Brainy Bites: How Healthy Eating Can Make Kids Smarter

The food that your child consumes now will undoubtedly affect both their physical health and cognitive development. A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health proves this point, revealing that children eating diets rich in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains early in life score higher on IQ tests than their peers who consumed processed foods.

In this article, we will dive deeper into the study’s methodology, results, and the reason why a healthy diet is crucial for a child’s cognitive development. We will also discuss simple ways to encourage your child to eat healthily and develop good eating habits that will benefit them throughout their life.

The Study

The study involved reviewing the health data of 4,000 children who were part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The children’s diets were divided into three categories: processed, traditional, and healthy. Those in the processed category consumed excessive fat, sugar, and packaged food, while children in the traditional group ate mainly meat and vegetables. Children in the healthy group consumed fruits, vegetables, rice, and pasta.

At the age of eight-and-a-half, the children were given an IQ test. The results showed that kids who ate processed foods at age three had significantly lower scores than those who ate a healthier diet at the same young age. Furthermore, the negative impact of an unhealthy diet on IQ scores was greater than the positive impact of consuming healthier food. Interestingly, the researchers noted that eating habits between the ages of four and seven did not have a significant impact on IQ tests taken at age eight-and-a-half.

Why a Healthy Diet Matters

A child’s brain grows at an astonishing rate from conception through early childhood, making it particularly vulnerable to the quality and quantity of nutrients available. A healthy diet comprised of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean proteins, and healthy fats typically delivers an adequate supply of these essential nutrients.

Holistically, a healthy diet helps with overall brain function and development, including memory, cognition, and mood regulation. On the nutritional level, consuming quality proteins, unsaturated fats, and complex carbohydrates provide the building blocks for proper brain function and the production of neurotransmitters responsible for learning and overall cognitive development.

Encouraging Healthy Eating Habits

Establishing good eating habits early in life may require some creativity and persistence from parents. Here are some tips to encourage your child to embrace a healthy diet:

  1. Be a role model: Children learn by imitation, so ensure that you’re setting a good example by demonstrating healthy eating habits yourself.

  2. Involve kids in meal planning and preparation: When children have the opportunity to help select groceries, cook, and serve their meals, they are more likely to eat a wider variety of foods and make healthier choices.

  3. Introduce new foods gradually: Don’t overwhelm your child with new foods. Instead, add new items into their diet one at a time and give them the opportunity to try it in different forms.

  4. Make mealtime enjoyable: Foster a positive food environment by building connections during meals, avoiding distractions and not using food as a reward or punishment.

  5. Educate about nutrition: Teach your child the basics of nutrition in simple terms, and help them understand the value of a healthy diet for their overall well-being.


A child’s diet significantly influences their cognitive development, and establishing healthy eating habits early in life is crucial. By providing children with a well-rounded, nutritious diet, ample opportunities to engage in meal planning, and an environment that fosters a positive relationship with food, parents can set their children up for cognitive success.

The health benefits of good nutrition cannot be overstated. Equipping your child with the tools and knowledge to make healthier food choices, along with maintaining a balanced diet, are essential investments in their cognitive development and future success.