The diets of children play an integral role in their health and learning ability, in fact, a nutritious and balanced diet is the most important thing to ensure that your child has a head start toward a healthy life. Providing your child with a healthy eating foundation can correct nutritional deficiencies, help to ward off illnesses and set up good eating practices for life.
In providing good nutrition for children, there are a range of foods that can act as super-foods, providing a higher content of vital nutrients, making them ideal for your child's development and growth.
Oily fish is a great superfood for children. The brain is made from omega-3 fats - found in high quantities in oily fish - and needs them to be replenished regularly. Fatty acids also play an important role in memory, brain function, and heart health, and have been proven to help children who have behavioral and learning challenges.
Good examples of oily fish include mackerel, salmon and tuna.
Fruits and vegetables should form a large proportion of any diet, whether child or adult. Eating a wide variety of different colored fruit and vegetables provides the human body with lots of different beneficial plant compounds that all work together. All fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber, and provide a healthy foundation to the diet. Oranges, apples and kiwi fruit are especially high in Vitamin C, helping to ward off colds and are a good source of calcium, essential for healthy bones.
Generally fruit and vegetables that are fresh, in season and preferably organically grown, are higher in nutrients. Also, the darker the color, for example dark green or deep red, contain more substances that are beneficial for health.
berries, in particular, are a superfruit that provide the highest levels of antioxidants of any food per serving. blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are packed full of antioxidants, as well as Vitamin C and fiber, and protect the cells of the body against damage. Berries can be pureed for babies and cut in half for young children.
Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are great sources of calcium and protein, key ingredients for strong bones and teeth, as well as other vitamins and minerals, so are ideal foods for little ones. Yoghurt also contains helpful bacteria that prevent stomach infections and gastrointestinal problems. Buy natural yogurt with live bacteria and no added sugar - you can sweeten it with pureed fruit or honey to make it more appealing.
eggs are a brain superfood, in fact they are one of the most nutrient-dense foods available. They contain a huge concentration of choline - a nutrient vital for brain development in young children, and are also an excellent source of protein. Eggs contain lecithin, which converts fat into energy and protein faster (essential for healthy bones and muscles), vitamins A and B, iron and zinc. Eggs are one of the most versatile foods around and can be cooked in many ways - boiled or scrambled are usually a favorite with children.
Nuts and seeds are full of healthy monounsaturated fats, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin E and magnesium. Walnuts are particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids, needed for brain and visual development, while Brazil nuts are high in selenium, which is associated with preventing some cancers.
A handful of nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and walnuts are ideal as a mid-morning snack. Rather than children snacking on junk food, nuts and seeds provide a great, healthy practical alternative.
Hyperactivity and food additives
Hyperactivity in children has been increasing in recent years. This term doesn't apply to those that are simply naughty or badly behaved, it refers to children who are disruptive, destructive, can be violent and aggressive, they have short attention spans and difficulty concentrating, they have learning difficulties, they never sit still and they don't sleep.
In a large-scale study on hyperactive children carried out in the 1960s by Dr Ben Feingold, a group of chemicals called salicylates, found in mainly in artificial food additives were found to make children more hyperactive. When the children were given a doughnut filled with artificially colored and flavored jam to eat, their behavior deteriorated within hours. He established that many of the chemicals used as artificial food additives were salicylates, and suggested that these chemicals were the root of the problem for some children.
Children with the condition attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have been found to be sensitive to some of the chemicals. One of the worst is the yellow coloring tartrazine, known as E102, and which is widespread in convenience foods and drinks, including sweets and biscuits aimed at children.
Other studies have since provided links between food additives and ADHD. These studies concluded that a combination of improved diet and simple multivitamin/mineral supplements could change intelligence and behavior in delinquent youngsters.
Essential omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, found in oily fish, are critical for normal brain function. Studies from Oxford University by a leading researcher Dr Alex Richardson, a world authority on the use of fish oils in the treatment of ADHD and similar problems, found that sixty to seventy percent of affected children improved significantly with a daily supplement of a pure, highly concentrated fish extract. To read some of this research, visit www.fabresearch.org.
The ideal diet for children is a healthy, additive-free, organic where possible, varied diet. All children enjoy the occasional sweet treat, so make cakes, biscuits, pies, pastries and puddings at home. That way, you can be sure they are free from artificial flavorings and colors.
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- Williams JI, Cram DM. Diet in the management of hyperkinesis: a review of the tests of Feingold's hypotheses. Can Psychiatr Assoc J 1978;23:241-8 [review].
- Rowe KS, Rowe KJ. Synthetic food coloring and behavior: a dose response effect in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, repeated-measures study. J Pediatr 1994;125:691-8.
- Boris M, Mandel FS. Foods and additives are common causes of the attention deficit hyperactive disorder in children. Ann allergy 1994;72:462-8.