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16 Brain Boosting Nutrients For Kids Every Parent Should Know About

Written by Stacey Segal, RD

Photography by Photos Courtesy of Cerebelly

Did you know the human brain doubles in size by the age of 1? And it’s nearly 80% developed by the age of 3? With these stats top of mind, neurosurgeon, Stanford Ph.D. developmental neurobiologist, and mom of three Dr. Teresa Purzner founded Cerebelly—the first and only science-backed baby food brand that delivers whole food nutrition designed for optimal cognitive development (a.k.a. foods filled with key brain boosting nutrients for kids!).

“The first three years of life is a period of tremendous brain growth, so that by the time you’re 3 years old, your brain is 80% of the size of an adult’s and has twice the connections. That early period of brain development is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get things absolutely right,” explains Purzner. “During that period, different regions grow at different times and each region requires its own set of specific nutrients to grow optimally.”

Cerebelly has two main innovations—Organic Purees and Smart Bars—that are setting a standard above the industry benchmark, with products crafted from whole foods, focusing on organic, veggie-first, no added sugar ingredients, and 16 key brain-supporting nutrients.

Below, the folks at Cerebelly break down the role these key nutrients play in early childhood development.


Choline is an essential nutrient that is crucial for brain development. The brain uses choline, particularly during the first 1,000 days of life, to support the parts of the brain involved in memory storage, recognizing people’s faces, spacial awareness, language, and learning. It’s also important for activating muscles.

Copper is considered to be an essential nutrient for the brain and body. Small amounts of copper, along with certain enzymes in the brain, help form key neurotransmitters that help brain cells “talk” to one another. This is akin to how signals between phone wires allow us to have phone conversations. Copper is also a key nutrient that helps support the hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for memory.

DHA (Omega-3 Fatty Acid) is a polyunsaturated fat found in food. It plays a critical role in the growth and development of the brain, eyes and nerves. Your little one’s brain is going through a growth spurt—a critical window of opportunity. The ability of each brain cell to mature and communicate with other brain cells, depends, in part, on the amount of DHA available. Learn more about DHA here.

Iron is one of the most important nutrients for babies’ overall growth & development. It is a micronutrient that the body uses to carry oxygen to all parts of the body, including the brain and muscles.

Iodine is a nutrient that is present in small amounts in our body but is critical to our health. Iodine supports areas of the brain involved in vision, auditory development, language, balance, muscle coordination, motor and sensory functions. It’s also important for healthy thyroid function.

Lutein is a vitamin-like nutrient called a carotenoid, which acts as an antioxidant. Lutein supports the primary visual cortex, a part of the brain responsible for organizing and processing the things we see. It’s also been shown to impact memory by helping the brain make new associations.

Protein is a powerhouse nutrient that supports the growth and development of almost all body structures and regulates their function. Babies use protein for developing strong muscles, bones, and a healthy immune system. Protein supports brain development by playing a crucial role in the actual building of the brain’s scaffolding and for brain cell function.

Selenium is something our body needs to stay healthy. Selenium works along with other nutrients like iodine, zinc, iron, and copper to support thyroid function and brain development. Selenium is an antioxidant and one of many nutrients that help support our immune system.

Vitamin A (& Beta Carotene) is an important nutrient that supports the regions of the brain responsible for vision and language development. It also supports a healthy immune system. Beta carotene is a form of vitamin A, called provitamin A, and is found in plant foods like carrots and sweet potatoes. Animal foods, on the other hand, contain preformed vitamin A. The body converts both provitamin A from plant foods and preformed vitamin A from animal foods into the active form of vitamin A that the body can use.

Niacin (Vitamin B3) isn’t a well-known nutrient but it works hard to metabolize energy from the food we eat into energy for our body. Vitamin B3 supports the development of baby’s cerebellum, a region of the brain responsible for balance and motor coordination.

Vitamin B6 is used by the cells to perform many different functions involved in metabolism, in particular protein metabolism. This means that it plays an important role in converting the food we eat into energy. It supports brain development and a healthy immune system.

Folate is the naturally occurring version of folic acid (Vitamin B9). This vitamin is essential for synthesizing DNA to form new cells in the body and supports areas of the brain involved in balance, muscle coordination, motor and sensory functions. Folate daily requirements for a 12-month-old are more than double the daily requirement for a 6-month-old.

Vitamin B12 helps keep the nervous system working properly. It’s important for making healthy blood cells and DNA (the genetic make-up of your cells). Vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal products; therefore, vegetarians and vegans need to pay special attention to this crucial nutrient. 

Vitamin D plays a critical role in building and helping brain cells function. It supports the region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is directly responsible for your little ones’ learning, behavior, and memory. Vitamin D supports the immune system by helping the body fight infections and reducing inflammation. It also works along with calcium and phosphorus to maintain strong bones. Learn more about Vitamin D here.

Vitamin E is a nutrient that acts like an antioxidant to protect cell damage. It works in partnership with lutein and omega 3 fatty acid DHA to support healthy eyes. It is important for the formation and function of the nervous system.

Zinc is a micronutrient found in both plant and animal foods. It’s essential for whole body growth, brain function, and memory. Brain cells need zinc to communicate with one another. It also plays a role in healing body tissues and skin when we have a wound; and maintaining a healthy immune system. It’s even important for our senses like taste and smell.

Want to get these nutrients into your kiddos easily? Cerebelly makes it simple. “We have more than 15 nutrients per pouch, and we got really creative in how we delivered these nutrients,” explains founder Dr. Teresa Purzner. “We took things like ground-up maitake mushrooms, chlorella, and algae oil, and blended it all in just the right amounts so that the flavor of each pouch is both delicious and able to deliver meaningful amounts of nutrition.”

You can try them out for yourself and score up to 25% off your first Cerebelly order with code FIRSTBITE10!

This post is brought to you by Mother + Cerebelly.

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