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The kids are alright

How can we keep the next generation fit and healthy in the face of processed foods and too much sugar in the modern diet? Rude Health asks the experts

“Children consume more fizzy drinks, cordials and fruit juice than previous generations,” says Olive Curran, a Galway-based nutritional therapist with PPC who make Eskimo-3. “There is a greater use of hydrogenated fats and trans fat laden margarines. People are eating more processed foods than ever before. Modern wheat is less nutritious than older varieties of wheat.”

“Unfortunately, our modern diet is very processed with high amounts of saturated fat, salt, sugar and additives that contribute to poor nutrition,” agrees Naomi Osun, registered nutritionist at OptiBac probiotics.

Basic principles

“Nutrition for kids is based on the same principles as nutrition for adults,” says Olive Curran. “Eating a healthy diet can keep energy, improve kids’ memory and concentration, balance moods, help maintain a healthy weight, help prevent mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and ADHD.”

“It’s important to establish good eating habits early on,” says Naomi Osun, “as children tend to adopt these habits when they start to make their own food choices. A varied diet including fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and wholegrains is vital and children under five should be encouraged to eat at least five small portions of fruits and vegetables per day.”

“Aiming to avoid processed foods and to eat foods as close to their natural state is always a good rule of thumb,” says Sian Eustace of health store Healing Harvest in Kinvara, Co Galway. “Try to leave out refined sugars and to keep carbohydrates to wholefood products such as wholemeal flour, bread, rice and pasta. Provide good quality proteins such as fish, meat, eggs, nuts and full-fat dairy produce unless there is an intolerance. Children need plenty of good quality fats, so always opt for full-fat versions of products.”

“Encourage breakfast,” says Olive Curran. “A good night’s sleep followed by food in the morning helps your child to stay active and concentrate at school. 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 are incomplete proteins and need to be combined to achieve the full spectrum of amino acids. Aim to include fish twice a week, with one being an oily variety like salmon, trout or mackerel. Fresh, frozen or canned are fine. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and contain no fat, so they are a great choice for a snack between meals.”

“Saturated fat sources like fatty meat, biscuits and cakes, can be swapped for healthy fats like oily fish, seeds and nuts,” says Naomi Osun. “Foods and drinks high in sugar should be avoided as they can cause dental health issues as well as other health issues.”

Healthy eating tips

“Encourage children to eat more natural foods by avoiding processed foods and sugar,” says Helena Murphy of health store Loop de Loop in Castletownbere, Co Cork. “Make healthy cooked meals and freeze if you don’t have the time every evening to cook. Encouraging children to help with the cooking and preparing of foods will help them try different things and they often will enjoy eating what they have helped to create.

“Make faces with fruit and vegetables to encourage them to eat foods that they might often not like,” says Helena. Avocados mashed up with a banana can be yummy for children. Sugar craves sugar – the less sugar they eat the less they will crave. We have a bad habit of rewarding children with sugary foods, so instead try rewarding kids with an activity they like instead. Making smoothies is a great way to get fruit into children and they taste yummy.”

Super vitamins and minerals

Omega-3: you need 250mg DHA daily to support brain health. 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.

A good multivitamin: will provide plenty of B vitamins and magnesium for energy, vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc for immunity, calcium, magnesium and potassium for bone health and trace minerals for overall health and vitality.

Vitamin D3: crucial for a child’s health and development – it helps the body absorb minerals like calcium, builds strong teeth and bones and helps regulate the immune system.

Calcium: crucial when children are growing bones and teeth. Kids who do not get sufficient calcium and vitamin D are at increased risk of rickets.

Magnesium: sleep problems can be caused by a child being low in magnesium. Magnesium is found in green vegetables, nuts and legumes, seafood and wholegrain cereals.

Iron: required for oxygen transport in the body, energy production, cell and tissue growth, and the synthesis of brain chemicals for mood balance.

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