Why is early nutrition so important?
- Sufficient calories are required for the energy of daily living and the maintenance of all vital bodily functions, plus additional calories and nutrients for proper growth and development.
- An infant’s body weight doubles by 6 months of age, triples by one year and quadruples by 2 years of age. Rapid growth requires all the necessary vitamins, minerals and amino acids to form healthy new tissues.
- The brain is made up of nearly 60% fat and most of its growth is completed by 6 years of age. Essential fatty acids are required for brain development; however, our bodies cannot make them. We must rely on dietary sources. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish and flax are of the most importance. They promote healthy eyes and skin, as well as balanced immune systems.
- Strong bones and teeth require adequate calcium from food sources such as dark green vegetables, fish, nuts and seeds. Bone structural integrity and flexibility is based on collagen which depends heavily on adequate daily protein intake and vitamin C. Bone formation relies on multiple minerals beyond calcium, including magnesium and vitamin D. Excess sugar, sodium and phosphorous (primarily from soda pop) counteract bone mineralization.
- The average child will acquire 6 ear, nose and throat infections each year, including coughs and the common cold. The body is constantly making new white blood cells to fight off infections. This immune system resilience depends upon regular adequate nutrient supply, primarily from diet. Sugar is an immune suppressor, so minimizing sweets is also important. A child who has a healthy digestive tract, minimizes allergen exposure, gets plenty of rest and nutrient-dense foods will get sick less often and recover faster.
- Plant-based foods enhance gastrointestinal health. They selectively increase growth of beneficial bacteria, aiding in nutrient absorption and immune balance. Deeply pigmented foods like berries are high in polyphenols that feed beneficial bacteria. Fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut and tempeh are gut-healing as well.
- Children are at greater risk of dehydration than adults. Research shows that mild dehydration of only 1-2% body weight loss can lead to irritability and lethargy in infants, and produce cognitive impairment in children and teens. Plenty of clean water consumption is essential to our ability to pay attention, focus and think clearly.
- Obesity in early life is a growing problem. 45 million children around the world are overweight or obese by age 5. There are short and long-term consequences including predisposition for low self-esteem, behavioural problems and mood disorders, higher likelihood of high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease and systemic inflammation. Intervention and prevention of excess weight gain: less screen time, plenty of outdoor play daily, less sugar and calorie-dense foods.
The reality is that there is a rapidly increasing rate of childhood illness that is non-communicable and nutrition-related. It is a struggle to eat a balanced, whole foods diet in an environment full of the newest “food industry” goods, packed with chemical ingredients.
Good rules of thumb when selecting foods:
- Food should be made of real ingredients. If you can’t make it, think twice about feeding it to your children.
- Eat in season and source locally as much as possible.
- Avoid chemical ingredients such as artificial flavours and colouring agents.
- Avoid most foods that come in a crinkly-sounding package.
Tips to Support Healthy Eating Habits:
- Plan ahead for meals and prepare the majority at home.
- Offer a variety of foods and snacks, primarily plant-based.
- Drink water rather than juice, excessive milk or soft drinks.
- Immerse kids at a sensory level with food: preparing, grocery shopping, in the garden.
- Be a great role model!