Nutrition and Fitness for a Lifetime of Health – Part 2
As I noted in my last blog, proper nutrition is important throughout life, but children have special nutritional needs. Children grow faster during their first few years than at any other time in their lives, and this rapid growth dramatically increases their nutritional needs. Although specific nutrient needs vary throughout the different stages of life, there is probably no more critical time for optimal nutrition than during childhood—especially early childhood (ages 2 through 5).
Growing children need considerable amounts of nutrition from their diets, including macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) which provide calories and essential nutrients that are critical to proper growth, development, and immune function. They also need vitamins and minerals — including all eight B vitamins and vitamins C, A, and D, as well as Calcium, Iron, Zinc and other minerals. In addition, growing children need adequate intakes of Omega-3 fatty acids (especially DHA) which are essential for early brain and eye development.
In my last post I talked about how to establish healthful eating habits in children. Another important topic is:
Filling Nutritional Gaps with Dietary Supplements
Despite a parent’s best efforts to provide their child with an overall healthy and well-balanced diet, the reality is that most children are not getting the complete nutrition they need.
National nutrition surveys confirm that children are not consuming the recommended number of food group servings based on the Food Guide Pyramid, with 63% of 2-9 year-olds not consuming enough fruit, 78% not consuming enough vegetables, and only 12.7% consuming two or more servings of whole grains per day.
In a recent study, 25%–30% of infants and toddlers ages 9 months to 24 months did not eat fruits or vegetables on a given day. In fact, French fries were the most commonly consumed “vegetable” for infants and toddlers 15–24 months of age, and an astounding 46% of 7- to 8-month-olds regularly consumed some type of dessert, sweet, or sweetened beverage.[iii]
Studies also have found that children and adolescents may not be getting the recommended amounts of vitamins A, C, D, and E, as well as the minerals calcium and magnesium. In fact, based on the Healthy Eating Index (a tool used by the USDA to measure the diet quality of Americans) most diets of 2-9 year-olds were found to be “poor” or “need improvement.”
To make matters worse, trends in food consumption indicate children are eating larger portions; drinking less milk (but more fruit juice and soda); eating more calorie-rich, nutrient poor meals away from home; and skipping breakfast. These poor food choices and unhealthful eating trends are fueling the childhood obesity epidemic as well as increasing the prevalence of diseases that rarely were diagnosed in children until the past 15 years—including hypertension, elevated cholesterol, arthritis and other orthopedic problems, and a frightening increase in the diagnoses of type 2 diabetes.
Given these unhealthful eating trends and suboptimal nutrient intakes—combined with the fact that many essential nutrients are not stored in the body and must be supplied in the diet on a regular basis—parents should be encouraged to provide their infants, toddlers, and young children with a comprehensive multivitamin-multimineral supplement to fill in nutritional gaps caused by dietary shortfalls.
Another nutritional challenge most children face today is getting adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from the foods they eat. Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in proper growth and development of the brain, eyes, and nervous system. Many organizations, including the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board, the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Dietetic Association, and Dietitians of Canada, recommend increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids in children.Yet studies indicate most American and Canadian children aren’t getting much omega-3 from their diet.
DHA—or docosahexaenoic acid, one of the omega-3 fatty acids used most readily by the body—is found in fatty fish, yet children consume only 20–50 mg of DHA per day. And because of the growing concerns about environmental contaminants in our fish supply, the FDA and EPA advise young children to limit their fish intake. Supplementation with a high-quality dietary supplement that uses highly purified fish oil offers a means for safely providing DHA to our children without worrying about the mercury and other environmental toxins present in the fatty fish that provide the food source of DHA.