Ensuring your child is getting a wide variety of foods in their diet is of vital importance. But did you know that there are actually certain nutrients that are specifically important for brain development in children? 


Let’s dig into the research.


Choline is a nutrient that is newer to the nutrition world - it was only considered a nutrient by the Institute of Medicine in 1998. Despite its infancy, it is an extremely important nutrient for its role in cell membranes, as a precursor to neurotransmitters, platelet activating factor and its role in donating methyl groups to homocysteine. Choline is also vital for lipid and cholesterol transport and metabolism of methyl groups.

Choline impacts everything from liver function and muscle movement, to healthy brain development, metabolism, and central nervous system. 

While we now know that choline is an important nutrient, most people are not meeting the recommended intake for this nutrient, especially pregnant women and children. 


Where to get Choline From:

  • Beef Liver 

  • Chicken liver

  • Eggs

  • Fresh Cod

  • Salmon

  • Cauliflower

  • Broccoli 


While there is some choline in plant foods, it is far less than in animal foods. For example, 68 grams of beef liver contains 290 mg of choline, compared to ½ cup of broccoli which contains 31.3 mg. 


Docosahexaenoic Acid, or DHA, is a type of Omega-3 fatty acid. It is a structural part of membranes in the central nervous system, and it accumulates in the fetal brain mainly during the third trimester of pregnancy, and continues to accumulate at very high rates up to the second year of life. Our bodies do not make DHA on their own, so we need to consume it directly from food or a supplement. 

Like it’s counterpart Omega-3 fat, EPA, DHA is found mostly in oily fish such as salmon and anchovies. 

DHA helps reduce inflammation and affects everything from reducing risk of heart disease, lowers blood pressure, supporting eye health, and enhancing brain function, especially among infants.  

DHA is important for a baby’s brain and visual development; a pregnant woman’s DHA is passed to her infant during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester, as well as through breast milk.  

In one study, researchers looked at a pregnant woman’s DHA levels before childbirth, and found that it accounted for 33% of the difference in the child’s problem-solving abilities at age one

Where to get DHA from?

  • Mackerel 

  • Salmon

  • Cod liver oil

  • Herring

  • Oysters

  • Sardines

  • Anchovies

  • Caviar



Iron is an essential mineral for brain development, growth, and providing energy for daily life. 

During the first year of life, an infant’s brain experiences rapid transformation, and iron impacts these developmental processes on multiple levels. Adequate iron stores are associated with maintenance of cell energy status, myelination, and monoamine neurotransmitters

Additionally, iron is needed for the development and use of important neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Simply put, iron directly affects the great amount of metabolic energy needed for an infant’s brain development. 


Where to get Iron From: 

  • Meat - beef, lamb

  • Poultry - chicken and turkey (darker cuts have more iron) 

  • Liver and organ meats 

  • Spinach 

  • Seafood - salmon, tuna, calms, oysters, mussels 

  • Legumes - beans, peas, chickpeas 

  • Nuts

  • Tofu 

  • Broccoli 



Lutein is a type of phytonutrient called carotenoid, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Carotenoids are nutrients that are found in fruits and vegetables with red, orange, yellow and green pigments. This is why it’s so important to eat a rainbow of foods!

Why is Lutein Important for Brain Development?
The majority of research on lutein has been on it’s role on eye health, due to its concentration in the macula region of the eye. However, more recently, researchers have found large concentrations of lutein in the  brain across the lifespan. They found lutein concentrations of 60% in the infant brain, despite lutein dietary intake at about 12% during the first year of life. 

This concentration in lutein in the brain suggests an important role in brain development and cognitive function. 

Where to get Lutein From: 

  • Kale 

  • Parsley

  • Spinach

  • Broccoli

  • Peas 

  • Oranges 

  • Rockmelon 

  • Kiwi

  • Capsicum 

  • Pumpkin 

  • Grapes

  • Sweet corn 

  • Egg yolk


Written By Anabelle Harari Clebaner MS, RDN

Brittany Darling