As parents, we have grown up in the information age where we were taught the basics of the Food Pyramid in school and the importance of some vitamins and minerals.
With the advent of more accountable research, the replacement of the ‘flawed’ Food Pyramid with the Healthy Plate and the realization of individualized nutrition; our parental responsibilities are more complex than ever before.
For Expat families this is even more so. Our children are third-culture kids with variable eating habits living in different climates with diverse life-styles. Within a family, each child may have different nutritional needs depending on age, gender, food preferences, physical activity level and country of residence. Beyond our good intentions of feeding our children appropriately, we may also need to balance it with their views of certain diets and lifestyle choices.
With 21 years of clinical experience and knowledge of evidence based Nutrition, Dr Sonal Hattangdi-Haridas offers us practical tips for all student children as they develop into young adults.
Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fat are essential in every child’s diet and the importance of a healthy breakfast with carbs, fat and protein cannot be denied for the child’s daily attention and enthusiasm of the school day.
Healthy Carbohydrates provide fibre, sugars, starches and micronutrients. Natural sugars and starches are essential as the primary brain food and energy for red-blood cells and muscles. The healthier method of ingesting these sugars and starches is through eating ‘Complex’ carbohydrates, e.g.- choose brown rice over white rice or Whole-meal bread rather than white soft bread. These healthy carbs are high in fibre and take time to digest. Sugars are released slowly in the blood stream, improving attention in appropriate quantities.
Certain fats such as avocados, a little butter or ghee, fibre intake, brown/red rice and whole fruit rather than processed clear juice, are encouraged as they induce ‘Satiety’ a feeling of fullness, of having eaten enough, thus reducing the tendency to overeat which can happen in simple high sugar and low fat diets.
Iron too cannot be taken for granted. Besides fussiness with green leafy vegetables or red meats, spurts of growth or recovery from illness can show depleted iron stores. Research shows a strong correlation between Iron deficiency anaemia, attention deficit disorder and Autism.
Fish Oil, as Omega-3 supplements are commonly known, are important for children and adults of all ages. Very low in modern diets, Omega-3 enrichment is important for brain growth and protection from chronic inflammation including cancer. Unlike Omega 6 and 9, Omega 3s cannot be manufactured in the human body.
With older children, challenges of stronger opinions, pocket money, fad diets, social/social media pressures, fitness or endurance sport and ethical dietary considerations need to be supported with appropriate exchange and micronutrient support.
With this in mind, Calcium and Vitamin D continue to be critically important for our ‘Man’ child and ‘Woman’ Child at this stage. Ensuring appropriate intake of calcium rich foods, sun exposure or alternate substitution is essential.
Milk, yoghurt, minimal red meats, eggs, bony fish, or in the case of vegans , beans, nuts, red millet and green leafy vegetables can preempt deficiency. Vitamin D in some cases may require additional supplementation from appropriate sources as it tends to dip in the higher years, when academics and university pressures keep our children indoors longer, especially in the daytime. A time of accelerated pubertal growth and stress, research suggests higher rates of depression linked to low vitamin D in teenagers.
For parents of endurance athletes, it is important to ensure their high energy needs are being met. An imbalance of energy where the child is burning more calories than they are eating, leads to dysfunction of growth. This is especially common in dancing, gymnastics, distance running and swimming. With low calorie intake and rigorous exercise schedules, adolescent girls can stop menstruating or not start their monthly period. Known as the ‘Female Athlete’s Triad’. The absence of menses at this stage affects bone thickness and predisposes to stress fractures
Higher energy intake from whole foods rather than sports drinks and shakes is preferred. Most sports nutrition products may not have been tested on a child population and long-term effects on health not reported. Multi-level marketing and incentive sales are rampant in the sports nutrition field at the moment, with the target demographics getting younger each year.
Today as we deal with the swinging pendulum of obesity and body dissatisfaction, we need to empower young people to self-love their body shape and ensure we provide a foundation of health through practical food advice.