The 16 Key Nutrients All Growing Brains Need

By Stacey Segal, RD

All nutrients are important for brain growth and function, but some in particular have a critical role during phases of early brain development.

Get to know the 16 key brain-supporting nutrients in our Cerebelly products and their role in your little one’s development.

Choline

Choline is an essential nutrient that is crucial for brain development. The brain uses choline, particularly during the first 1000 days of life, to support the parts of the brain involved in memory storage, recognizing people’s faces, spacial awareness, language and learning. It’s also important for activating muscles.

Copper

Copper is considered to be an essential nutrient for the brain and body. Small amounts of copper, along with certain enzymes in the brain, help form key neurotransmitters that help brain cells “talk” to one another. This is akin to how signals between phone wires allow us to have phone conversations. Copper is also a key nutrient that helps support the hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for memory.

DHA (Omega-3 Fatty Acid)

Omega-3 DHA is a polyunsaturated fat found in food. It plays a critical role in the growth and development of the brain, eyes and nerves. Your little one’s brain is going through a growth spurt– a critical window of opportunity. The ability of each brain cell to mature and communicate with other brain cells, depends, in part, on the amount of DHA available. Learn more about DHA here.

Iron

Iron is one of the most important nutrients for babies’ overall growth & development. It is a micronutrient that the body uses to carry oxygen to all parts of the body, including the brain and muscles.

Iodine

Iodine is a nutrient that is present in small amounts in our body but is critical to our health. Iodine supports areas of the brain involved in vision, auditory development, language, balance, muscle coordination, motor and sensory functions. It’s also important for healthy thyroid function.

Lutein

Lutein is a vitamin-like nutrient called a carotenoid, which acts as an antioxidant. Lutein supports the primary visual cortex, a part of the brain responsible for organizing and processing the things we see. It’s also been shown to impact memory by helping the brain make new associations.

Protein

Protein is a powerhouse nutrient that supports the growth and development of almost all body structures and regulates their function. Babies use protein for developing strong muscles, bones and a healthy immune system. Protein supports brain development by playing a crucial role in the actual building of the brain’s scaffolding and for brain cell function.

Selenium

Our body’s need selenium to stay healthy. Selenium works along with other nutrients like iodine, zinc, iron and copper to support thyroid function and brain development. Selenium is an antioxidant and one of many nutrients that help support our immune system.

Vitamin A (& beta carotene)

Vitamin A is an important nutrient that supports the regions of the brain responsible for vision and language development. It also supports a healthy immune system.

Are vitamin A and beta carotene one and the same?
Beta carotene is a form of vitamin A, called provitamin A, and is found in plant foods like carrots and sweet potatoes. Animal foods, on the other hand, contain preformed vitamin A. The body converts both provitamin A from plant foods and preformed vitamin A from animal foods into the active form of vitamin A that the body can use.

Why isn’t beta-carotene on the nutrition facts label?
This is because beta-carotene gets lumped together with other forms of vitamin A. When you see vitamin A on the label, it refers to the total amount of vitamin A in that specific food.

Niacin (Vitamin B3)

Vitamin B3 isn’t a well-known nutrient but it works hard to metabolize energy from the food we eat into energy for our body. Vitamin B3 supports the development of babies cerebellum, a region of the brain responsible for balance and motor coordination.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is used by the cells to perform many different functions involved in metabolism, in particular protein metabolism. This means that it plays an important role in converting the food we eat into energy. It supports brain development and a healthy immune system.

Folate (Vitamin B9)

Folate is the naturally occurring version of folic acid (vitamin B9). This vitamin is essential for synthesizing DNA to form new cells in the body and supports areas of the brain involved in balance, muscle coordination, motor and sensory functions. Folate daily requirements for a 12 month old are more than double the daily requirement for a 6 month old.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 helps keep the nervous system working properly. It’s important for making healthy blood cells and DNA (the genetic make-up of your cells). Vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal products; therefore, vegetarians and vegans need to pay special attention to this crucial nutrient. 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a critical role in building and helping brain cells function. It supports the region of the brain called the Hippocampus, which is directly responsible for your little ones’ learning, behavior and memory. Vitamin D supports the immune system by helping the body fight infections and reducing inflammation. It also works along with calcium and phosphorus to maintain strong bones. Learn more about Vitamin D here.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a nutrient that acts like an antioxidant to protect cell damage. It works in partnership with lutein and omega 3 fatty acid DHA to support healthy eyes. It is important for the formation and function of the nervous system.

Zinc

Zinc is a micronutrient found in both plant and animal foods. It’s essential for whole body growth, brain function and memory. Brain cells need zinc to communicate with one another. It also plays a role in healing body tissues and skin when we have a wound; and maintaining a healthy immune system. It’s even important for our senses like taste and smell.

Have more questions? Send us an email at parentingisanart@cerebelly.com and we will be sure to get back to you!