5 Must Have Nutrients for Your Child’s Growth And Development

A healthy diet helps optimal growth and development in children. It also helps prevent obesity, metabolic syndrome in later age, malnutrition and deficiency disorders.

The key to proper nutrition is a healthy and appropriate balance of diet and exercise. Foods from five main food groups like grains, pulses, dairy or nonveg, vegetables & fruits, fats & oils are a good starting point for child’s diet.

Even out of the mentioned food groups, there are five most important nutrients which play a vital role in growth and development of children making them “must have food choices” in regular diet of children.

  • Quality protein for optimal growth and development

Proteins are known as the building blocks of human body. They help build, repair and maintain organs and tissues and, are important for the growth of all organs and systems including bones.

Proteins in the body are also a part of enzymes, antibodies, hormones and messenger molecules. Therefore, proteins are important for the growth and development of children.

Quality of Protein is of utmost importance. Milk and milk products such as yogurt and cheese, eggs, meat, poultry and fish are all sources of high quality protein.

Proteins in human body are made up of 20 amino acids. 9 out of 20 are considered essential as they can only be derived from our diet. Any food which has all these 9 essential amino acids present in it is considered as a high quality protein source.

In picky eating behaviour is studied to be negatively associated with growth. Picky eaters are found to consume less protein compared with normal eating peers.

Scientists suggest that children who do not get optimal protein may experience health issues like fatigue, difficulty in concentration, delayed or slow growth, and problems with wound healing and lower immunity.

  • Fiber or Prebiotics for Healthy Digestion

Described by The American Gastroenterological Association constipation is a “symptom-based disorder defined as unsatisfactory defecation and characterized by infrequent bowel movement, difficult stool passage, or both.

Difficult stool passage includes straining, sense of incomplete evacuation, hard/lumpy stool, prolonged time to defecate or pass stool, or need for manual assistance to pass stool”. According to a study in 2009, it was noted that functional constipation had worldwide prevalence of 7 and 30%.

More research has been published on the topic of fiber and constipation in children over the past decade. Positive effect of dietary fiber intake in the treatment for constipation in children was studied in various researches. Increasing the fiber consumption was suggested as the first treatment option for chronic constipation in children.

Constipated children may have lower, same, or higher intakes of fiber than non-constipated children. However, the recommendations continue to focus on balanced diet that includes whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which are associated with higher dietary fiber intake.

  • Calcium for Stronger Bones

Bones form the framework of your child’s growing body. Aiming for healthy bones means including foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is present in many foods, but the most common and widely known source is milk and various other dairy products.

Drinking one glass (roughly 8-ounce) of milk provides 300mg of calcium, which is about one-third of the recommended intake for younger children and about one-fourth of the recommended intake for teenagers.

Soft drinks, juices and flavoured drinks tend to displace calcium-rich beverages in the diets of children and adolescents these days. Research says that children who drink soft drinks consume much less calcium than those who do not.

Replacing even one glass of flavoured drink or soft drink each day with milk or a milk-based fruit smoothie can significantly increase child’s calcium intake. Drinking milk isn’t the only way to be followed for calcium intake.

For example, intake of milk in form of oatmeal or other hot cereals dipped in milk or porridge or smoothie can add variety to child’s diet and make it less boring. Chocolate milk and cocoa made with milk are wonderful ways to increase the intake of milk in your child’s diet.

  • DHA for Sharper Memory

DHA is the principal omega-3 fatty acid in the grey matter of brain and is known to affect brain functions like transmissions, signalling and neurotransmitter pathways. Animal studies have shown that, low brain DHA results in changed behaviour and is associated with learning problems and lack of memory.

In humans, studies indicate that DHA supports normal IQ levels and very well preserves visual learning and memory. For the brain and retina (eyes) it is quite evident that adequate DHA composition allows for optimal functioning.

Foods like fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, avocado etc. are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids which gets converted to DHA in body. Olive oil is another good source which can be used in salad dressings and sandwich fillings.

Including these foods in child’s diet can help them get enough DHA every day to support health. If incorporating these foods is difficult, a pediatrician may recommend DHA supplement or a protein formula which has DHA to meet the required dose of the day.

  • Vitamins ACE for Immunity

Immunity of the child is always a concern for parents. Often the attendance in school is affected due to sick days. Sick children also tend to be more indoors and less social which leads to missing on the social development of the child.

Awareness has taken a peak with COVID 19 and following certain guidelines for health and hygiene are just a start towards a healthy lifestyle. However, kids in the growing age need more than basic things to improve their immunity.

Since it is the growing age, their immunity at the later age will be depending on what foods they are consuming at this age. Foods rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin E function as immunity boosters. Yellow orange coloured foods and green leafy vegetables are rich sources of Vitamin A.

Citrus fruits, guava and berries are rich sources of Vitamin C while pure ghee, fortified oil, nuts and seeds are excellent sources of Vitamin E. Including these foods in child’s diet can be a great way to boost immunity in early age.

Good nutrition is the backbone of child survival, growth and development. Well-nourished children are better able to learn, play and participate in activities and communities. They are also more resilient in the face of illness and crisis.

Making appropriate food choices is an important learning for kids and this can be developed through right guidance and practice by professionals and family members.