Every parent wants their child to be healthy and one of the most important factors as children grow is good nutrition. For example, certain nutrients can help support strong bones, a healthy immune system, and so on. Three nutrients are especially important to support the developing brain and eyes: Lutein, Vitamin E, and DHA.
"These key nutrients work together to support brain and eye health," explains Abbott registered dietitian and pediatric nutrition scientist, Beth Reverri, PhD, RD. Fortunately for parents and young children, these nutrients are easy to get from breastmilk, foods, and formulas.
How these Nutrients Work Together in the Brain
Before understanding how these nutrients work together for brain and eye development, it's important to understand what they are:
Reverri emphasizes that the location of these nutrients within the brain contributes to their function. "For example," she says, "Lutein is a primary carotenoid found in the eye, which relays visual information to the brain." She also notes that DHA relates to normal structure and function of the brain, and that Vitamin E helps protect DHA from harm.
How Young Children Can Get These Nutrients
"Since the body cannot make Vitamin E and Lutein, it's important to include breastmilk, if still breastfeeding, and foods like fruits and vegetables that have these nutrients," says Reverri.
For Lutein, that means spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, zucchini, asparagus, broccoli, egg yolk, corn, and red apples. Vitamin E is present in almonds, sunflower, safflower, canola, & olive oils, hazelnuts, peanuts, avocado, spinach, broccoli, and carrots, while DHA can be found in fish, such as salmon, trout, and sardines. Even though toddlers may be better at eating foods, some of these may still be choking hazards, especially whole grapes, raw fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds.
For toddlers who don’t regularly eat these foods yet, Reverri recommends Go & Grow by Similac®, a milk-based toddler drink with OptiGro™, a unique blend of Lutein, Vitamin E, and DHA. Each 0.5 cup serving (or 4 fl oz) is a good source of 14 vitamins and minerals and has nutrients commonly found in cow’s milk like Calcium and Vitamin D as well as key nutrients not found in milk, such as Iron, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E.
Babies can get this same unique blend from breastmilk or many Similac baby formulas, such as Similac Pro-Advance with HMO, to support brain and eye development. Plus, Similac also has the OptiGro blend that helps support learning and development.
The Gut and Brain Connection
"The gut and brain connection is an extensive network of nerve cells that act as a two-way communication signal between the brain and gut," says Reverri. Signals are sent back and forth to regulate a multitude of health factors, including hunger, stress, and illness. For example, when a child becomes sick, the gut dispatches signals to the brain to create an immune response, making it a vital first line of defense against sickness.
Building A Healthy Gut
Gut bacteria in our systems grow over time, but "you can support a healthy gut at a young age by eating a well-rounded diet with plenty of fiber, whole grains, and prebiotics," says Reverri.
For toddlers who don’t regularly eat these foods yet, Reverri again recommends Go & Grow by Similac with 2’-FL HMO, an important immune-nourishing prebiotic that helps stimulate the growth of good bacteria to support digestive health and contributes to the developing immune system. For babies, there is Similac Pro-Advance with HMO, which is Abbott’s closest formula to breastmilk.
Nutrition is important at every stage of life, but especially during the first years of life when there is rapid growth.
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Decoding Your Child's Growth Chart
Pediatricians have several different tools they can use to measure your child's health. One of the most powerful among them is the growth chart. Sometimes, it can be difficult to make sense of all those lines and numbers — if you've felt this before, you're not alone. Here's some valuable insight into how to decode and better understand your child's chart. A Window Into Your Child's Health The growth chart might seem like just another piece of paper, but it's packed with several important insights. On the surface, it can look like these charts are simply about height and weight; however, growth is an indicator of many aspects of your child's health and well-being, such as cognitive development, immunity and nutrition status. One Size Doesn't Fit All The growth chart uses a set of measurements, called percentiles, to compare your child's weight, height and head size (in the case of infants) to those of other children of the same age and sex. The higher the percentile, the larger a child is compared to their peers. Conversely, the lower the percentile, the smaller the child. For example, if your child is in the 75th percentile for height, that means they are taller than 75% of kids their age. Kids of average height for their age based on WHO Child growth standards would measure in the 50th percentile. It's natural to assume bigger is better, but that's not necessarily the case. Many factors influence a child's size, including genetics, diet, and even their environment. Instead of focusing on a specific goal, pediatricians are far more interested in each child's individual growth trend. For instance, a child who has consistently been in the 30th percentile for height or weight might be experiencing perfectly healthy growth; however, if that number were to suddenly drop to the 15th percentile or below, further investigation might make sense. Adding Up the Numbers Because children experience different rates of growth according to their age, there are two basic types of growth charts. The first is designed for newborns and babies up to age 2, while the other is for kids and young adults between the ages of 2 and 20. At every wellness visit, your pediatrician will measure your child's height and weight to keep close tabs on their growth trend. Then, they'll plot these figures on the chart. You don't have to wait until your child's next appointment to learn the results. You can download the same charts they use and plot the results yourself.
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