During childhood, growth is the primary physiological process that defines development. As parents, if there’s one thing we want to be sure of, it’s that our kids grow up healthy and strong. However, growth can sometimes be a cause for concern. Short stature or growth failure may leave parents worried. To study height, a complex process, we must focus on two critical growth periods – from conception to two years of age and then during adolescence before puberty. Height is a physical attribute determined by various factors. Let’s understand them better.
Genes: Genes determine height to a great extent. According to scientific research, approximately 80% of a person’s height is shaped by the variations in the DNA sequence they inherit. The height of parents and other family members may indicate how tall a kid will be. However, genes are not the only factor dictating it.
Hormones: Hormones like growth hormones, thyroid hormones and sex hormones play a crucial role in bone growth and muscle development.
Physical activity: Engaging in regular exercise and physical activity can significantly impact the growth and development of bones and muscles, resulting in an increase in height.
Nutrition: Speaking about height, how could we overlook nutrition? The food we consume plays a massive role in our growth and development. Inadequate nutrition can lead to stunted growth and shorter stature. Kids must have access to a balanced and nutritious diet to support their overall health and well-being. There are plenty of vegetarian foods that can help support and increase height.
- Dairy Products: Dairy products such as cheese, milk, cottage cheese, and yoghurt are rich in essential nutrients such as calcium, protein, vitamins, phosphorus, and magnesium. Milk is a crucial constituent of a healthy and well-balanced diet because it increases the mineral content of the bones. Calcium in milk is highly bioavailable, making it easy for the body to absorb and utilise it. Milk also contains other nutrients such as vitamin D, magnesium, and phosphorus that work together to enhance calcium absorption. These nutrients play a vital role in the growth and maintenance of healthy bones and skeletal structure. If your kid is allergic to milk or lactose intolerant, avoid milk. Lactose-free milk or plant-based alternatives like soy or almond milk, high in calcium, can effectively replace lactose-containing dairy products.
- Whole grains: Not only are whole grains a great source of fibre, but they also contain protein, calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, B vitamins, and other essential nutrients that support your kid’s growth and development. B vitamins, in particular, promote the growth of bones and cells. Our bodies must receive adequate amounts of zinc and iron for optimal bone strength. Zinc and iron also have a role in a strong bone matrix or structure. Magnesium intake may increase bone density, while its deficiency may negatively affect the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
- Pulses and legumes: Pulses and legumes have gained popularity for their excellent nutritional profile. These plant-based foods are a great source of protein for vegans and vegetarians. They are rich in fibre, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc. As a parent, we must ensure our kids get enough protein, minerals and vitamins for their growth and development. One easy and effective way to do that is to include pulses and legumes such as kidney beans, cowpeas, chickpeas, green gram, black gram, and red lentils. They meet a child’s protein requirements and provide minerals and vitamins that support their height development. Among pulses, soybeans improve bone tissue, which can lead to an increase in height.
- Nuts and oilseeds: Nuts and oilseeds are a great source of vitamins and minerals that boost height. In addition to their delicious taste, they offer several health benefits. Notably, they boast a high concentration of healthy fats and are a great source of fibre, manganese, and magnesium. Add nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashew and pistachios, and oilseeds like sesame, chia, pumpkin, etc. to your kid’s diet.
- Green leafy vegetables: Leafy greens are a powerhouse of nutrients that can do wonders for your child’s health. Apart from being packed with essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium, they also contain fibre. Incorporating leafy greens into your kid’s diet can help meet their daily nutritional requirements and support overall well-being. Green vegetables are a fantastic source of Vitamin K, which promotes growth and maintains strong bones. It increases bone density and supports height.
- Fruits: Fruits such as amla, oranges, lemons, pineapples, berries and papayas are excellent sources of vitamin C. Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in our body. One of its most important functions is the synthesis of collagen, which is like a cementing protein required for bone mineralization. Without adequate levels of Vitamin C, our body’s ability to produce collagen is compromised, leading to weaker bones and a higher risk of fractures.
- Seeds: Seeds such as amaranth (rajgira) and sesame (til) are vegetarian sources of vitamin D and calcium, making them an ideal choice for lactose-intolerant or allergic kids. Incorporating these seeds into your child’s diet can be a great way to promote optimal bone health and development over time.
While genes are not in our control, a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and other healthy habits can lead to better development and growth. During childhood and adolescence, bone growth and development contribute massively to height. For the proper formation of bones, it is essential to have a sufficient intake of energy, proteins, and minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc.
Other trace minerals like copper and manganese, as well as, vitamins C, D, and K, play crucial roles in bone crystal and collagen formation, cartilage and bone metabolism, and maintaining calcium and phosphate balance within the body. Without these nutrients, a child’s bones might not grow to the optimum level, affecting their height.
Although no single food increases height rapidly, we, as parents, must ensure our child consumes a nutritious and well-balanced diet and engages in regular physical activity. Seek the guidance of a qualified nutritionist to get a personalised vegetarian diet chart for your child. You can also check the nutrient intake of your child by checking their nutrition score here.
The views expressed are that of the expert alone.
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