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Growth and development
In the womb and immediately after birth, the rate of brain growth and development is phenomenal, reaching almost adult status after 1,000 days (about 2 years 9 months) from conception. The bulk of weight gain during this phase is primarily fat weight, including brain weight. The body weight quadruples and the brain weight triples.
Foods for the brain and body
While parents are naturally anxious for their babies to grow, it is important to avoid overfeeding a baby with too much starchy carbohydrates, as this would lay the foundation for obesity in later life.
"Brain foods" are crucial during this phase. Only human breast milk has all the essential ingredients for optimal brain health, so breastfeeding is essential. Infant formula is not as suitable. Among other problems, the manufacturing of infant formula produces oxidised cholesterol, which is harmful for brain development. Infant formula also has two elements that promote obesity: higher protein and higher omega-6 content.
Weaning foods should gradually replace breast milk after at least six months of breastfeeding. Such foods should be nutrient-rich to support the growth and development of both the brain and body. During weaning, it is especially important to avoid high glycemic index foods like sugar and refined flour products, as such foods will increase the risk of obesity and diabetes in later in life.
Food nourishment for children
As the child continues to grow, protein and fats are important. This may surprise you but one reason why children are attracted to deep fried "junk" foods is because they need more fats. Rather than deny them such foods, you should regularly provide them with good quality foods that are naturally rich in fats - like eggs, fish, meat, nuts, seeds, avocado, virgin coconut oil, butter and cream.
Children not only need good fats but also fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A and D3. Vitamin D3 and saturated fat are required for calcium absorption and building strong bones.
Healthy cooking oils such as virgin coconut and olive oils should be used judiciously. While avoiding excess, you also should not restrict a child's fat intake. Giving children enough healthy fats will satisfy their natural cravings without exposing them to poor quality - and often toxic - vegetable cooking oils used in many food establishments.
Another "surprising" nutrient for children is cholesterol. Many people have been frightened into thinking that cholesterol is bad for health. On the contrary, cholesterol is needed for the healthy development and function of the brain and nervous system. For children, cholesterol is one of the important "brain foods".
What's harmful is cholesterol that has been damaged by high heat and heavy cooking methods, which cause the cholesterol molecules to oxidise. So avoid deep frying or browning cholesterol-rich foods like eggs, liver, meat and seafood.
Another aspect you can consider
In addition, you should encourage your children to be physically active, rather than spend all their time either studying or watching television and playing computer games. Exercise, fresh air, sunshine, playing with friends and being in touch with nature - even being exposed to "dirt" - contribute as much to a child's development as nutrient-rich foods.
This content is adapted, with permission, from Book 1 of 2 : The Wonders of Nutrition by Dr Ang Poon Liat. MBBS, M.MED (PAED), MRCP (UK PAED), FAMS, MD.