Supporting Brain and Eye Development in Young Children

Nutrients for Your Childs Brain and Eye Development

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Is your toddler eating enough of these important nutrients?

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JAN. 25, 2020    2 MIN. READ

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:

  • Lutein supports eye health. It is derived from Vitamin A and is the main carotenoid found in the brains of babies. Specifically, Lutein is found in four areas of the brain related to memory, learning, and development.

  • Vitamin E supports developing cells. Vitamin E is also the main form found in the brains of babies. It is found naturally in the foods we eat.

  • DHA supports brain development. It is an omega-3 fatty acid found in cell membranes and concentrates in the brain.

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. 

Protein Snacks for Kids

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If a child is growing slowly or is small for their age, nutritious meals are often a good place to start, but they might not be enough. Some children simply don't have the appetite or have eating habits that prevent them from getting all the nutrition they need at mealtimes. Healthy snacks for kids can help provide nutrients that support optimal growth, especially when it comes to protein. 

How Protein Fuels Development

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From infancy through adolescence, kids need protein to support rapid growth, development and immune health. Yet, research shows that many kids' protein needs go unmet. In fact, as many as one in seven school-aged children in the U.S. fall short of their recommended daily protein targets.1

Here's how to tell if your child is getting enough protein, how to easily add more to their diet, and why this nutrient is so essential for their physical growth and immune health. 





Similac is the first formula brand with both two fluid ounces of HMO for immune support and our unique blend of DHA and Lutein for brain and eye development.


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