From the moment of conception to the arrival, nine months later, of a fully functioning, living, breathing human being, a baby uses the food that it receives in the womb to develop and grow. Once born, every morsel that goes into their mouth is used to fuel their body and brain for further growth – and at a fantastic rate. So no, little boys and girls are not made from puppy dog tails or sugar and spice – in reality, bones are made of calcium (amongst other things) and blood contains iron. Flesh is made up of protein and more than half of the brain is constructed from essential fats. We are, essentially, what we eat.
One of the most important and valuable gifts that you can give your child is the gift of optimum nutrition. By giving them the right carbohydrates, fats and proteins – the three major macronutrients, as well as all the vital micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that are essential for building, fuelling and energizing the body, you are setting your child up for optimum health and a body and mind built for success.
Macro and micro nutrients
Knowing the theory behind what children should eat is half the battle won, but you need to teach them how to enjoy eating the foods that are good for them. Patrick Holford breaks down the important macro and micro nutrients and gives advice on how you can give your child the best start in life.
Like a cat drawn to catnip, humans are principally attracted to the taste of sweet things – carbohydrates. This is because although it is possible for us to use protein and fat for energy, carbohydrates are what the human body is designed to run on. Carbohydrates are
an important source of fuel for your child too, and should make up a quarter to one third of each of their meals. The trick is to introduce them to the right kinds of carbohydrates at an early age. If you “teach” your child to eat refined, fast releasing carbohydrates from the beginning, all other foods that are not as sweet will never taste as good, and you have lost the battle before it has begun. When children consume a lot of fast- releasing carbohydrates all at once, like a fizzy drink or white toast with jam, their blood sugar levels soar. Glucose is powerful stuff and can actually damage nerves and blood vessels.
Seesawing blood sugar levels can also affect their IQ – and not in a good way. Slow releasing or complex carbohydrates (wholegrains, vegetables, beans, lentils etc.) will help to keep your child’s blood sugar levels even, giving them more energy for longer. What’s more, to maximise mental performance, your child needs to have a consistent and even supply of glucose to the brain.
Fats are an important part of your child’s diet- at least the right ones are. Essential fats – omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids – because of their anti-inflammatory and immune supportive properties, help children to stay physically healthy, reducing the risk of allergies, asthma, eczema and infections. They are also vital to mental development and vitality. A deficiency in essential fats in your child’s diet could lead to fatigue, memory problems, behavioural and developmental problems, depression, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder and even autism. The best sources of these essential fats are oily fish, seeds and nuts. Salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna and eggs all contain good fatty acids. Flax, hemp, pumpkin, sesame seeds, walnuts and corn are all good foods to sneak into your child’s meals whenever you can.
Protein provides your child with amino acids, the building blocks of life. This means that a good supply of protein, and hence amino acids, will make normal growth and development possible. Protein, especially when eaten alongside carbohydrates lowers the GL (Glycaemic Load) of the meal and plays a key role in supporting good blood sugar balance. The best proteins (those with a good balance of amino acids) to include in your child’s diet include; quinoa, brown rice, chickpeas, tuna, salmon, sardines, chicken, eggs, natural yoghurt, cottage cheese, peas and beans, broccoli, spinach, lentils and seeds.
Vitamins and minerals are known as micronutrients, and if macronutrients – carbs, fats and proteins – are the brawn, vitamins and minerals are the brains. Without them, your child can’t turn carbohydrates into energy, process essential fats or build amino acids from proteins. In short, they are key to the task of building and rebuilding your child’s body and brain as they grow. Refining food to make white rice, white flour and white sugar removes up to 90% of some key minerals. Foods such as breakfast cereals must meet legal requirements (which are not optimum levels) therefore have some nutrients added back. The important message here is that getting plenty of these micronutrients in your child’s diet won’t happen by chance. Vitamin and mineral rich foods are unlikely to be their first choice. You have to teach them from an early age to love them. A good quality multivitamin with essential vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, chromium vitamin C, vitamin D and the B vitamins will only help ensure that your child is getting the optimum amounts of the key nutrients they need, and the ultimate head start in life.
Information supplied by Patrick Holford. Image via unsplash.com.