Dr Riham Ammar, specialist pediatrician and medical director at Al Das Medical Clinic in the UAE, talks to us about the importance of kids’ nutrition and offers tips for healthy eating.
Why is nutrition so important for our kids?
Good nutrition from a young age is the foundation of a healthy adult and one of the most important factors that leads to the development of a healthy immune system. Proper nutrition starts during the fetal phase, which is why a mother should be very careful with what she eats during pregnancy. A deficient diet may compromise the normal pace of growth and development and if poor nutrition is prolonged during the early stages of life, the negative consequences will be permanent.
What are the implications of not following a healthy diet?
Healthy eating is associated with reduced risk for many diseases, including several of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. Healthy eating in childhood and adolescence is important for proper growth and development and can prevent health problems such as obesity, dental caries, iron deficiency, and osteoporosis. A poor diet can lead to energy imbalance and can increase one’s risk of becoming overweight or obese. It can also increase the risk for lung, esophageal, stomach, colorectal, and prostate cancers. Children who eat fast food one or more times per week run an increased risk of being overweight and obese and, of course, drinking sugar-sweetened beverages can also have a similar effect. Malnutrition can negatively affect overall health, cognitive development, and school performance.
Can you recommend foods that should be included in kids’ diets?
It can be hard to compete with the fast food chains serving salty, fatty food in bright and exciting packages that come with toys; it’s no wonder that trips to these restaurants have become the pinnacle of gastronomic delight for most pre-school children!
Children need a healthier diet that includes all of the following:
• Carbohydrates: the major source of dietary energy in kids.
• Proteins: essential for growth, tissue repair and enzyme activity.
• Fats: a source of concentrated energy; they also serve as a vehicle for certain vitamins like A, D, E and K. Inadequate fat intake may lead to arrested development.
• Calcium: an essential mineral that leads to the strength and development of bones and teeth. It also plays a critical role in muscle and heart contraction, nervous irritability and blood clotting. Besides milk, all dairy products and green vegetables are a good source of calcium.
• Iron: a very important component of hemoglobin. Foods with very high iron content are liver, heart, meats, beans, green vegetables and cereals.
• Vitamins: organic compounds essential to normal growth and development, as well as for body functioning.
What can parents do to encourage healthy eating?
Parents can help encourage their kids by being good role models. It’s important to make sure the food around the house is healthy as kids can then pick their favourites from healthy choices.
Try to make a variety of tasty healthy food they like; the younger you start, the quicker they will develop their tastes in a healthy direction. Try to make meal time fun and interesting for your child. Pre-school children often love food that is shaped like a clown, a heart, a star and so on. When all else fails, sneak it in!
Make whole wheat bread, carrot muffins. Add shaved vegetables or pieces of fruit to virtually any baked food. Don’t give up; your kid deserves the battle!