Nutrition and Fitness for a Lifetime of Health
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).
Good nutrition is essential for the development of healthy bodies that thrive and are full of abundant energy, healthy brain function, a responsive immune system, and strong bones and teeth.
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.
Healthful eating and exercise habits established during childhood also will help reduce the risk of obesity as well as many degenerative and lifestyle-related diseases of adulthood, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, hypertension, osteoarthritis, and other conditions that are related to nutrition, weight, and lifestyle. In other words, nutritional investments early in life — making nutritious and healthful food choices, being physically active, and filling in nutritional gaps with the appropriate dietary supplements— can provide a strong foundation for a lifetime of health and wellness.
How to Establish Healthful Eating Habits in Children:
Establishing healthful eating habits early in life begins with parents and caregivers of young children simply introducing and making available nutritious foods. Nourishing food choices should be available at all meals and snack times that include a variety of good foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, legumes, low-fat or nonfat dairy products, poultry, lean meats, and fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Another aspect of healthy eating is to eliminate or at least minimize unhealthful choices. Fast food tends to be high in saturated fats, calories, sugar, and salt, and negligible in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Children today are consuming sodas and sweetened juice drinks far more frequently than milk and water—with the result being the over-consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and a rising incidence of childhood and teen obesity.
Fostering healthful eating habits also means setting a good example. Practicing the same healthful eating habits you preach for your children is one of the strongest learning tools a parent can offer to a child. In addition, parents should strive to make more time to eat meals at home together as family, engage children in meal planning and food preparation, introduce new foods or recipes on a regular basis, ensure the availability of nutritious snacks, and help children make intelligent food choices when eating out. These good habits and choices will benefit the entire family!
In future blogs, we’ll explore
- Filling the Nutritional Gaps with Dietary Supplements
- Fostering Active Children
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Children’s Health
- Building Strong Bones Start Early
- Children and Vitamin D
- Children and Calcium