Healthy Diet Makes for a Healthy Brain

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Providing my kids with a healthy diet is one of my top priorities as a mom. Honestly, I cringe when I hear about how much fast food and junk some of my daughter's 4-year-old friends eat on a daily basis. We know that quality food helps kids develop a healthy body, but it can also help develop a healthy brain. New research shows that toddlers who eat a diet high in sugar and processed foods may have a slightly lower IQ later in life.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, looked at the diets of 14,000 children born in England. One group ate a diet high in processed foods, another had a more traditional diet of meat and vegetables, and the third ("health conscious") group had a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Children were put into one of the three categories based on parent food logs.

According to the results, "Of the 4,000 children for which there were complete data, there was a significant difference in IQ among those who had had the "processed" as opposed to the "health-conscious" diets in early childhood. The 20 percent of children who ate the most processed food had an average IQ of 101 points, compared with 106 for the 20 percent of children who ate the most "health-conscious" food."

Although the difference was small, the researchers believe it is caused by a deficiency in certain nutrients from eating a diet high in processed foods. I want to do everything I can to give my kids a good start in life. So even if the difference is minimal, it's still enough of a reason to provide my children with a healthy diet. It's not always easy, especially when my daughter asks why she can't have Pop Tarts for breakfast like some of her friends, but she understands that I'm trying to do what I think is right for her.

Looking for ideas to help improve your child's diet? Check out A Parent's Guide to Nutrition for Kids.

What do you think? Do you (or did you) have issues when trying to provide a healthy diet for your young children?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


ERIN_POSCH 8/28/2020
thanks for sharing Report
Interesting article Report
A lot of my food was grown at home so was healthier. Always tried for balanced meals and fortunately it was before the days of fast food. Report
I agree with LOLA. This is a flawed study. Also its important for a children to receive proper nutrients for healthy growth. I have struggled with my weight and allergies so when my grandchild lived with me I feed him healthy beginning in infancy. He loves fruit and vegetables and whole grains and never overate. He is eleven now, slender and very healthy and still eats whatever is put on his plate. He even requests fruits, whole wheat crackers and peanut butter , yogurt and soy for snacks. He rarely eats junk food or asks for it. Report
Must confess, I'd do things differently if I knew then what I know now about good nutrition for my children. Thank God they are lean, healthy, nutritious-minded adults in spite of my laxness. This makes me appreciate the great job my daughter-in-law is doing with my grandchildren. Report
It is a daily battle for me to get my daughter to eat healthy. She is 17 & is very opinionated about what she is & isn't going to eat. I wish that I had started much earlier in helping her develope healthy eating habits. Report
Interesting, sometimes we forget how much our nutrition affects our health and all of our bodies; including emotions, etc. The body, especially the mind, is still sometimes a mystery to us all. Report
"Studies" are always taken with a huge pinch of salt! They favor whatever the sponsor wants it to say...
As for feeding our kids - the same goes as how we eat ourselves. Stay away from processed "food", eat fresh and use sugar and salt sparingly. Report
I am allergic to almost everything in the world. Therefore my childs pediatrican made sure I ate a special diet and breast fed my child for 7 months. He then had some strict rules no mixed foods at all and he stressed the value of avocados as the perfect baby food

When she was between 2 and 3 she did not want meals. She wanted snack plates which consited of finger foods ie; fruits, vegetables, string cheese, whole wheat crackers, turkey roll ups (home made) and llittle homemade dipping sauces. What a strange child. She never whined for soda or candy. She always asked for bottled water and fruit roll ups or beef jerky. Maybe it's because I was a fat child/teen and always watched what I ate as an adult & my little child picked up on it.

I agree with amthecrone and juliemm. This is such a flawed study: there is not enough difference in IQ in the results, there is no indication of the parents' IQ, et cetera. Report
How do you explain away the people with higher IQ's who drink or use drugs alot? Higher IQ didn't help them make better choices, their choices are just not in the "fad que" that the media always needs so that their reporters keep their jobs. Report
When I was a child we ate what my mother put on the table. If we didn't like it my mother would just say "Well, you can go to the neighbor's and see what is there, or you can wait until the next meal and see if you like what I've got at that one." (I disliked liver and sweet potatoes.) So, I ususally had a glass of milk and some jelly bread which was always available. My mother made her own jelly in the summer & baked fresh bread.
So with my children, I just didn't waste money on junk food. Report
First, let me agree that the referring to 5 IQ points as constituting a "significant difference" is an overstatement, let me also say that intelligence in CHOOSING healthier foods is likely less of a role than the impact of COST OF FOOD on food choice.

Poverty has been shown to have a direct impact on intelligence and the role of nutrition due to poverty does likely play a significant role. This does not mean stupid people are poor, it means families in or near poverty have limited choices in food due to cost. The IQ difference in the study, while well within the range of chance, is likely due to factors other than simply healthy foods.

This was such a weak study. I do not know why the authors concluded that the higher, but insignificantly so, IQ's were due to the eating habits. As many others have pointed out, parents with higher IQ's tend to feed their children more nutritious food than do people with lower IQ's, so the most important control, genetics, was not addressed, pretty much invalidating the results. Controls to measure whether the IQ difference was due to genetics or nutrition would have made for an actually valuable study. My own guess would be the answer is --both. Genetics plays a large role in IQ's and common sense tells me that little brains need to grow and growth demands nutrients. The big weak spot of this study was defining the "health conscious" diet as one containing fruit and vegetables. Healthy fats are essential for a child's brain growth and their inclusion should have been vital to the "health conscious" diet. Previous studies have shown many intelligent, health conscious parents have actually stifled their children's brain grown by cutting out essential fats in an effort to prevent weight gain and children on a low fat diet often score lower IQ's overall--a low-fat diet that is healthy for a non-growing adult can be very unhealthy for growing children. My big question about this study is with both both genetics and nutrition loading the dice for the "health conscious" group, why weren't the differences larger? Now there is a study worth doing! Report
The kids on the "junk food" diet had an average IQ of 101; the kids on the "healthy" diet had an average IQ of 106. This is not a significant difference and could have occurred by random chance. And both of these numbers are solidly in the Average range. Report
First of all-- what a freaking adorable kid!! I always fed my daughter good stuff when she was small and whatever we ate went in the cuisineart and I fed it to her as baby food.. as a result she eats everything and never had food issues. We were never ones to eat chips and cookies and such our snacks were popcorn and fruit.fresh vegetables also were at every dinner! Today people are too quick to give their kids what they want to shut them up. We are in charge and we know what they need. It is okay to give into a want once in a while but to use it as a steady diet does nobody any good. Report
Just some thoughts upon reading this article. I recently happened to see a woman buying eight packages of Pop Tarts as the pre-schooler she was with pointed out his favourites. I was pretty horrified. What on earth are you doing even thinking about doing that? Is there not enough in the media these days?

There is a bit of a limit to how healthy our *perceived* best diet is for children. Children need fat for proper brain development. That includes saturated fat and cholesterol. You also have to be pretty sharp as far as what constitutes healthy protein particularly if the child is a poor eater or you want them to eat a vegetarian diet. I am sure a lot of vegetarians are very conscious of these concerns but if someone is pretty casual or just trying to humour their child who doesn't want to eat meat, they've got to get a bit more serious about things.

I agree with amthecrone and julienmm--in fact, I was about to post almost the exact same thing they did, when I saw that they had already posted it. I try very hard to feed my daughter only nutritious food, with rare exceptions (birthday parties, being the major one). She is 8 and has never been in a fast food restaurant in her life. (The McDonalds' playgrounds are a constant torment for us. I think they should be illegal.) But this article is a gross oversimplification of a single study. I'd have to read it, but if they didn't control for the IQ of the parents then the study is basically worthless--countless studies have proven that IQ is largely inherited. And it would certainly make sense that smarter people would be more inclined to feed their kids nutritious food. Parents should teach their kids the difference between eating nutritious foods and junk so the children will learn good habits and have healthy lives, not so they can theoretically get a handful of extra IQ points. (Although the brain, being part of the body, should theoretically benefit from good nutrition as much as the rest of the body does--I don't doubt the plausibility of their hypothesis, just whether or not they've proven anything, and more importantly, the significance of it. 5 IQ points isn't much.) Report
I agree with everyone. Perhaps people with slightly higher IQs tend to know that eating well is better for you. So those who eat better are probably smarter which means their kids are probably smarter. Report
I agree with julesmcgee. There are tons of factors that can interfere with this study. Unless the children are in a bubble, given the same opportunities, and interactions, there is no way to be 100% sure that food directly affects IQ. Although I still agree with the idea behind it; I can notice in myself how sluggish I feel if I eat fast food. Report
I really did not have any issues when my children were toddlers. They ate what I gave them and I gave the healthy foods. It was when they got older when I began to have issues. I still give them fruit, veggies, lean meats and vitamins. However, it is a on going battle with the fast foods, junk foods, & sugar. I try to limit them and when I do have them eat this stuff...I limit the amount (portion control). I hope eventually they will learn from my husband & I to eat better. Report
I agree with could be a correlation. What are the chances that the parents with slightly higher IQ's are more likely to feed their children healthier food (and the children's IQ simply being a hereditary trait)? Report
...I worry less about the alleged IQ/poor diet links- I model, and offer my children healthy lifetime habits that will improve the quality of their lives overall- I don't need statistics to demonstrate that is the case- how we are feeling (i.e., "good") is proofe enough that it is the way to go!;-) Report
This is interesting, but I wonder if it's a case of "correlation is not causation." The IQ difference could be a result of any number of factors of which poor diet is simply a result. Report
Yes the nutrients a child receives is important to development. But this is an oversimplified summary of a research. I am sure that there are many variables affecting parents’ decisions and choices. While I agree with, understand and believe that appropriate nutrition affects a child's development, I also understand that environment plays just as big a role. I am disappointed when I read articles that oversimplify the findings of research. Report