Nutrition’s Effect on Brain Development

April 3, 2024 by Samantha Chapman0

Nutrition’s Effect on Brain Development 

Did you know that the first 1000 days are crucial to a child’s brain development? The “first 1000 days” refers to the period of time from conception through 2 years of age. The brain is made up of different regions, which serve different functions, such as memory, spatial awareness, attention and multitasking. Many regions of the brain begin to develop in utero (while the mother is pregnant with the baby) and continue to develop through the first 2-3 years of life. The young brain is more vulnerable to environmental factors, such as toxins, social support, and nutrition. Research shows that these environmental factors have long-term effects on brain development. Because all nutrients are important to help a child grow, it is important that you (and your children) are consuming a well balanced diet. In this article, we will focus on key nutrients for brain development. 


Iron is a mineral that helps red blood cell’s carry oxygen throughout the body and to the brain. Iron plays an important part in physically developing the fetal brain, making it an essential part of a pregnant woman’s diet. Iron is also important to incorporate into your baby’s diet. Most formulas contain iron, but if your child is breastfed, talk to your provider about possible supplementation. When your baby begins to eat solids, offer your child a variety of iron rich foods. 


Zinc is a mineral that is important for a child’s immune system, growth and development. Zinc is important for all stages of child development, particularly in early infancy to ensure normal brain development. Zinc can be found in most formulas and is also passed through breast milk. Zinc levels are high in breast milk after birth, but the levels do go down over the first 6 months. Therefore, when your baby starts to eat solid foods, it is important to introduce foods high in zinc. 


Iodine is a mineral that is needed to help turn food into energy. Iodine supports thyroid hormones, which are important to fetal brain development. This development starts in the mother’s first trimester in pregnancy. 

Folic Acid

Folic Acid is an essential nutrient to prevent birth defects to the baby’s brain and spine. Because this nutrient is vital immediately after conception, it is recommended that all women in child bearing age consume an adequate amount of folic acid. Many women require supplementation in addition to proper nutrition. 

Vitamin D 

Vitamin D is most commonly known to help build strong bones. Vitamin D also helps develop neurons, which send messages throughout the body. This makes it an important nutrient for pregnant women and young babies. Vitamin D is found in most formulas, but very little is passed through breast milk. Most breastfed infants require supplementation. As your child starts to eat solid foods, be sure to include foods high in Vitamin D.

Nutrition Matters

Most essential nutrients will be consumed when eating a well rounded diet. Proper nutrition is so important to fetal brain development, even before you know you are pregnant. Because of this, all women within child bearing age should eat a well rounded diet. As your young children begin to eat solid foods, be sure to introduce a variety of options rich in these vitamins and minerals. If you are concerned about any deficiency, talk to your medical provider. It’s also beneficial to work with a Registered Dietitian. A Registered Dietitian is able to assess your specific needs and help create a plan customized to those needs. A Dietitian can also provide further health and nutrition information to help promote proper health and wellness in your home. 


Written by Samantha Chapman, BSN, RN

Review By: Mercy Aremu, RDN – Dietitian-Nutritionist

Anjum I, Jaffery SS, Fayyaz M, Samoo Z, Anjum S. The Role of Vitamin D in Brain Health: A Mini Literature Review. Cureus. 2018;10(7):e2960. Published 2018 Jul 10. doi:10.7759/cureus.2960
Cusick SE, Georgieff MK. The Role of Nutrition in Brain Development: The Golden Opportunity of the "First 1000 Days". J Pediatr. 2016 Aug;175:16-21. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2016.05.013. Epub 2016 Jun 3. PMID: 27266965; PMCID: PMC4981537.
Early Brain Development. February 5, 2024.
Iron. February 5, 2024
MedlinePlus [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); [updated 2020 Jun 24]. Folic Acid; [updated 2023 Jul 13; reviewed 2023 Jul 13; cited 2024 Feb 5]; [about 1 p.]. Available from:
MedlinePlus [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); [updated 2020 Jun 24]. Iodine in Diet; [updated 2023 Jan 19; reviewed 2023 Jan 19; cited 2024 Feb 5]; [about 3 p.]. Available from:
Vitamin D. February 5, 2024
Zinc. February 5, 2024.


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