The fact that a balanced, healthy diet is good for children may seem obvious. The vitamins, minerals, and other substances found in the foods that make up a healthy, balanced diet influence everything about your child, from how their brain develops to the strength of their toenails.
What is a healthy diet? Can it really improve kids’ lives now and into the future?
All human beings need adequate nutrition to maintain a good basic level of health. We need a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats to provide us with the proper mix of vital vitamins, minerals, and other substances our bodies need to function efficiently. A dietary imbalance, if it continues long enough, can affect not only a child’s physical growth; it may also affect her mental health and cognitive functions. How they develop as they grow will influence them into adulthood.
Nutrition requirements are higher for kids, in relation to their size, than those for adults. Growing—and maintaining—muscles, bones, and organs, while strengthening them and the other parts of their bodies with physical activity, requires a lot of extra nutrition.
What is a Healthy Diet?
Although the amounts and types can vary with each stage of growth, age, and gender, all human beings need a mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats for optimum health. Infants get all three from breast milk or formula, but as their digestive system matures, children are able to get them from other foods, as well.
Every single cell in the human body is made of protein, but our bodies can’t make protein on its own. To get it, we must eat it. Dietary protein breaks down into 20 amino acids: the building blocks of life. From these the body forms new proteins to build and replace cells.
Children must get 10 of these amino acids from their food. They’re absolutely essential, so we call them the “essential amino acids.”
These are abundant in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans, legumes, and tofu. Note that plant proteins are incomplete. To become complete (with all 10 essential amino acids), they must be combined with other foods. A good example is combining beans with rice.
The body turns carbohydrates into glucose (sugar). The body immediately burns glucose as fuel to power every bodily function, from the firing of brain synapses to building and replacing cells. Excess glucose is stored in the liver and muscles for later use. It’s also stored as fat.
Excellent sources of carbohydrates include vegetables and fruit, whole grain products like bread, pasta, cereals and brown rice. Carbs from processed grains and flours, like cookies and cakes, along with foods with added sugar, like soft drinks, add glucose but little fiber or other nutrition to the diet. Limit or avoid them.
For the body to function normally, dietary fats are essential. But some fats are better than others for children and adults. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are much better for the body than saturated fats and trans-fats.
Good sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are plant oils like canola and olive oils. However, we should limit saturated fats (those that are solid at room temperature). These come from animal sources, like butter, or meat fats. Limit or avoid trans-fats, like hydrogenated oils, including margarine.
A balanced, healthy diet helps kids thrive—and continue to thrive—as they grow to become adults and throughout their lives.
- Helping Your Child: Tips for Parents. (2012, January) National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on August 4, 2014.
- Nutrition for Everyone. (2012, October 29) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved on August 4, 2014.
- Healthy Eating. (n.d.) Nemours Foundation. Retrieved on August 4, 2014.
- Children’s Health. (n.d.) Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Retrieved on August 4, 2014.
- Healthy Eating: What Young Children Need. (n.d.) BBC GoodFood. Retrieved on August 4, 2014.
- Nutrition for Children and Teens. (2014, February) HelpGuide.org. Retrieved on August 4, 2014.
- What Are Nutrients? (2013) British Nutrition Foundation. Retrieved on August 4, 2014.
Did you like this article? Don’t forget to share with your friends and tell us what you think in the comments section below!