90 per cent of brain growth and crucial aspects of its development occurs in the first 5 years of life. This is a critical window of opportunity to maximize a child’s learning potential through nutrition. Nutritional inadequacies during this critical period of brain growth, often lead to irreversible cognitive deficits culminating in impaired work productivity in adulthood.
Several nutrients in the diet are known to positively impact cognition and influence learning. Among all these nutrients however, DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) in particular is recognised as essential for normal brain function. DHA is a major building block of the brain. It is the most abundant omega-3 poly-unsaturated fatty acid present in the brain and is found in oily fish such as salmons, sardines and tuna.
According to Bryan J. et al 2004 and Kuratko et al 2013, improving DHA status contributes to brain development by supporting these parameters: visual recognition, positive effects on motor skill development in early childhood, problem solving ability, improvement in short-term memory, reasoning and cognitive speediness.
Overwhelming evidence for the benefits of DHA comes from a recent review of some 50 studies by McCann JC and Ames BN . This review concluded that higher DHA in children’s diets translates into better brain function, especially for cognitive and visual function. An example of a rich, natural source of DHA is Breastmilk. Studies have shown that its high DHA content accounts for one of the main reasons why breast milk may improve the cognitive performance of children. Examples of DHA- rich foods include fish and seafood, poultry and eggs and DHA-fortified milk.
The benefits of DHA-fortified Milk
Intake of DHA of children in Nigeria varies considerably depending on the availability and access to seafood, especially those in land-locked areas. It is clear that most children have a very low dietary intake of DHA given their local plant-based diet.
For these reasons, supplementation of DHA in growing-up milk contributes to the availability of DHA for brain and cognitive development as well as for visual functions. A well-balanced growing-up milk can serve as a valuable addition to their daily diet and thus as a safety net, by providing a substantial part of daily-required (essential) nutrients including DHA.
Peak 456 Growing-up milk is specially formulated with DHA and other key nutrients to support brain development in children aged 4-6 years. It is quite versatile and can be added to a child’s meals for enrichment.
Worldwide, dairy plays an important role in nutrient security. The importance of milk as part of a healthy and adequate diet for children cannot be over-emphasized. However in some parts of Nigeria, children have little or no milk in their daily diet. As we celebrate World Milk Day, It is a call to action for us as a Nation to ensure to do more with milk as it can serve as a nutritional safety net in bridging the gaps between the RDAs and actual intake of some key nutrients such as DHA. Happy world milk day!
By Ngozi Manukaji, Child Nutrition Expert