NUTRITION FOR A HEALTHY CHILD - AND ITS MOTHER

This page is about nutrition for healthy children - meaning youngsters from birth to early teens - and their moms. There are lots of good fathers about, but in most homes it is the mother who has to look after the family, keeping everyone well-fed and healthy.

It is mom’s special role and it is mom’s special responsibility – and it can be a pretty heavy responsibility.

We hope this helps you.

NOURISHING CHILDHOOD

We all want our offspring to be healthy and normal – or at least not handicapped in any way.

When we imagine the “normal healthy child”, what is he or she like? Every one is unique and every one is special, but one thing is sure – the normal, healthy child should be growing and developing very fast and be full of active energy.

In fact, if a child is not developing well or is not energetically active, we assume that there’s something wrong. And we are probably right.

Growth, development and change

Between birth and adolescence youngsters go through a time of intense development and growth. They are not just getting bigger and heavier, but changing as they develop.

Take one simple example. They start without teeth, grow some, lose them, and grow another set that has to last for life. If their bodies are not getting the nutrients they need, each new development – physical and mental - could be compromised.

And all the while, a lot of their energy is channeled into physical activity and learning, making still more demands on their bodies and minds.

From the word go, then, we need to provide our kids with the best possible nutrition.

Let’s start at the very beginning…

Feeding the baby

Curious as it may seem to some people, the very best nutriment for a newborn human infant is (you’ve guessed it) mother’s milk!

So breast-feeding is in fact one of the very best gifts a mother can give to her infant. But many mothers choose not to do this – some for undeniably good reasons, but most not.

In fact, in the UK, because so many mothers are abandoning breast feeding before the recommended six months, the National Childbirth Trust, Save The Children and Unicef are demanding that baby formula should be treated like tobacco and subjected to a total advertising ban!

There simply is no alternative to human breast milk. Not only is it best to start with, it is also best to go on with. As the baby grows, so the mother’s milk changes in order to provide exactly the right nutrition at each stage of development.

No laboratory-produced baby formula – none whatsoever – can reproduce this ideal balance of correct nutrients for the newborn and developing child.

Nor can cows’ milk, which is an ingredient of most baby formulas and which many mothers turn to at an early stage. Cows milk is ideally formulated for calves, which have very different needs and develop in completely different ways to human babies (they are, for example, able to stand up and walk almost immediately after birth, and increase in weight at a rate way beyond that of a human infant).

Worse still, cows’ milk contains proteins that can cause allergies. Once started, these allergic conditions can be lifelong problems, and there is even some evidence that an infantile allergy to cows’ milk may be a precursor to child-onset diabetes.

Feeding the mother

Mother’s milk is perfect for infant nutrition, but of course the mother herself needs to be properly nourished. In fact, she should be well nourished from the moment of conception, and even before.

Medical surveys have shown that pregnant women who take nutritional supplements are more likely to give birth to healthy children, with higher IQs, than undernourished moms. Can there be any better reason to make sure that the mother is properly nourished?

One vitally important nutrient for a pregnant women and a lactating mother is a high intake of essential fatty acids, notably Omega-3.

Omega-3 is essential for the development of the optic nerve and retina (and therefore eyesight) and also the growth of the infant’s brain, and the infant will take as much as it needs for these purposes.

So the amount of Omega-3 supplied to the growing foetus by the mother determines its visual acuity, cognitive development, and even its sleep patterns.

If the mother does not replenish her own stocks through her own diet, the essential oils will be leached out of her tissues, and especially her brain. It is now believed that this process is one of the causes of post-partum depression that afflicts many new moms.

Growing up

As we have already said, children need a lot of good nutrition to fuel their growth and development. They also need help with warding off the all-too common childhood ailments and building a strong immune system.

Unfortunately, what we think of as a “normal, healthy diet” nowadays often falls short of meeting the youngster's needs.

One aspect of the problem is that the common sources of certain nutrients are no longer providing what is required for proper growth. Refined flours, from which our bread, cakes, cookies, pasta and so on are made, are a classic example.

The refining process was introduced in order to simplify the milling process and extend shelf life – and extensive advertising has persuaded us that refined flours are fully nutritious. What happens, however, is that the oils are removed from the wheat and other grains – but these are the essential oils that are the foundation of good nutrition.

A second aspect of the problem is that children are unwilling to eat many foods which are the source of essential nutrients.

For example, broccoli is particularly rich in vitamins and minerals like Vitamin C and calcium. It also contains phytonutrients which provide good protection against cancer, especially if it is eaten raw.

How many kids do you know who love eating broccoli not only two or three times a week, but every day?

And here’s another aspect of the problem.

Parents are extremely busy and often resort to convenience foods. These are unlikely to provide adequate amounts of the nutrients that growing children need.

In addition, both parents and children fall prey to the aggressive advertising ploys of the food industry, and often are not in a position to make correctly informed decisions. One such example is the breakfast cereal industry: sugar-coated cereals are simply not good enough for healthy, growing youngsters, no matter how appealing the advertisements might be.

Take no chances

Good nutrition for our children is not something we should leave to chance. The best way to make sure that a growing youngster gets all the nutrition that he or she needs to develop well and stay healthy is to add nutritional supplements to the normal diet. This ensures that any nutritional gaps that might occur are immediately filled.

Good quality, food-based, natural supplements are not drugs or medicines. They are simply the nutrients extracted from our normal foods in order to give us a bit more of the nutrition that we really need.

You can compare them to newspaper supplements. The main newspaper gives you your daily diet of normal news, and then there are supplements to give additional information to people who have special needs and interests.

What are these special needs?

Caring for their cells

The growth demands of youngsters are exceptional. New cells are produced at a phenomenal rate as the body weight doubles several times over during childhood. For all this to take place high energy demands must be met and the special metabolic needs must be catered for.

Moreover, in order for tissues and organs to develop and mature properly, all the building blocks that are required must be supplied in adequate amounts.

What are these nutritional building blocks?

* Lipids and sterols which form the membranes of the cells. All cells need membranes, and healthy membranes are essential for healthy cells and therefore healthy bodies.

In addition, the production of all the energy that kids need to grow and develop requires healthy membranes.

Problem? Most lipids and sterols should come from our grains, but these are the very things that have been stripped during the refining processes.

* Balanced protein which supplies the amino acid building blocks for most tissues in the body.

Proteins control virtually everything that our cells do. They are used for the growth and repair of our skin, bone, muscles, eyes, hair, nails.

Enzymes, the things that convert our nutrition into energy and that make all bodily reactions possible, are also proteins, constructed from amino acids.

Protein also builds antibodies to fight infections, bacteria and viruses, and help to increase our resistance to illnesses such as colds and flu.

Our bodies can make only about half of the amino acids that make up the proteins that we need. As with the essential oils, we have to get the rest through what we eat and drink.

* Vitamins and minerals which are necessary for making growth and metabolism possible. They can be regarded as the ‘spark plugs’ within the organs that allow enzymes to perform their functions.

* Antioxidants which are needed to protect the cells from damage. This happens in several ways. During metabolism free radicals are formed. Unless these are neutralised they can cause damage to the cells. Antioxidants are designed to perform the neutralization function.

In addition, a healthy immune system is necessary to protect the body against attack from bacteria and viruses, and fight against diseases such as cancer. Carotenoids and flavonoids found in fruit and vegetables are important antioxidants, as are the Vitamins A, C and E.

Free radical damage may start in childhood, accumulate, and then manifest as disease later in life. The earlier a person begins consuming a diet rich in antioxidants from whole foods and whole-food supplements, the greater the protection from free-radical damage.

The benefits of a high intake of carotenoids and flavonoids show up in childhood in the form of a stronger immune system as well as during adulthood as slowed onset of the effects of aging.

* Omega-3 is hugely important for cardio-vascular health and protection against heart disease and stroke, and the sooner we start protecting ourselves the better.

The best source of Omega-3 is oily fish, like salmon, tuna and sardines (even better if eaten raw!) Apart from the Inuit people, most adults don’t get enough oily fish in their normal diets, and - as with broccoli - it isn’t something that children really go for (hake and chips is not a substitute).

IN CONCLUSION: CHOOSING NUTRITION

One of the best things a mother can do for her child is to provide good nutrition. It’s an important part of what it means to be a mother.

In today’s world, our regular everyday meals almost certainly fall a bit short of the ideal. It makes sense to add a little more of the nutrients that are so vital for sound health and development.

There are a lot of nutritional supplements on the market. For young and growing children, look for supplements that …

* are formulated specifically for children

* come from natural sources rather than synthetic alternatives

* are easy to take, for example, chewable

* are tasty, but contain no sugars or artificial flavours and colours

* contain all the necessary vitamins, minerals, essential oils and amino acids

* contain no contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals.

Quality matters

Lastly, if you are overwhelmed by the variety of products available, be cautious about cheap options.

Good quality nutritional supplements will be made from good quality, natural ingredients in the normal human food chain. Remember that not every naturally-occurring substance is edible, and some are harmful or even poisonous.

Supplements should also provide nutrients in the correct balance to work effectively in our systems.

Look for supplements produced by a company that has a well-established reputation for its commitment to excellence in the formulation of food-based, scientifically tested products.

They may cost a little more, but then how much is your child’s healthy development worth?

For the basics of cellular nutrition for a healthy child - and healthy adults as well - go to our Health Foundations page.