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Class Act!

With the summer over and a new school year just beginning it’s time to focus on essential nutrition for healthy kids as we head into autumn

Eating a healthy diet has many benefits for children,” says Grainne Gilmartin from health store Sligo Wellness. “A variety of brightly coloured vegetables are a must. Probiotics are essential for good gut health. Kefir and natural yogurt are natural sources of these. Garlic and mushrooms are packed with vitamins and minerals that are helpful for the immune system. We also have to tackle sugar - it’s everywhere and hard for children to avoid it. I would suggest not having any sweet treats in the house. Finally make sure children are drinking enough water.

“Eat breakfast,” says Olive Curran a nutritional therapist based in Galway with PPC. “A good night’s sleep followed by food in the morning helps your child to stay active and concentrate at school. It also means your child is less likely to be too hungry during the morning.

“Include protein at each meal to keep energy and concentration peaked. Animal proteins such as lean meat, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt and cheese contain all nine essential amino acids and are considered the most important for growth. Plant proteins such as beans and pulses need to be combined to achieve the full spectrum of amino acids.

“Choose wholegrain breads and pasta rich in fibre to keep energy up and blood sugar stable. Choose brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, rye, oats, wholemeal bread and wholewheat pasta.

“Aiming for five portions of fruit and vegetables is a good starting point for children. An easy guide is that a portion of fruit or veg is the amount that fits in the palm of your child’s hand. Eating every 3-4 hours, helps to prevent any dips in energy throughout the day. Children should be encouraged to drink plain water.”

Foods to limit

“It’s important to limit added sugars in your child’s diet,” says Olive Curran. “Naturally-occurring sugars, such as those in fruit and milk, are not added sugars. Examples of added sugars include brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup and honey and these should be limited. Sugary drinks contribute to weight gain, tooth erosion and decay. Avoid sugar laden muesli bars and breakfast bars. Offer healthier breakfast options such as overnight oats, porridge, pancakes made with oats and banana, berries and yogurt, eggs with wholegrain toast.

“Yoghurt is a wonderful food for children, but child friendly yoghurts are usually high in artificial colours, flavourings and sweeteners so should be avoided. Limit saturated fats — fats that mainly come from animal sources of food, such as red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. Look for ways to replace saturated fats with vegetable and nut oils. Healthier fats are also naturally present in olives, nuts, avocados and seafood.”

Primary school needs

“When children start school they need essential fatty acids and omegas for brain health,” says Grainne Gilmartin. “Oily fish is a great source of omega-3. Salmon is a good choice as it’s not too strong in taste and is high in omega-3 and vitamin D. It also has small amounts of vitamin A, selenium, thiamine and phosphorus.

Secondary school needs

“Secondary school brings different challenges for children,” says Grainne Gilmartin. “Some children experience anxiety when they have to take tests. The focus is on getting enough nutrients in their diet and keeping them as healthy as possible so as they are not missing school.

“I am seeing more parents coming in for products for teenage boys’ skin. I’m a great believer that you have to work from the inside out to get the best results. Cut out sugar, drink more water and take a good probiotic - and it’s amazing how the skin improves.

“Children who are on the spectrum often need a full overhaul of their diet as they tend to have more gut issues. Consulting an expert is advised as this may include avoiding all gluten and dairy products.”

Super supplements to boost kids’ health

Olive Curran’s recommendations for boosting your child’s health:

Calcium: During early years calcium is extremely important as your kid is growing in structure, building bones and teething. Kids who do not get sufficient calcium and vitamin D are at increased risk for rickets (softening and weakening of bones in children, poor growth).

Multivitamin: A children’s multivitamin mineral will provide your child with all necessary vitamins and minerals required for proper growth and development. A good multi will provide plenty of B vitamins and magnesium for energy, vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc for immunity, calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamin D for bone health and trace minerals for overall health and vitality.

Omega-3: Omega-3 fatty acids are the most critical building blocks of the brain; they are considered essential and must be obtained through diet or supplementation. Without these important fats, it can become difficult for children to concentrate, learn new information, and balance their moods properly. Since most children do not eat oily fish on a regular basis, omega-3s are in short supply during the most critical stages of brain development. Eating oily fish twice a week, such as salmon or sardines, provides a healthy dose of omega-3 EPA/DHA. Or choose a high quality fish oil supplement.

Probiotics: A child’s digestive system needs adequate levels of good bacteria to ensure optimal digestive health. Certain bacteria actually help the body to digest food properly and help to defend it from stomach upset and infections. Adequate bacteria in the gut contributes to a healthy immune system.

Vitamin D3: Vitamin D helps the body absorb minerals like calcium, builds strong teeth and bones, and helps regulate the immune system, which helps the body to fight off infections.

Grainne Gilmartin’s best supplements:

Zinc and vitamin D: we are not getting enough zinc in our diet and we need to be in the sun without sun factor to get vitamin D.

Magnesium: magnesium performs many functions within the body. It helps build strong bones and is recognised for being calcium’s partner in helping to build strong bones, important for growing bodies. Magnesium plays a part within muscle cells that allow them to contract, relax and produce energy, and this includes the brain. It is mainly found in leafy greens, beans, seeds and nuts.

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