Monday, May 9, 2011

They May Be Little, But Their Needs Aren’t – Common Problems in Childhood Nutrition

They May Be Little, But Their Needs Aren’t – Common Problems in Childhood Nutrition
Sarah Reid, RHNC

A strong nutritional foundation in childhood is the cornerstone for a lifetime of health and a healthy weight. Thanks to the prevalence of pre-processed, cheap and “artificial” food in our modern world, though, the balancing act of macro- and micronutrients is being upset, and unfortunately it is the youngest generation that are paying the price. Often parents are overly concerned with their picky children not getting enough vitamins and minerals in their diet, especially if they have the notorious “picky eater” syndrome. Deficiencies are very real in the paediatric diet and should always be addressed with food first – because the common “cure-all” technique of giving them a multivitamin can cause problems as well.

The most common deficiency is iron. Worldwide, iron is a major nutritional stumbling block for both adults and children. Although developing countries tend to report higher levels of iron deficiency in their populations, the western world is not immune. The Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance Survey in 2008 found iron deficiency anemia in 15% of children under five, and the numbers don’t get much better as the ages increase. Girls hitting puberty are often exhausting their small stores of the element through menstruation, and inadequate intake in the diet (along with low vitamin C, which helps absorption) does not replace it. For children 1-3 years old, 7 mg is needed daily, which increases to 10 mg for those 4-8. Once puberty starts, women need 15 mg daily until menopause, while men need 11 mg. Animal products, eggs, beans, tofu, dark leafy greens and fortified grains are all ways to get this mineral.

63% of toddlers are lacking Vitamin E. An important antioxidant and body tissue nourishment, it also requires some fat to be absorbed. Infants under 1 year should be getting 5 mg daily, which increases by 1 mg every three years until age 9, where 11 mg is needed. Nuts, seeds, olives and avocado, along with eggs, full-fat dairy and oily fish, are great sources.

Staying inside impacts Vitamin D. Vitamin D is needed for the body to deposit calcium in bones and is a key player in preventing bone losses later in life (bones stop being “built” after age 30). Low levels also have ties to diseases, including diabetes. A half hour in the sun (even with sunscreen) allows for a staggering 10,000 IU to come into the body, while a glass of milk only has 100. The recommended amount for children over 1 is 600 IU, so it doesn’t take much.

Calcium can be sneaky. A calcium deficiency will probably not show up until well into adult life, but it is crucial during the formative years. Less than 15% of girls under 18 have the healthy level of 1300 mg per day, even from both food and supplement sources. Beans, shellfish, tofu and dark leafy greens are all excellent ways to add the mineral.

EFAs The right types of fat – particularly polyunsaturated fats – are missing in both child and adult diets. Polyunsaturated fats provide Omega-3s and that helps control cholesterol. Look for fatty fish like salmon, eggs, avocados and most nuts and seeds to get your daily dose.

Fibre is the first thing to be removed during processing. The indigestible portions of whole carbohydrates have starring roles throughout life when it comes to enhancing immunity, preventing gastric problems and keeping a healthy weight. Most people, especially children, just don’t get enough — only 15 g daily — thanks to the commonality of “white” foods and a diet high in fibre-less meat. The absolute minimum intake for fiber should be 14 g per 1,000 calories, or 25 g per day for women and 38 g per day for men. Nutritionists and dietitians recommend 40-50 g per day for adults and 30-40 g a day for children in order to prevent digestive tract disease and later complications from bacterial overgrowth in the colon, which can take years to show up. Load up on the fruit and vegetables, have a vegetarian bean-based dish once a week for dinner, and switch to 100% whole grain bread and pasta to get things moving.

We can never “properly” feed ourselves or our children at all times, but working towards providing a solid foundation of good nutrition makes large strides in the quest for the ultimate goal of lifelong wellness. It is a world of opportunity for every generation to truly live.

Sarah Reid is a Holistic Nutritional Consultant with her company NEW-trition