The Importance of Healthy Fats for Brain Health
In the first 1000 days of life, your baby is undergoing a critical growth and development period for their brain, body, and immune system. The internet will probably tell you there are also thousands of ways to support your baby’s development during this time, but one particular recommendation you should pay close attention to is making sure your little one has plenty of fat in their diet.
One of the ways we can provide our infant with a healthy amount of fat is by choosing whole cow’s milk. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children drink whole cow’s milk until they’re at least 2 years old. After your baby reaches that 2 year mark, you may consider switching to a lower fat milk, but before that, whole milk is a key part of your infant’s diet.
Dairy is important in a growing baby’s diet because it helps them to meet their caloric needs for growth, and the fat helps with their brain and eye development. Much of your child’s important brain development happens during these first two years of life (the first 1000 days), and including plenty of fat in your little one’s diet helps ensure proper development.
Some parents may be concerned about the effect of whole milk on their child’s weight, but at such a young age, babies need to be consuming enough calories to support their growth and development. In fact, one study that reviewed about 14 other studies, found that whole cow’s milk was associated with lower odds of childhood overweight or obesity.
If your baby happens to be allergic to cow’s milk, milk alternatives are acceptable (such as fortified soy beverages), but it’s important to keep in mind that they typically have fewer calories, protein, and fat than whole cow’s milk. Milk alternatives tend to have added sugars too, and your child does not need any added sugars at this age.
One thing to keep in mind is that cow’s milk (or any milk alternative) shouldn’t be introduced to your child’s diet until they are 12 months old. Before that, your little one’s body isn’t well-equipped to digest milk or milk alternatives and it could increase the risk of intestinal bleeding. Thus, the best time for whole cow milk consumption is between 12-24 months. Though, this does not include the milk based in infant formula, which is entirely safe for your little one!
Once your child is 2 years old (or if you’re not sure that cow’s milk is a good option for your baby from the start), consult with your child’s pediatrician to discuss next steps and ensure that your little one gets the proper nutrition to grow, develop, and stay healthy.
Vanderhout SM, Aglipay M, Torabi N, et al. Whole milk compared with reduced-fat milk and childhood overweight: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2020;111(2):266-279. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqz276