The Impact Of Nutrition On Children’s Brain Health

Written by Jillian Lai Mei Siew on Mon, 20 November 2023

Key Highlights

  • Child’s brain reaches 80% of its adult weight by the time they reach age 2.
  • In infancy, the brain requires 87% of their daily calorie intake supply.
  • Lipids make up 10% of the weight of the brain.
  • Nuts and seeds are abundant in nutrients that have been linked to increased cognitive performance.
  • As a parent it is our responsibility to instill healthy eating habits early on and fostering a positive food environment 

As parents, we work hard to give our children the greatest possible start in life. We work constantly with focus to ensure their physical health, education, and emotional well-being are top-notch. However, one critical component that is sometimes forgotten is the strong link between diet and brain health. Yes, you read it correctly, the food we offer our children plays a pivotal role in shaping their cognitive development, concentration, memory, and overall brain function.

Through this blog post, we will explore the intersection between nutrition and brain health in children and the impact of nutrition on children’s brain health. Our primary focus will be on understanding the significance of a well-balanced diet and identifying important nutrients that contribute to optimum brain development.

There is an extremely critical period in brain development that takes place from 3 months before birth up to 2 years after birth. The greatest brain growth occurs during this period.  

So, what are you waiting for? We have a very significant responsibility on our hands. Let's together shape the little superstars of tomorrow.

The Building Blocks of Brain Health

Before we explore the impact of nutrition, let’s first understand what the brain needs to thrive. The human brain is a highly complex organ that requires a variety of nutrients to function optimally.

Some of the essential building blocks for brain health include:

  • Protein: Proteins are crucial for the production of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that allow brain cells to communicate with one another.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These fats, commonly found in fatty fish like salmon and flaxseeds, are essential for brain development, particularly during early childhood.
  • Antioxidants: Nutrients like vitamins C and E, as well as minerals like zinc, help protect brain cells from damage caused by free radicals.
  • Complex Carbohydrates: These provide a steady source of glucose to the brain, which is its primary source of energy.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Nutrients like vitamin D, B-vitamins, and iron are essential for various brain functions, including memory and concentration.
  • Water: Staying properly hydrated is vital for maintaining brain function. Even mild dehydration can negatively impact cognitive performance.

Why is nutrition important for brain activity?

The brain is a highly active organ that consumes a large amount of the overall daily energy requirements provided by food. In infancy, the brain requires 87% of its daily calorie intake supply.  

30 - 45% of children's energy is used in the brain between the ages of 6 and 12 years. During infancy and early childhood, the synaptic connection is at its peak, and glucose utilization is high.

The impact of nutrition on brain development  

Rapid brain growth occurs during a child’s first couple of years of life. In fact, your child’s brain reaches 80% of its adult weight by the time they reach age.

Your child’s brain continues to develop through adolescence, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain known as the “personality center.” This is the area of the brain associated with planning, memory, decision-making, and other executive functions.

The essential nutrients for cognitive development

The essential nutrients for cognitive development

1. Micronutrients:

Micronutrients including iron, zinc, choline, selenium, iodine, magnesium, vitamin B, and vitamins A and C play key roles in energy metabolism as well as neurological enzymatic reactions and processes.

2. Iodine  

Iron is necessary for the normal structural development of the fetal brain, myelination, and the development and function of the dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine systems.  

3. Zinc

Zinc is essential for neuron formation and migration, myelination, formation of synapses, and regulation of neurotransmitters- the chemical messenger of the body. Early-life zinc deficiency results in poorer learning, attention, memory, and mood

4. Iodine  

Iodine in infants is important in dendritogenesis, the formation of synapses, and myelination. It is also important for the formation of thyroxin.  

Severe iodine deficiency leads to:

  • Poorer learning and memory
  • Sensory gating,  
  • Increased anxiety in milder deficiency
  • Vitamin B complex

B vitamins are vital for brain development, neural myelination, and cognitive function. Deficiencies in B complex vitamins can cause delayed development or worsen symptoms related to learning differences and attention issues.

5. Dietary lipids

Lipids make up 10% of the weight of the brain. Dietary cholesterol from dairy products and egg yolks has been associated with brain functioning at all ages.  Dietary lipid supply in early childhood as a major determinant of growth, infant development, and long-term health is presently growing. Thus, the selection of dietary lipids during the first years of life is now considered to be of critical importance.

6. Choline

Choline is a nutrient that’s especially important for brain development. Choline to a child’s diet during the first 1,000 days of life could support brain development, protect against nerve cell damage, and improve cognitive functioning.

Foods to incorporate into the diet

1. Berries  

Berries are critical for cognitive growth in children. According to research, ingredients in berries:

  • Improve blood flow to the brain
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Promote the production of new nerve cells  
  • The expression of proteins related to learning and memory  
  • Improved academic performance

2. Nuts and seeds  

Nuts and seeds are abundant in nutrients that have been linked to increased cognitive performance. These include vitamin E, zinc, folate, iron, and protein.

Nut eating has also been linked to gains in specific elements of cognitive function in college-aged individuals.

3. Oranges

Oranges along with their delicious citrus taste serve as a key component in brain development as they are rich in flavonoids and anti-inflammatory agents.

Oranges are also packed with vitamin C, a nutrient that’s essential to brain health. Vitamin C is necessary for proper brain development, neurotransmitter production, and more.

Other food to incorporate into the diet:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Cocoa
  • Yogurt
  • Whole grains  
  • Soy Products

Nutritional Supplements to Enhance Cognition  

Nutritional Supplements to Enhance Cognition

Nutrient supplements as well as emotional support are critical in boosting the cognitive development of undernourished children.

In one research, infants with iron deficiency anemia who received a combination of iron supplementation and home intervention that included support for the mother-infant bond performed better on cognitive tests.  

By incorporating these supplements into a child's diet under the guidance of a healthcare professional, parents can help to optimize their child's brain health and cognitive abilities.


Nutrition clearly has a vital role in children’s development and brain function maintenance. A diet rich in critical nutrients, vitamins, and minerals is necessary for healthy brain function, cognitive ability, and general mental well-being. Parents and carers can boost children’s brain development by providing nutritious meals and snacks and helping them realize their full potential. 

As a parent, it is our responsibility to instill healthy eating habits early on and foster a positive food environment. Encouraging regular meals, incorporating a variety of nutrient-dense foods, limiting processed and sugary snacks, and involving children in meal preparation can contribute to a nutritious diet and promote a lifelong healthy relationship with food.

Now with adequate knowledge, let's provide the best start and shape up a future full of bright minds, try to inculcate tips and nutritional suggestions to your kid. 


Jillian Lai Mei Siew

As the Product Consultant Manager of Mega BiO-LiFE, Jillian Lai Mei Siew, has the role of providing a productive team spirit among all Product Consultants to equip them with the right health nutritional information. Jillian is a BSc in Nutrition and Community Health, and a MSc in Nutritional Sciences an from Universiti Putra Malaysia. Affiliated to the Professional Affiliation Languages & Dialects Nutrition Society of Malaysia, NSM, Jillian can speak English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien and Malay.

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