A nutritious balanced diet plays an important part in keeping you healthy. But it’s especially important when you’re pregnant because your baby depends on you for nutrients vital for her growth and development. And your baby’s rapidly growing brain can be vulnerable to any nutrient deficiency, especially, between the twenty-fourth and forty-second week of gestation where rapid brain development takes place.1 So let’s take a look at how your diet can influence your baby’s intelligence.
A Healthy Balanced Diet For A Smart Baby
A healthy balanced diet during pregnancy is important for your baby’s mental and physical development. Generally, you need about 300 extra calories a day when you are pregnant.2 And you also need to make sure that you include a variety of food groups like grains and breads, fruits and vegetables, proteins, and dairy products in your diet.
- Fruits and vegetable contain many important nutrients like vitamin C ( found in grapefruits, oranges, Brussels sprouts, and tomatoes) and folic acid (found in green leafy vegetables like spinach). Ideally, you should have around two to four servings of fruit and at least four servings of vegetables daily.
- Breads and grains have carbohydrates which are usually the main source of energy for your body. They can also contain much-needed vitamins and fiber. You might need to consume between six to eleven servings of breads or grains daily.
- Your growing baby needs a lot of protein, particularly during the third and second trimesters. Make sure you get at least three servings daily. Meat, eggs, and beans are good sources of protein.
- Dairy products like milk and yogurt are great sources of calcium, which is essential for your developing baby. So take in at least four servings of dairy products every day.3
Get Nutrients That Power Your Baby’s Brain
Some nutrients are particularly important for your baby’s developing brain. Let’s take a look at these:
According to research, dietary intake of choline by the expectant mother and by the infant can directly affect brain development. Animal studies have found that perinatal supplementation with choline improves learning functions and memory in rodents. And these benefits endure throughout their lives.4 Eggs are a really great source of choline; other sources include milk, wheat germ, cauliflower, chicken, and pork.5
Iron is another nutrient that is important for your baby’s brain. One study which looked at 278 children found that poor iron status in the womb was associated with lower scores on full-scale intelligence quotient, fine and gross motor skills, language ability, and attention at five years of age.6
Dried beans, dried fruits (for example, raisins, prunes, and apricots), lean red meat (for example, beef), and leafy vegetables like spinach and kale are good sources of iron. Also, foods that contain vitamin C (for example, tomatoes, strawberries, and potatoes) will help your body to absorb iron better, so make sure to include them in your diet too.7
3. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are vital building blocks of your baby’s brain and retina. And that’s not all, they may have a role in preventing perinatal depression too. Now your body doesn’t make these essential fatty acids so you need to get them through your diet.8 Oily fish like tuna and salmon are really good sources of omega-3s. But do keep in mind that sometimes fish can contain toxic substances like mercury which can be harmful to your baby. In fact, it’s best to avoid tilefish, king mackerel, shark, and swordfish as they’re are known to have high levels of mercury. You can also incorporate omega-3s into your diet by having chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans, tofu, ground flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, and canola oil.9
Not getting sufficient protein can also affect the neurological development of your baby’s brain adversely and may even lead to learning disabilities.10 So make sure you don’t skimp on protein during your pregnancy. You can get protein from poultry, low-fat dairy, and meat. Legumes, beans, soy, seeds and nuts (for example, almonds, peanuts, and hazelnuts), and grains like quinoa also contain protein.11
Researchers studying the effects of zinc on brain development have found some indications that a lack of it could have adverse effects on your baby’s brain function.12 Beef, lamb, pork, nuts, legumes, and whole grains are good sources of zinc.13
While it’s important to include foods that contain these nutrients as part of a healthy balanced diet, it’s not a good idea to take supplements without a doctor’s say. An excess of nutrients like iron can backfire and lead to abnormal brain development.14
|↑1, ↑14||Georgieff, Michael K. “Nutrition and the developing brain: nutrient priorities and measurement.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 85, no. 2 (2007): 614S-620S.|
|↑2, ↑3||Diet During Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association.|
|↑4||Zeisel, Steven H. “The fetal origins of memory: the role of dietary choline in optimal brain development.” The Journal of pediatrics 149, no. 5 (2006): S131-S136.|
|↑5||Zeisel, Steven H., and Kerry-Ann Da Costa. “Choline: an essential nutrient for public health.” Nutrition reviews 67, no. 11 (2009): 615-623.|
|↑6||Tamura, Tsunenobu, Robert L. Goldenberg, Jinrong Hou, Kelley E. Johnston, Suzanne P. Cliver, Sharon L. Ramey, and Kathleen G. Nelson. “Cord serum ferritin concentrations and mental and psychomotor development of children at five years of age.” The Journal of pediatrics 140, no. 2 (2002): 165-170.|
|↑7||Iron in diet. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑8||Coletta, Jaclyn M., Stacey J. Bell, and Ashley S. Roman. “Omega-3 fatty acids and pregnancy.” Reviews in obstetrics and gynecology 3, no. 4 (2010): 163.|
|↑9||Omega-3 fats: Good for your heart. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑10||Morgane, Peter J., Robert Austin-LaFrance, Joseph Bronzino, John Tonkiss, Sofia Diaz-Cintra, L. Cintra, Tom Kemper, and Janina R. Galler. “Prenatal malnutrition and development of the brain.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 17, no. 1 (1993): 91-128.|
|↑11||Protein in diet. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑12||Hambidge, Michael. “Human zinc deficiency.” The Journal of nutrition 130, no. 5 (2000): 1344S-1349S.|
|↑13||Zinc in diet. National Institutes of Health.|