How your child’s diet affects their braina child's diet affects their intelligence

“My kid won’t eat anything but ___.” Fill in the blank with any common, kid-friendly food: chicken fingers, mac and cheese, hot dogs, etc.

If you’re like many parents, you said this in frustration about your own children, or heard a parent admit it about theirs.

When you’ve got a picky eater, it’s easy to just give your child what they want so at least they’re eating something. Because something’s better than nothing, right? Well, not so fast…

According to researchers from Finland, giving into our children’s eating habits may affect their intelligence.

The study involved 428 children, aged 6-8 years old. Researchers found diet quality was “directly associated” with brain test score.

The children’s cognitive scores were rated on two diets. One is the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH). The other was the Baltic Sea Diet Score (BSDS) diet.

The diets measured intake of fruits, vegetables saturated fat, sugar sweetened beverages, red meat, and other foods.

Overall, the two diet scores showed stronger direct association with cognitive health than other components alone. This suggests that diet as a whole was a better predictor of cognition than single foods or nutrients.

So no, that cookie alone may not hurt Billy’s mental development. But it will if he’s not eating healthy meals and snacks overall.

Interestingly, the relationship between diet and cognition was stronger in boys than in girls. Researchers aren’t sure why, but they suggest male brains are more vulnerable to stress than female brains. So their cognitive development benefited more from a healthy diet.

Overall, the boys had lower DASH scores and slightly lower BSDS when they consumed more red meat and sausages, and had a higher sodium intake than the girls. Something to note when most processed foods are high in salt, saturated fats and sugars. And these foods are often preferred by kids.

It’s no secret foods high in sucrose and saturated fat are linked to cognitive decline in adults. Now it seems cognitive decline can start when we’re not fully developed yet. It’s never too early to start eating right.


British Journal of Nutrition