Complete food, Best growth formulation, Power food, The best health drink – these are tag lines used by various health drink or growth supplement brands. But in reality, there is nothing called complete food. Children need dozens of nutrients every day to maintain growth and development. Offering children the right balance of nutrients –carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals – that can maximize their growth potential and brain development, has become a great challenge for parents. Especially in an age where there are more junk or processed foods than healthier or homemade foods. House becomes a battle ground as children are all in favor of processed foods.
Start eating healthy at early years
The best time to start good dietary habits is during the early years. Researchers suggest that the best way to get children to achieve balance in their diet is to teach them very young and lead by example. This is very essential as nutrition in early life play a crucial role in deciding how health will turn out in later life. Diet, exercise and other aspects of children’s daily interaction with the environment have the potential to alter brain health, mental function and physical performance.
Rather than blindly following ‘balanced diet chart’, ‘best brain food’, ‘top food for growth’, it’s essential to understand where the bond with food begins and how food, nutrients and human body interact. A deeper understanding about food and human body would help parent to dish out right amount of nutrients for their children.
Food preference first develops in the womb
“Babyhood and early childhood has been shown to be a sensitive period for food preference development”
Food preference first develops in the womb. Experimental studies revealed that the environment in which the human fetus lives, the amniotic sac, changes as a function of the food choices of the mother since dietary flavors are transmitted and flavor amniotic fluid. Studies show that if moms drink carrot juice during pregnancy, infants are more likely to prefer the flavor of carrots. The journey continues during weaning period. A child develops his or her taste based on flavors she or he experiences through breast milk, since human milk is composed of flavors which directly reflect the foods, spices and beverages ingested by the mother.
This gives us the first cue, if a mother maintains healthy eating pattern, during pregnancy and weaning time, child will most probably positively respond to healthy food. Pregnant women should hence eat a healthy diet with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in order to “prime” their children for later acceptance of a variety of healthy foods.
Food can make your child’s Brain dull or smart as Einstein
Children who don’t get proper nutrition during their first three years may be losing ground in intelligence. Eight-year-olds whose diet had been lower in fats, sugars and processed foods by the age of 3 averaged 1 to 2 points higher on IQ tests
Give the body junk food, and the brain is certainly going to suffer
Brain is a very hungry organ – the first of the body’s organs to absorb nutrients from the food we eat. Despite comprising only 2 percent of the body’s weight, the brain gobbles up more than 20 percent of daily energy intake. Studies suggest the quality of the foods consumed over the lifetime affects the structure and function of the brain. Sugar when consumed in excess, can increase levels of stress hormones in the brain. As adolescence is a crucial time for brain development, high sugar consumption and the subsequent increase in stress hormones during this time may trigger mental health problems, like anxiety and depression.
Low calorie diet, is not always the best diet
It can be misleading to gauge children’s food intake just on calories. A low-calorie diet could easily be high in refined sugars and cereals, but low in protein and essential fats. For eg: a glass of aerated drink and a glass of 100 percent juice may have the same number of calories, but juice is a healthier choice because it does not contain added sugars. Parents must ensure a balanced diet for them- small frequent healthy meals, lots of water, fresh fruits and vegetables and a high intake of essential fatty acids.
- Kids who need to lose weight should visit a dietitian who can explain how to reduce calories safely without losing out on nutrients.
- The more active your child is, the more calories he needs to maximize his growth and development, and boys generally require more calories than girls.
Maintain low salt diet throughout childhood
Homemade meals cooked using fresh ingredients are naturally lower in salt than convenience meals and processed food. A low salt diet throughout childhood will help prevent children developing a taste for salty foods and reduce the likelihood of them eating a diet high in salt during adulthood.
- There is evidence that a high salt diet in childhood can increase blood pressure and thus increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- A high salt intake can cause calcium losses through the urine which can lead to bone demineralization and significantly increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Close look into the function and science of essential molecules
Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behavior, and mood
Omega 3 fatty acids DHA(docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are both essential for fetal development, including neuronal, retinal, and immune function. Recent research has shown that people who get more of these fatty acids in their diet have sharper minds and do better at mental skills tests. DHA is proven essential to pre- and postnatal brain development, whereas EPA seems more influential on behavior and mood. Both DHA and EPA generate neuroprotective metabolites. However, the human body is not efficient at synthesizing them, so we are largely dependent on dietary sources.
- Dietary deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids in humans has been found to be associated with increased risk of several mental disorders, including attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia, dementia, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
- There is also evidence that mothers who used EPA and DHA supplementation during pregnancy and breastfeeding better protected their children against allergies.
Good ‘complex’ Carbohydrates vs bad ‘simple’ Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are grouped into two categories, simple and complex, referring to the speed at which they are broken down into glucose. Simple carbohydrates are broken down very rapidly and include the sweet. Complex carbohydrates are the whole foods that are obviously less sweet – these include cereals, breads, pulses, rice and other grains, fruits and vegetables. Since complex carbohydrates contain lot of fiber, they help aid digestion. Kids need fiber for healthy growth. Fiber wards off type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels in adults and, possibly, children. Fiber’s confirmed benefits for kids include fending off constipation and promoting fullness.
- Including complex carbohydrates like oatmeal at night before bed, can help you child sleep more soundly through the night and fall asleep faster.
Protein and Essential amino acids
Amino acids and proteins are the building blocks of life. When proteins are digested or broken down, amino acids are left. Proteins contain amino acids, of which nine are considered essential and must come from food. The body creates the remaining 14 from the nine food-sourced amino acids (there are 20 in total). The ninth amino acid — histidine — is only essential for infants.
- Animal foods, particularly eggs, supply the essential amino acids (EAA) that your child’s body cannot make.
- No plant food supplies all of the amino acids, so vegans (those who eat no animal food products) must eat an array of protein-packed plant foods to get the EAA they need.
Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body
Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body, maximizes bone growth and shores up the skeleton during childhood and beyond. A small but significant amount of calcium in the bloodstream is needed for a normal heartbeat, blood clotting, and muscle function. The body withdraws the calcium it needs from bones to maintain blood levels, which is partly why children need adequate calcium every day.
- Teenage girls in particular are among those with the lowest calcium intake relative to their needs.
- If your kid do not drink milk or eat more calcium rich foods, then parent should give them a daily supplement with calcium and vitamin D.
According the Institute of Medicine, kids’ daily calcium needs depend on age:
Kids 1- to 3 years old need 500 milligrams.
4- to 8-year-olds need 800 milligrams.
Kids 9 to 18 years old need 1,300 milligrams.
Free radical scavengers: vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene, and the mineral selenium
Antioxidants are also known as “free radical scavengers.” Antioxidant nutrients, include vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, and the mineral selenium. Antioxidants battle the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are by-products of normal metabolism that also form when you’re exposed to air pollution, cigarette smoke, and strong sunlight. As free radicals accumulate, they can damage DNA, the genetic blueprint for cell reproduction, as well as other cell parts. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables, including blueberries and other berries, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, sweet potatoes are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants also counterbalance the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which may cause oxidative damage to cells and modify cell growth regulatory pathways, leading to enhanced risk for carcinogenesis .
Vitamin D insufficiency affects almost 50% of the population worldwide. An estimated 1 billion people worldwide, across all ethnicities and age groups, have a vitamin D deficiency . Children and teens need 10 times more the recommended dose of vitamin D — a vitamin that benefits the neuromuscular system and the overall life cycle of human cells. Milk fortified with vitamin D is one of the few dietary sources of Vitamin D. Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to rickets and bone disease.
- A baby’s vitamin D level depends on the mother’s level in pregnancy and then on how much sunlight and food with vitamin D the baby gets.
Iron is an essential mineral that helps kids stay energized and concentrate at school. Red blood cells need iron to ferry oxygen to every cell in the body. Iron also plays a role in brain development and function.
- Teenage girls must make up for monthly blood losses with iron-rich foods
- Young athletes who regularly engage in intense exercise may need extra iron in their diet
- People following a vegetarian diet might also need additional iron
Children are at high risk of iron deficiency if:
- they are born prematurely
- they drink cow’s milk or goat’s milk before one year
- they drink formula milk that isn’t fortified with iron
Macro and Trace Minerals:
Macro minerals are minerals that a child need in quantities greater than 100mg/day and make up about 1 percent of total body weight. These include sodium, chloride, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium. Trace minerals are elements that are needed in smaller amounts and make up about .01 percent of total body weight. These include Copper, Chromium, Fluoride, Iodine, Molybdenum, Manganese, Selenium, and Zinc. Trace Minerals are inorganic matter that cannot be destroyed by cooking or heat and are essential to the body for a variety of processes. Trace minerals are required for numerous body functions and processes including enzyme function, thyroid regulation, glucose absorption, blood clotting, tissue formation, the transportation of oxygen in red blood cells, detoxification and much more. A deficiency in any single trace mineral can result in an imbalance of other minerals and halt the benefits, making the body vulnerable.
Start small, but start with concrete steps:
- Promote healthy eating by stocking a variety of nutritious foods at home like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy sources of protein, low-fat dairy
- Keep out of your house high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and drinks especially sugar-sweetened beverages
- Encourage children to eat breakfast daily
- Take them along to super markets to buy vegetables and fruits
- Involve them in making food for family like dinner
- Reduce visits to restaurants and limit takeout food
- Make them learn the benefits of healthy eating
Books to read: