Good Food for Brain Development While Pregnant
During pregnancy, the foods you eat directly affect the growth and development of your unborn child. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, low-fat dairy and whole grains is essential for supporting the development of every organ, including the brain. However, if you want to support the development of the fetal brain specifically, you can also add certain foods to your diet that foster neuronal development in the womb.
Fortified cereals provide many of the micronutrients essential for proper fetal brain development. The folic acid and choline in fortified cereals help prevent spina bifida and other neural tube defects. Iron in fortified cereals can also improve fetal brain health -- iron deficiencies during pregnancy are a leading cause of preventable mental retardation. Choose a fortified cereal low in sugar and high in fiber to ensure that both you and your baby are the healthiest you can be.
Fish contain the omega-3 fatty acid known as docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, which is necessary for optimal brain development. Babies born to mothers with a deficiency of DHA develop visual and behavioral defects; mothers with high omega-3 intake during pregnancy tend to have children who do better on tests measuring verbal, social and communication skills during early childhood. One to two servings of fish per week is ideal because this amount provides enough DHA for brain development without exposing the mother and baby to high levels of mercury or other toxins that can sometimes be found in fish.
Sea vegetables, such as the seaweed nori, are an excellent source of iodine. Iodine assists in brain and spinal cord development and prevents mental retardation. Sea vegetables also contain folic acid, choline and omega-3 fats, so it boosts brain development in a few different ways. Avoid the brown sea vegetable hijiki, however, because it can contain high levels of arsenic.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds contain healthy omega-3 fats as well as plenty of brain-boosting micronutrients, such as vitamin B6. This vitamin assists in normal brain functioning by acting as a chemical messenger between brain cells. Simply add a handful of nuts or seeds to your meal plan each day. Walnuts are particularly beneficial because they are high in omega-3 fatty acids in addition to having plenty of micronutrients.
- Obstetrics and Gynecology: Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Pregnancy
- Dr Greene: Eating for Two
- Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrient Needs During Pregnancy and Lactation
- Baby Center: Iodine in Your Pregnancy Diet
- Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrients and Cognitive Development
- Nutrition Neuroscience: Perspectives from the Symposium, The Role of Nutrition in Infant and Toddler Brain and Behavioral Development