As parents, we want to give our children the best possible start to life. A healthy diet and good nutrition are key to keeping them healthy, whilst also providing essential nutrients needed for physical growth and cognitive development.
“Supporting children’s health is vital for supporting their overall wellbeing, growth and development. If a child’s health is not supported it could potentially have detrimental effects lasting into their adulthood and even their health in old age,” comments nutritional therapist Claire Barnes, technical advisor at ADM Protexin, manufacturers of the Bio-Kult and Lepicol ranges. “There is substantial evidence that poor diet and poor physical activity patterns in childhood can lead to chronic conditions later in life, such as heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and some forms of cancer.”
Marta Anhelush, Clinical Nutrition Manager at BioCare, adds: “Our children are facing a lot of challenges these days; busy schedules, exams, peer pressure, extra-curriculum activities, maybe even bullying or anxiety. At the same time, their growing bodies require a lot of nutrients on a daily basis. We’re seeing a huge increase in childhood allergies and mental health problems in particular, nutrition and lifestyle play a huge role in their development.”
As an adult, it’s crucial to take responsibility when it comes to supporting the health of the children around you – which seems quite daunting, but it doesn’t need to be.
Nutritional therapist Rose Holmes, education and training manager at Rio Health, says: “Parents can support their children’s health best by providing good wholesome natural foods, especially vitamin and mineral-rich vegetables and fruit. Ensuring balanced intake of healthy wholesome foods, avoiding or limiting processed foods and ensuring all vitamin and mineral needs are met can optimise health and give children the best start in life.”
Keeley Berry, nutritional expert and NPD executive at BetterYou, recommends leading by example: “We all know that children learn by example, so whenever possible be sure to lead the way when it comes to a balanced diet, mindfulness and making time for exercise. Eating mealtimes together, making ‘vitamin time’ a fun, family ‘mission’ and taking up a physical activity will all encourage this, whilst providing enjoyment for the kids.
“With older children, you can also involve them with the food shopping and cooking, which will help them to learn about the food they’re eating and encourage them to make healthy choices. These behaviours will then become second nature as children learn to take care of their own health.”
Nutrition and diet are key for optimal health, so Anhelush advises: “Making sure they are eating plenty of vegetables, good sources of protein and healthy fats provides a really good foundation. Breakfast is a good starting point so rather than having breakfast cereal, switch to something protein and fat based such as eggs, avocados, homemade or nutty granola with some berries and natural yoghurt. That will not only keep their energy stable throughout the day, but will also help them to stay focused and concentrated at school. Those foods are also packed with nutrients that will support their immune system and keep infections at bay.”
“Supporting a child’s health is much like supporting your own health; however we must also consider their critical growth and development requirements,” comments Barnes. “Importantly, whilst we need to ensure we are supporting children’s health through adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle, we also need to ensure we are educating children about the importance and benefits to their health both now and in the future. An understanding of the principles of healthy eating can help them to make sensible choices as they get older.”
She also recommends ensuring they are physically active: “In the UK it is recommended that children undertake at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day. These activities should incorporate exercises to strengthen muscle and bone at least three times per week, such as jogging, cycling and trampolining. As well as the physical benefits of exercise, limiting their time in front of screens could also help to improve their self-esteem, posture and overall mental wellness.
“Children are often dealing with the additional pressures of exams, tests and social media influences. Encouraging children to incorporate relaxation into their daily lives could help to reduce their anxieties, improve their sleep and improve their overall wellness. Yoga for children, a mindfulness book or app and even practising deep breathing exercises could all be of benefit.”
There are a number of essential nutrients needed for healthy growth and cognitive development. “The essential nutrients for children are iron, calcium, vitamin C and healthy fats,” explains Berry. “Vitamin C can be found in fresh fruits such as berries and oranges, which children tend to enjoy, whilst avocados, fish and nuts or seeds are all sources of healthy fats which will aid your little one’s development.
“Additionally, I would advise that all parents have vitamin D and Magnesium high on their list when it comes to nutrients we struggle to absorb through food alone. Government guidelines now stipulate that all Brits should be supplementing the ‘sunshine vitamin’ throughout the winter months, in the very least.”
“Children need to be eating a balanced wholefoods diet, high in colourful fruit and vegetables, healthy sources of fat and good quality protein to supply them with all the micro and macro-nutrients they need for healthy growth and development,” comments Barnes. “There is a high frequency of vitamin D deficiency in childhood, especially amongst adolescent girls. Although vitamin D is available through foods such as oily fish and free range egg yolks, the levels we can achieve through foods alone is likely to be insufficient. Getting children outside as much as possible between April and October should help to increase their vitamin D synthesis.
“Omega-3 fatty acids, obtained through eating oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines has been shown to be important for brain development in children. A number of studies have shown better academic performance in children who are consuming fish regularly.”
Iron is another key nutrient for babies and growing kids. Rachel Bartholomew, nutritionist and health writer at Nutri Advanced, explains: “Iron is essential for the production of haemoglobin – the component in red blood cells that carries oxygen and delivers it to tissues. It is also essential for normal neurological function. In infants and children, insufficient dietary iron is associated with decreased brain iron and with changes in behaviour and cognitive functioning. Iron rich foods include red meat, poultry, beans, dark green leafy vegetables and dried fruit such as raisins and apricots.”
Children’s bones continue to grow until they reach their peak bone mass in adulthood, at around age 30. Ensuring optimum nutrition and exercise during childhood can help to improve their peak bone mass. “A sufficient supply of minerals in the diet such as calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, as well as being physically active, is important for healthy bone development,” comments Barnes.
Having the optimum balance of bacteria in the gut is especially important for infants and children. Around 70 percent of our immune cells reside in the lining of the gut and are supported by our beneficial gut bacteria,
“Approximately 70 percent of our immune system is located in the gut, so the diversity of our gut microbiome also affects our immune system,” confirms Barnes. “Many studies suggest that increasing microbe exposure (Old Friends Theory) in young children appears to benefit both the child’s gut microbiome and their developing immune system. To increase children’s exposure to healthy diverse microbes, encourage children to play outside, socialise with others, increase their exposure to pets and other animals and actually bathe less often!
“Introducing fermented foods such as plain live yoghurt, or sauerkraut on top of homemade burgers, will also help support healthy microbial balance in the gut.”
BioCare Children’s Complete Complex
Best Choice Junior Multivitamin Oral Spray
BetterYou Junior Sleep Lotion