It goes without saying that we all want to have healthy kids. We want them to be full of energy, curious about the world, eager to make new friends and experience new things. This is a great reason to make sure that your children have a balanced diet that gives them the right amount of the right nutrients, and not too much of some others. But here’s an even better reason: Children who get proper nutrition usually are healthier, happier, more successful adults. Yup. It’s true. Studies show that kids with better diets have better health outcomes later in life, less disease, higher academic achievement and better relationships. So there is another really good reason to make sure your kids eat right.
The first part of this equation, and perhaps the larger problem in North America, is over-nutrition. Specifically, over-consumption of foods high in sugar, fat and salt are leading to a well-publicized epidemic of childhood obesity that all-too-frequently becomes adult obesity.
As children, people struggling with obesity can suffer from a number of related issues, including:
problems with mobility,
lack of energy, and
In adulthood, these problems don’t go away, but instead are compounded with a strong pre-disposition to chronic conditions including:
certain kinds of cancer.
Worldwide, about 2.5 million people die each year from problems related to obesity. To be clear, the issue of childhood obesity is not exclusively a nutrition problem. Children who are obese are also not likely to be getting anywhere near the amount of vigorous physical activity they need to be healthy. Proper nutrition, including portion control, is one part of the solution, together with a more active lifestyle. That said, if there is a chicken and there is an egg in this dynamic, it’s much more likely that poor nutrition leads to a sedentary lifestyle than the other way around. Healthy eating is key to having the energy needed to get up and moving. It is recommended that children aged 5-17 years old should be moderately to vigorously active for a minimum of 60 minutes per day. Some forms of exercise can include:
outdoor games that involve running or jogging, such as soccer, football, volleyball, etc.
planned exercises like running or jogging,
community activities like walking to a community farmer’s market, the library, , etc. .
When your child understands and lives the many benefits of a healthy lifestyle, they are more likely to carry on this lifestyle into adulthood. But it not just about being fit. There are several benefits to a healthy lifestyle early on. When children are active and eat healthy, they benefit from:
Over-nutrition, Under-nutrition and malnourishment
Given that obesity is the word of the day, it’s important for parents to remember that limiting our kids’ food intake just for the sake of keeping them from being overweight is not the answer either. We know intrinsically that when we’re hungry, we’re not at our best. Under-nutrition is linked to problems with focus, memory and overall learning. In severe cases, say a child that is chronically undernourished due to poverty and/or neglect, learning may be impossible.
But the problems of undernutrition, like those of over-nutrition, don’t stop when a child becomes an adult. Because childhood is such a key time in brain development, not getting the right nutrition at this time can mean permanent consequences in terms of a person’s mental ability and achievement. There’s also mounting evidence that nutritional deficiencies in childhood can increase the chances of developing a number of health problems later, including osteoporosis, certain types of cancer, tooth decay and even hearing loss.
The key to good nutrition in this day and age is to limit processed foods, as these not only tend to be high in fat, sugar, salt or all-of-the-above, but they also tend to lack the nutrients that we may think they have. If you look at the nutritional information for a processed fruit jam, for instance, you may be surprised to find that there are almost no vitamins or minerals.
So, what does proper nutrition mean?
You’ve heard it a hundred times, but let’s make is a hundred and one. Fresh fruits and vegetables are your friends. They have a lot of nutrients that are hard to find in other foods, and they also tend to be low in calories. That’s the key, to get all the nutrients your body needs without overeating.
Fruits and vegetables are great in this regard. That’s why most nutrition experts now recommend that we eat more fruits and vegetables than any other food.
Whole grain foods can be nutrient-rich as well, but they can also be high in calories. White bread really should be removed altogether from most Canadians’ diets, as it doesn’t contain many nutrients, and is mostly empty calories.
Meat and plant-based proteins can also be a healthy choice in moderation. Fish is the lowest in fat, and fish like salmon contains omega-3, which is very important for a child’s brain development. Chicken is another low-fat meat option that has lots of protein. If you choose to avoid meat for your children, beans and nuts are good alternatives, but talk to your doctor or pharmacist to make sure they are getting enough protein for their developing brains.
Ultimately, the nutritional advice that your grandparents were given are probably not that far off what your pharmacist might recommend today. Fruits and veggies are important, of course, and they should still eat their meat (although today we know that there are viable alternatives to meat). A multi-vitamin is always a good idea too. Perhaps the biggest difference today is a focus on portion control that many parents didn’t worry about in previous generations. That’s based on the knowledge that any problems we introduce to our children today are likely to haunt them tomorrow.