Monday 16 December 2019

10 food changes that will transform your child's health

As part of the Irish Independent New You campaign, consultant nutritionist Gaye Godkin has devised a four-part tutorial on turning your health around through better food choices. In week two, 10 simple food rules for healthier children

Children need to eat carbohydrates, but making the right choices is key to achieving satiety
Children need to eat carbohydrates, but making the right choices is key to achieving satiety
Increase children's fruit and veg intake.

As parents, how we feed our children is very important for their future health. Aim to adopt a style of eating 'as I do', and not 'as I say'. Behavioural change is key to a healthy relationship with a child's food environment.

If you want your child to eat healthily, this is only achievable by changing their environment and what the adults in the home eat. We need to switch our focus away from categorising and judging to promoting eating well for overall health and well-being.

We must also be mindful that too much negative focus on a child's size is associated with the manifestation of eating disorders in teenage years. Getting the balance right can be tricky. Here are some tips:

Maintain a routine eating pattern

We all have a relationship with food and the food environment. Fostering a healthy relationship with food during childhood is key to maintaining overall health during the adult years.

During the Christmas period, Irish children have consumed far too many sweet foods. Eating routines tend to become derailed at Christmas time. Getting children back into a regular pattern of eating healthy food needs to be prioritised.

Positive lifestyle changes such as exercise is also important to maintain a healthy weight. Encourage children to exercise daily. They require a minimum of one hour per day. Restricting time spent in front of TV, game consoles and devices can be challenging but worth the investment. Consistency is the key.

Cut out the white stuff

Eating is habitual and taste changes over time including excess exposure to sweet foods. Children instinctively gravitate towards high sugar foods. Excess consumption of sugar and sweetened foods during the holidays can alter children's association with food and impair healthy food choices.

Children are consuming far too much sugar from sweet drinks, sweets, cakes, biscuits, breakfast cereals and sweetened yoghurts. When reading the labels on boxes or wrappers familiarise yourself with the sugar content. 4grams = 1 teaspoon of sugar. Children do not need added sugar, so aim to curtail in the diet.

Modify your language

Unfortunately, Irish children are immersed in an environment that is conducive to weight gain. Being overweight is very topical and a much discussed subject. Weight gain in childhood needs attention. Being overweight is a serious issue as excess fat laid down during childhood is a major determinant of negative health outcomes as an adult. We all need to be more mindful of our language around children. We need to avoid using the word 'dieting' around them. It is giving them the wrong message. Using the word 'obese' is labelling and can lead to feelings of shame, embarrassment and lack of self-confidence for many children.

These are negative feelings that do not promote positive behavioural change. Not only are there health costs associated with overweight children, but your child's weight problem is also intimately entangled in his emotional world. Studies show that children as young as six years of age may associate negative stereotypes with excess weight and believe that a heavy child is simply less likable.

Children need to eat fats

Parents do not need to concern themselves with feeding children low-fat foods, in fact this is not a good idea as most low-fat foods are processed and full of sugar which is the real culprit in the Irish diet.

Children need to eat fats. There are good fats and bad fats. Fatty foods contain vital vitamin A and vitamin D which are essential nutrients. Healthy choices are olive oil, coconut oil, rapeseed oil and rice bran oil. Saturated fats are primarily animal in origin, although nut, seed and olive oil also contain saturated fats.

They are not the demon they were once upon a time purported to be and are safe and healthy to eat. Fats from vegetable sources are considered healthy, however, bottles of vegetable oils, such as sunflower oil and corn oil are highly processed and should be used sparingly. Irish children are eating far too many foods high in 'bad fats' such as doughnuts, pastries, chips, cakes and biscuits.

Feed them whole foods and wholegrains

Children need to eat carbohydrates, but making the right choices is key to achieving satiety. They need a constant supply of energy-rich foods. Carbohydrates are the most efficient fast-releasing fuel for their bodies.

Refined carbohydrates secrete glucose into the bloodstream almost immediately upon ingestion in the mouth. Refined carbohydrates do not contain fibre and are generally processed.

Complex carbohydrates release glucose a lot slower at a pace the body can use them. Complex carbohydrates are whole foods such as potatoes, wholegrains and fruit. Refined carbohydrates, which form a huge part of the Irish diet are, white bread, white pasta, white rice, processed breakfast cereals, fruit juices, crisps, chips, cakes, biscuits and bars.

Making simple changes to include wholegrains, whole fruits and whole foods will give your child the right type of carbohydrate.

Focus on vegetables

Increase their daily fruit and vegetables, focus on the vegetable content of the diet. Vegetable consumption in Ireland is very low. Always include raw vegetables in their lunchboxes. There is an increase in the consumption of fruit in Ireland. This is good, however, fruit needs to be consumed in its natural state, washed with the skin on.

There is a difference between eating a piece of fruit and drinking fruit juice. Nature designed fruit to contain a sugar called fructose which is very sweet. Children require very little fructose. When fruit is juiced it contains only the water and the fruit sugar and no fibre, so avoid fruit juices. Instead offer the whole fruit which contains all the nutrients and essential fibres.

Wake up their taste buds

During the wintertime, the body needs warming foods to sustain it. Foods such as soups, stews and casseroles or homemade curries provide great nourishment to the growing child. The trick is to feed them nutritional foods while keeping the food interesting and tasty. You can disguise a multitude of vegetables in soups so if you are concerned about them getting their five a day, this is a great way to get them into them.

Similarly when making sauces such as bolognese sauce, you can add butternut squash, celery, carrots, onions and red peppers. When the sauce is blended the child will not notice the vegetables. Incorporating lentils and pulses such as chickpeas into curries, soups or casseroles greatly increases the protein and fibre content of the meal. Irish children need to increase the amount of food from plant sources, eventually they will acquire a taste for them.

Sunshine vitamin D

We are now in cough, cold and flu season. The body is at its lowest post-Christmas. The immune system is struggling to cope with the many viruses in circulation. Vitamin D is an essential vitamin which supports and strengthens immunity. Due to our northerly latitude, we do not get sufficient sunshine in Ireland. Particularly during the winter months, we are deprived of this essential vitamin.

The best source of vitamin D is from sunshine. Food sources do contain small amounts of Vitamin D. Foods such as oily fish, butter, eggs, liver and milk contain D but not sufficient for the body's needs during the winter months.

Vegetarians and vegans are most at risk of D deficiency as it is only bio-available to the body in the animal format. National surveys have shown that over 80pc of Irish people have a D deficiency. Since 2010, the HSE have recommended that all children under the age of one be supplemented with 200iu per day. There is no recommendation for children over the age of one.

Multivitamins are a waste of money

Multivitamins and multiminerals are heavily advertised during the winter months. There is no substitute for good food. Don't waste your money on multis - there is no evidence to show that they enhance a child's health.

Food contains all the necessary vitamins and minerals with the exception of vitamin D. Nutrients work synergistically in the body and the body recognises how much it needs to absorb from foods.

However, iron deficiency is common among children and particularly teenage girls. If your child is constantly lacking in energy and fatigued she may be iron deficient. Coeliacs and children with food intolerances and allergies who may not be absorbing their nutrients may require some supplementation. This should be done under the supervision of a nutritionist.

* Next week: Rev up your metabolism

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