, early diets were linked with later IQ even in kids whose diets got better or worse after age 3 - suggesting that there’s an important early window for helping kids’ brains be all they can be. That makes sense. Kids’ brains grow fastest in the first three years of life - when connections between brain cells are made at a rapid rate.
What’s the best brain food once babies and toddlers are eating solid food? Here’s what experts recommend:
- Ages 4 to 8 months: Continue to offer breast milk or baby formula. Once your child has tried several types of baby cereals successfully, introduce cooked and strained fruit and vegetables. Offer 2-3 tablespoon servings at most. Start with vegetables, then introduce fruit, so that fruit’s sweetness doesn’t make veggies less appealing. Small amounts of finger foods like melba toast, noodles, graham crackers, toast strips are OK, too.
- Ages 8 -12 months: Add strained or finely chopped meats - especially important by age 8 months if your baby is breastfed, because breast milk is not a good source of iron. Offer only one new meat per week in 3 - 4 tablespoon servings. Increase serving size of fruits and vegetables to 3-4 tablespoons four times a day. Cooked egg yolk is OK 3-4 times a week; skip egg whites before age 1 because some babies are sensitive to it.
Toddlers ages 1- 3 years:
- Dairy: 2 cups a day. This includes milk, cheese and yogurt. Toddlers should drink whole milk until age 2, then can transition to low-fat or fat-free.
- Fruit: 1 cup per day. This can include chopped fresh fruit, cooked fruit, fruit canned in juice, unsweetened frozen fruit, and ½ cup of 100 percent juice. (Limit juice to 4-6 ounces a day.)
- Vegetables: 1 cup a day; 1 ½ cups a day at age 3. Veggies should be soft, in small pieces and well-cooked.
- Grains: 3 ounces a day; 4-5 ounces a day by age 3 - half from whole-grain sources. An ounce equals 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal like oatmeal.
- Meat, eggs and beans: 2 ounces; 3-4 ounces by age 3. One ounce equals: 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, ¼ cup cooked dry beans, or 1 egg.