Brain Development Linked to Nutrition

It’s no secret that the typical American diet is taking a toll on the health of our families. While there has been a lot of emphasis on the rising rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes, there has been relatively little discussion of how poor eating habits jeopardize the development of healthy brains.

Forty-five key nutrients are essential for the development of our bodies and brains, including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids, water and complex carbohydrates. Niacin, iron, folate, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6 and essential fatty acids are just a few known for their role in stimulating brain development. Researchers estimate that 50 percent of individuals with autism spectrum disorders are deficient in one or more of these nutrients.

Studies at the University of Sunderland, in the UK, and the Autism Research Institute, in San Diego, have been released regarding children with ADHD. While it is important to ensure adequate dietary intake of these nutrients, that alone is not enough. According to Dr. Robert Melillo, an authority on neurological disorder and behavior problems, “Stimulation without fuel or fuel without stimulation does not work.”

In addition to eating a brain-healthy diet, there are several basic exercises that everyone can do to help optimize brain function. Try this simple wide-eye exercise today: without moving your head, move your eyes as far to the right as they can comfortably go. Hold this position for two to four seconds. Repeat this process, looking to the left, up and down. This eye stretch exercise helps stimulate both sides of the brain and strengthens the eyes ability to track and focus without fatiguing.

Developing core muscle strength through basic exercises like sit-ups and pushups can help improve posture, coordination, motor skills and socialization. Walking on a balance beam (or a curb) stimulates equilibrium and proprioception, which is our awareness of where the body is in relation to the environment around us. Breathing deeply from the diaphragm improves oxygen intake and helps improve circulation, which results in more nutrients being delivered to the brain.

Exercise can help stimulate (and maintain) brain development if three factors are maintained: frequency, intensity and duration. If the exercises become too easy, switch them up to maintain intensity.

Combining a healthy diet and simple exercises each day can help increase the brain’s potential. It’s good to find new ways to exercise or challenge the body and mind to stay physically and mentally sharper, longer.

Stephanie Olivares is a nutritionist at Brain Balance Achievement Center, in Plano. For more info, call 972-248-9482 or visit

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