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Children's Health


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Children’s Health
  


As parents we all want the very best for our children, but trying to stay on top of our ever increasing to do lists whilst working on offering up wholesome nutritious meals and being met with tantrums at the dinner table because there is something green on their plate, can be a challenge by any standard! Having spoken to many parents and bringing up a little fussy eater myself, I appreciate this scenario is not uncommon and can often give way to overly processed, sugary, convenience foods being offered to get us through another day - we’ve all been there! Unfortunately, high calorie and nutrient poor diets (think refined grains, processed meats and snacks, soft drinks, fried foods) may not only lead to weight gain in the long run, but is also associated with hyperactivity disorders and problems with concentration in our little ones. A study also found that anxiety in children has risen over the last decades and sadly, stress can drive appetite towards sugary, comfort foods, creating a vicious cycle that carries through to adulthood. So what can we do to ensure we are offering our children the best tools to help them grow into happy and healthy adults with good habits?

Building a Strong Immune System

Good nutrition plays a key role in the development and maintenance of our immune system. Living within our gut are trillions of bacteria collectively known as the microbiome and amongst other functions, they help co-ordinate our immune cells ensuring they attack when needed and stand down when the battle is over. Babies are born with an immature microbiome and strong colonisation early in life through breastfeeding, appropriate nutrition as they move on to solid foods and exposing little ones to microbes, provides the building blocks to nurturing a strong immune system. These are also some of the best protective factors against allergies. The friendly bacteria living within our gut thrives on a variety of plant based foods (think plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables) and fermented foods such as kefir can actually help populate the gut with friendly bacteria. For those times when we need a little helping hand, Biocare have formulated a live bacteria supplement in powder form, which is suitable from birth and can be given alongside bottle or breastfeeding. Viridian’s Mother and Baby is also a great supplement to consider and provides a strain of bacteria called Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG, which has been widely studied for use in pregnancy and infants. Nutrients such as zinc (eggs, wholegrains, lentils, nuts and seeds), vitamin C (broccoli, spinach, red peppers, oranges) and vitamin D (fatty fish like mackerel and salmon) are also supportive of a healthy immune system.

The Sunshine Vitamin

As well as being important for immunity, vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which are nutrients needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. Although some vitamin D can be obtained from food, our bodies have the ability to create it from direct sunlight hitting the skin. This is why in spring and summer we should be making the most of the lovely weather to pack in lots of trips to park, picnics, bike rides and walks in nature. However, as the sun isn’t always a guarantee in this country and obtaining vitamin D from food may prove challenging if your child is a fussy eater, supplementation may be required. Furthermore, the Department of Health recommends that breastfed babies from birth to 1 year of age should be given a daily supplement containing 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D to ensure they are getting adequate amounts. Formula-fed babies however, shouldn't require supplementation until they are having less than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day, as infant formula is fortified with vitamin D. Viridian offer a great Vitamin D supplement in convenient drops that can be mixed into food, water or squeezed straight into the mouth.

Eat The Rainbow

Consuming a rainbow of fruits and vegetables daily can increase the likelihood of children obtaining the nutrients required for growth and the fibre they provide helps move unwanted waste out of their little bodies through regular bowel movements. Evidence also suggests that increased consumption of fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of a number of chronic diseases, as well as improving mood, curiosity, vitality and happiness. The importance of variety stems from the fact that different colours represent the different health benefits they provide. For example, orange coloured fruits and vegetables such as carrots, butternut squash and cantaloup melon contain carotenoids, which promote eye health and support the immune system. Increasing fruits and vegetables in the diet can also aid weight management for children and provide a healthy substitute for high sugar snacks. A recent article released by the BBC highlighted how children aged 4 to 10 are consuming twice as much sugar as they should be and teenagers three times as much. Considering childhood obesity is also on the rise, parents and carers must consider where changes can be made at home to set better eating habits from a young age.

Healthy Fats

Essential fatty acids are important for normal growth during childhood as they aid the development of our central nervous system and brain. They also promote the renewal of skin cells and help regulate the immune system - particularly inflammation. Omega 3 is present mostly in fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, herring and sardines and is important for the whole family for the reasons mentioned above. It is important that we ensure children are getting adequate amounts as research has found this can help with optimising mood, problem solving, planning, as well as having an impact on emotional and behavioural development - now who wouldn’t want that?! If you are bringing up your children vegetarian or vegan, consider plant based sources of omega-3, such as flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds. Again, supplements can go a long way in giving us a helping hand for those periods when we may be struggling to get oily fish in the menu. I have personally tried different brands and flavours with my children and have to say, the Eskimo 3 Little Cubs by Nutri Advanced is a firm favourite…..perhaps it has something to do with the tutti-frutti flavour. A vegan option can also be obtained from viridian who offer a plant-based omega-3 blend.

Top Tips

Children are curious and their little brains are hungry to learn (“why mummy”, “why”, “but, why” - sound familiar?) so educate them! Involve them in the food preparation, even if they simply wash the leaves or get the ingredients from the fridge. Spring and summer also bring a great opportunity to visit ‘pick your own fruit and vegetable’ farms. Create an environment of healthy eating at home. Make sure you always have a beautifully stocked fruit basked and offer them first as a tasty snack. Remember that if the cupboards are filled with crisps and biscuits, little hands are more likely to reach for those first. Sit at the table & turn off all screens. Dinner time can be a great opportunity to sit and talk, even if the grown ups are doing most of the talking. I feel like we have only just managed to do this over the last few years as when my girls were little, most of my time was actually spent picking food up off the floor. Every age brings its own challenges and if this is where you are now, keep going! The time will come when they will sit at the table, if encouraged from a young age. Be patient - you may have to offer the same food several times to gain acceptance. A good trick is to have a one bite rule - you can’t say you don’t like something until you have at least tried it! We have done this with our girls and they have now turned it into a game where they dare each other to try different foods and do blind taste tests on each other! Make eating the rainbow a fun challenge - Dr Chatterjee has a great chart that you can download for free from his website. Put it up on your fridge and see how many different fruits and vegetables the children are eating throughout the week. A little planning goes a long way. Take some time to create a meal plan for the week or at least consider some key dishes you are going to cook and involve the children in the decision making. This way there are no surprises and you can do your food shop better prepared rather than trying to panic shop at the last minute - yep, I’ve been there too and its not fun! Lastly, it is important to lead by example. Children are great imitators and will often model their behaviour based on what their carers do rather than what they say. If our plates are filled with lovely colourful and nutritious food, we are setting an example of what a meal should look like.

If you would like more advice please contact the team at Amaranth on 0161 439 9856, email hello@amaranth-wellbeing.com or call in to see us at 19 Bramhall Lane South, Bramhall.  

References:


1. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-017-4920-5
2. https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-of-childrenand-young-people-in-england/2017/2017
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21651932
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579643/
5. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3738999//
7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728620/
8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4717875/

As parents we all want the very best for our children, but trying to stay on top of our ever increasing to do lists whilst working on offering up wholesome nutritious meals and being met with tantrums at the dinner table because there is something green on their plate, can be a challenge by any standard.