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Key nutrients for babies

Key nutrients for babies

The first 12 months of life involve astonishingly rapid growth and development. From the onset of labour, a newborn enters into a variable and foreign environment. They move from having every aspect of life heavily regulated in the uterus, to being in a world with changes in temperature and light, where they feel both hunger and satiety. In this period of time, all of your baby’s organs and systems must adapt to an ever-changing environment. Try to imagine this process, in which incredible stress is brought upon us so suddenly! This stress provides a very important opportunity to adapt. As humans, throughout life we are exposed to stressors (without them we’d be dead!), and we must either remove ourselves from the stress or adapt to cope, and even thrive, in its presence.

The first 12 months of life involve astonishingly rapid growth and development. From the onset of labour, a newborn enters into a variable and foreign environment. They move from having […]

Optimum nutrition is crucial not only for your baby’s immediate health, but also for his or her health in adulthood.

We must strive to provide foods for babies that will positively affect their metabolic programming well into their adult lives. What a gift  to be able to give! Think back to your own life, diet and relationship with food. So many people have unhealthy relationships with food, developing eating disorders and associated physical illnesses. What if you could help your own child to avoid such struggles by nourishing them with the most nutrient-dense foods right from the beginning? That’s not to say they’ll never have any health issues, but it would certainly minimise the chances. For example, we know that babies fed on predominantly high carbohydrate foods, particularly those with a high glycaemic index, have a higher incidence of increased insulin production, which predisposes them to weight gain, insulin resistance and diabetes in adulthood. Animal studies show that this also impacts subsequent generations, so gifting your new bub with nutrient-dense foods means laying a metabolic foundation for your grandchildren as well! Let’s get back to thriving as a species!

Fats
Fat intake for babies and toddlers is estimated to be around 50% of energy intake.

A high intake of fatty acids – in particular arachidonic acid (AA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – help babies to develop a healthy nervous system, cognition, vision and immune function, protecting them from developing asthma, upper respiratory tract infections and allergic rhinitis (hayfever). The intake of fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and DHA is also associated with childhood mental health.

As we saw earlier, cholesterol is crucial for brain development and hormone production. Along with DHA, cholesterol is essential for building myelin, which is like insulation for nerves. Myelin allows information to travel quickly along the nerves from one part of the brain or body to another. It’s no coincidence that eggs are high in cholesterol – nature knows that the potential life that comes from an egg is going to need a lot of cholesterol to develop into a healthy chicken.

Fats also provide fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K (all essential for development), and improve the absorption of minerals. Calories from fat are protein sparing, allowing bubs to use protein for growth, rather than for energy production.

Choline often misses out on getting a mention when it comes to discussing pregnancy, breastfeeding and infancy, yet it is vital for both neurological development and the metabolic processes that ensure healthy cell growth and replication (it directly affects our DNA and RNA production).

Choline also protects a developing child’s brain against toxin exposure. The best sources of choline are breast milk, egg yolks and liver. Nuts, fish and sunflower lecithin also provide useful sources. A mother’s choline levels tend to become depleted during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so it’s super important for mums to have regular choline intake in their diet.

Protein
Protein is a crucial nutrient, especially during times of growth and repair. Considering the vast amount of growth that is occurring at this age, good-quality protein will help develop a happy, healthy and strong child.

Protein is also a vehicle for zinc uptake – a hugely important mineral essential for development of the nervous system, the gut, the immune system and the endocrine (hormone) system, to name a few. Zinc is eliminated via the bowels, so if your bub has chronic diarrhoea, chances are that zinc levels will be easily depleted. One of the most common causes of diarrhoea in babies is dairy. By simply removing dairy you may find your bub experiences their first well-formed poop!

Iron
Iron is incredibly important for neurological development. Inadequate iron intake can result in lower IQ and reduced social development in babies and young children. The effects of iron deficiency in infancy can be irreversible, so it’s really important to ensure iron-rich foods are part of your diet, and your bub’s once he or she starts on solids. Too much iron is not a good thing either, so please see a healthcare provider for blood tests and advice on supplementation.

Because iron is so crucial, Mother Nature has carefully planned for a newborn to have enough iron stores to fulfil their developmental needs until 4–6 months of age. That is why it is important to start solids around this time. Once solids are introduced, animal sources provide the best-absorbed form of iron, with liver being the greatest source. You actually absorb iron from animal sources 2–3 times more readily than
iron from plants.

Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron, too, so ensure that vitamin C-rich foods (such as sauerkraut juice and eventually fermented veggies) are included in menu planning. Fortunately liver also provides an excellent source of vitamin C, covering both bases! Even the very conservative CDC (Centre for Disease Control) states that babies given milk before the age of 12 months, or who have a diet high in dairy, are at risk of iron deficiency.

Iodine
Iodine is crucial for your baby’s development, too. Iodine deficiency is actually the leading cause of preventable intellectual deficiency. The best sources of iodine come from the sea, particularly from kelp, seafood and good quality sea salt (usually greyish in colour and damp in appearance). Egg yolks are also a good source of this mineral.

Fibre
Fibre is a very important dietary inclusion. It’s not only a bit of a broom for the intestines, helping keep our insides clean, it’s also an important food source for the microbes that inhabit the gut. When bacteria in our gut have a fibre feast, they end up producing hugely valuable short chain fatty acids as a result. These fatty acids are then used to feed the cells that line the bowel wall, keeping them (and therefore your immune system) healthy and happy. Excellent sources of fibre include yams, sweet potato, green leafy veggies, carrots and other root vegetables (cooked, raw and fermented), fruits with an edible peel (where most of the fibre is) and berries, nuts and seeds.

Calcium
The first source of calcium is breastmilk. Once on solids there are plenty of sources of calcium that can be included in the diet. Bone broths made from bones simmered for 24 hours in water with a little vinegar (sounds weird, tastes delicious) is one valuable source. Others include seaweed, figs, sardines, turnip greens, broccoli, kale, blackstrap molasses, artichoke, okra, collard greens, kale, bok choy and sesame seeds.

Most importantly, calcium must be consumed along with magnesium, vitamin D and saturated fats to be well absorbed and metabolised. Without these other nutrients, you will absorb very little calcium. Plant chemicals called phytates in legumes and grains block the absorption of calcium. Any seeds or nuts should also be soaked (activated) prior to eating to deactivate the phytates in these foods.

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