We have all heard doctors and nutritionist talk about the importance of getting a well balanced diet. How many of us believe that we are eating correctly? What about our children? Why is it so important for a child to eat healthy food?
Whatever we eat affects every cell in our body. Eating healthy helps us to grow and develop correctly. When you look at the children in underdeveloped countries who have a very poor diet, most of them are extremely thin with very large bellies. Many of these children do not make it to adolescence.
A typical diet should supply all the nutrients, minerals, and vitamins needed for proper growth and development. Proper nutrition carries its greatest influence during infancy to childhood, when the body is actively growing. There are many wonderful books available on nutrition. Your pediatrician should have literature on what to feed your baby as they develop from birth to childhood. If you are vegetarian, be cautious about placing your infant and young children on a strict vegetarian diet. Do your research.
Food contains carbohydrates (bread, cereal, rice, pasta, potatoes), protein (meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, nuts, milk, cheese), lipids (fats, oils), vitamins, minerals and water. All six of these nutrient groups are found in foods in varying amounts. A healthy diet may supply all the essential nutrients and calories for typical growth and development during childhood.
At least half of all calories consumed should come from carbohydrates. High carbohydrate food produces fuel and provide energy for the brain. Carbohydrates can be stored in the muscles and released as needed for energy.
Protein should be 10 to 15% of the total calories consumed. Protein provides amino acids which help with new tissue, hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. It also proceeds nitrogen, which helps to keep tissue healthy. Generally speaking, animal protein is higher in essential amino acids then plant protein. A lack of protein in the diet, especially during infancy, can lead to a reduction in growth rate and muscle depletion.
Lipids (or fats) are another important source of energy. They are also involved in the maintenance and well being of membranes, hormones and cellular signals. Fats produce energy, give food its taste, and make us feel full. Fats are also what generally cause us to gain weight, have cholesterol problems, and can cause blockage in the arteries. Infants require a higher percentage of fat calories then older children.
Vitamins stimulate metabolic reactions without being used up. Fresh food contains vitamins naturally, while they are added to processed foods. If a child is eating a well-balanced diet, they should not require vitamin supplements. Consult with your pediatrician before giving your child vitamin supplements.
We all need various minerals to ensure appropriate body functioning. Minerals such as calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, help with the formation of bones, teeth and for normal muscle contraction. Potassium, chloride, and sodium maintain the body's fluid balance. Having a mineral deficiency, even in the minerals which you only need a minute amount of, can cause some major health problems. Talk with your pediatrician if you think your child may suffer from a mineral deficiency.
Water is essential for life. It is important in the prevention of constipation and dehydration. Water transports nutrients to and waste products from cells, helps to regulate the bodies temperature and is involved in metabolic reactions.
Fiber, although not listed as one of the essential nutrients, is important in your daily diet. Fiber, in the proper amounts, helps to keep your gastrointestinal track healthy.
You can find more detailed information on the Food Pyramid by visiting
www.mypyramid.gov There are also some very interesting website for kids that will help them make the right choices in eating.
Wendy Greif is a mother and graduate of USF in Special Education. She has taught children with various disabilities in both South Carolina and Florida. Mrs. Greif operates an informational website for parents and caregivers of children and/or adults with special needs ([http://www.specialneedschildrenandadults.com]).