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Nutritional Health|07 May 2022

Weighing in the benefits of a balanced diet

Written by Rasika Thakur Parab
H.O.D. The Nutrition Therapy Department at Fortis Mulund with more than 11 years of experience in dietetics and clinical nutrition | Post Graduate in Dietetics, Healthcare Operations Management.

A nutritious food chart is a gateway to a healthy childhood.

The best tradition is good nutrition. Like family customs, it teaches values such as health and wholesome living from childhood through adolescence and adulthood. Healthy food for kids enables them to power through a range of everyday activities, supports muscles and bones, boosts immunity and maintains body weight, amongst other things. It also influences their brain and cognitive functioning, development, and behavioural patterns. Enhanced attention span, learning ability, positive frame of mind and good mental capacity improve academic performance and psychosocial well-being.

Hidden benefits of a healthy diet

Eating healthy can also be the secret to your child’s dazzling smile. Fruits and vegetables require a significant amount of chewing, stimulating saliva flow and making antimicrobials reduce oral bacteria. Carbohydrate-rich foods stabilise blood sugar, improving children’s mood. Complex carbohydrates and lean proteins also reduce unhealthy food cravings.

Here are some helpful tips for a balanced diet for children between two and fifteen.

The Food Pyramid

Healthy food for kids is similar to healthy food for adults. They also require vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein and fat, but in different amounts. The Food Pyramid for kids (visual representation of the components of a balanced diet) specifies the nutrients they get from the primary food groups. The pyramid categorises foods into four separate groups, each occupying one layer and reducing in importance from bottom to top. The World Health Organisation (WHO) modified the pyramid in 2012 to include exercise and water to ensure the optimal effects of the ‘wonder nutrients.’

Eat most – Grains

The essential rung of the food pyramid for kids consists of complex carbohydrates and starch for children to get a kick-start to their day. It includes wheat, whole wheat, oatmeal, quinoa and rice.

Eat more – Vegetables and fruits

A great source of natural sugars, fibre and vitamins, these foods boost overall health and prevent diseases. They are low in calories and fat, thus regulating body weight.

Eat moderately – Meat, Poultry and Dairy 

Seafood, lean meat, and poultry are primary sources of protein, iron, zinc, and Vitamin B12. Dairy products are rich in calcium, protein, phosphorus, and Vitamins A and D.

Make a balanced diet

The key to a balanced diet is including the right amount of nutrients. A healthy food chart for kids would include:

  • 6-8 cereal servings
  • 4-6 servings of fruits and vegetables with 2-3 whole fruits and 4-6 vegetables.
  • 3-4 servings of poultry or meat
  • 3-4 servings of dairy – 2 cups of milk/buttermilk

You can also follow the Healthy Eating Plate for a simple food chain for kids. Half the plate should comprise vegetables and fruits, with colour and variety to get maximum nutrients, one-fourth should be whole grains, and the remaining one-fourth must have protein (poultry, dairy and nuts). Follow this your primary meals–breakfast, lunch and dinner. For mid-morning or evening snacks, nuts and seeds will provide protein, healthy fat, fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Alternatives for vegetarians and vegans

You can follow a vegetarian balanced diet by opting for curd, milk, soy, dal, sprouts and legumes as they aid absorption and increase metabolism. 

For a vegan balanced diet, include soya in your child’s meals. While a bowl of dal contains approximately 7gm of protein, the body only absorbs 3-4gm, but 20-22gm of soya has a bioavailability of the entire 9 grams of protein.

Quick Tip: Dal with rice will provide more protein, as the combined amino acids make for a complete meal.

Avoid undernutrition or over-nutrition

A healthy food chart for kids also means avoiding undernutrition and over-nutrition. Skimping on nutritious food could have short-term effects such as weakness, irritability, poor appetite and being underweight; long-term effects could include reduced learning ability, poor academic performance or general ill-health. Dietary excess causes obesity. Overconsumption of certain nutrients can also be harmful. For instance, excess Vitamins A and B can cause dizziness, headaches, allergic reactions and anxiety.

A simple food chain for kids can still include goodies. They can consume treats made from dates, watermelon and popsicles.


References:

  • Bhatnagar, Shinjini, and Sunita Taneja. “Zinc and Cognitive Development.” British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 85, no. S2, 2001, doi:10.1079/bjn2000306.
  • “Healthy Eating Plate.” The Nutrition Source, 4 Oct. 2021, www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/.
  • Jain, Vandita. “Nutrition and Cognitive Development in Young Children.” Medindia, 6 Feb. 2019, www.medindia.net/patients/lifestyleandwellness/nutrition-and-cognitive-development-in-young-children.html
  • Trovato, Guglielmo M. “Behavior, Nutrition and Lifestyle in a Comprehensive Health and Disease Paradigm: Skills and Knowledge for a Predictive, Preventive and Personalized Medicine.” EPMA Journal, vol. 3, no. 1, 2012, doi:10.1007/s13167-012-0141-2.
  • Burgess, Ann. “Undernutrition in Adults and Children: Causes, Consequences and What We Can Do.” Welcome to South Sudan Medical Journal, www.southsudanmedicaljournal.com/archive/2008-05/undernutrition-in-adults-and-children-causes-consequences-and-what-we-can-do.html.

The views expressed are that of the expert alone.