There was a concerned mother who once moaned about her daughter’s lack of appetite at lunchtime. Apparently, the young child wouldn’t eat a bite of food no matter how much the mother pleaded. As a fellow mom, I fully empathised. Until the mother proceeded to pull out a hefty box of chocolate biscuits, which her daughter polished off in minutes. The mother couldn’t see that the clever one-year-old girl had figured out that skipping lunch bore the promise of sugar-filled goodies a few hours later. Kids are smart, but they also don’t know better. The little girl doesn’t know junk food from her elbow. She only knows the taste. Her mother, however, was more focused on filling her child’s belly, than providing proper nutrition. To her, some calories are better than zero. But is it really? Do we truly understand how every bite of food that goes into our children affects them?
We think obesity, hypertension and other serious ailments only happen to grown-ups. Well, how do you think adults get that way? We have more doctors, health care information and medical discoveries than any other generation. Yet, we are sicker, more obese and unhealthy than ever.
Why is nutrition such a big deal?
The journey from baby to adulthood doesn’t just happen. There is an intricately complex cellular system at work here. To build strong bones, a clean digestive system and a rock-solid immunity, you need to put in the work. Toddlers need a higher percentage of iron, vitamin C, calcium and Vitamin D, per Kg of body weight, compared to adults. Which means more nutritionally-dense food and less processed, empty calories that come out of a packet.
6 Myths about child nutrition busted
Every parent wants the best for their child. Yet, many of us fall prey to heresy and false information when it comes to child’s meals and nutrition. Also, sometimes convenience takes precedence over what is right for the child. Add to that, food advertisements lie straight to our faces.
A fallacy about healthy eating can spread like wildfire across mommy WhatsApp groups and leads to many wrong practices that do more harm than good to your child.
Hope we clear up some misconceptions about nutrition, by busting these six food myths.
1. The more my child eats, the better his health
To all moms who relentlessly push food down their kids’ mouths till they are ready to burst, stop! Your child isn’t a steam engine where you shovel coal down a chute to keep him moving.
So how much should your kid eat? Take a quick look at your child’s clenched fist. See how tiny it is? That is how large his stomach is. Yet, many parents in a bid for ‘good health’ fill up their child’s plate with enough food to feed all of Tanzania.
The stomach is able to expand to four or five times its size and then shrink back once the food has left for the bowels. Excess food that is not needed is either eliminated by the intestines or stored in the body as fat. So if you’re thinking extra food will help your child grow quicker, you’re right. Just not vertically. The waistlines increase, not the pant sizes.
Your child doesn’t even need to eat to full capacity. Just up to 80 per cent. You need to leave a little space in the stomach for digestion to occur. Imagine your child’s belly as a washing machine. A packed machine leaves very little space for clothes to move about. Similarly, a stomach that’s bursting at the seams leaves no space for the churning that happens during digestion.
2. My child is very healthy, he drinks 2-3 glasses of milk daily
Your child needs mothers’ milk for the first year of life. After that, all the nutrition children need can be obtained through balanced, home-cooked meals. For the longest time, we believed that cow’s milk was an essential part of a child’s diet, supplying much-needed calcium, protein and vitamin D to a growing body. Milk companies showed lovely commercials of active, healthy children guzzling down glassfuls of milk before heading out to play.
The reality is, store-bought milk may have an excess of antibiotics and hormones that have been injected into the cow to increase production. According to some endocrinologists, this can cause disruptive patterns of growth in kids. In some reported cases, young pre-pubescent boys showed signs of developing mammary tissues. Also, the processes milk goes through to increase the shelf life can affect the nutritional content. Not just the adulteration, many paediatricians suggest to restrict or eliminate milk from a child’s diet altogether. According to them, excess milk consumption:
- Fills up the child, leaving little room for other food groups
- Causes deficiency of essential nutrients, especially iron
So if your child is fond of milk, invest in organic, high-quality milk. But don’t overindulge. Discuss with your paediatrician the right amount of animal milk for your child. However, if your child hates milk, that’s fine too! There’s no shortage of healthy food for the required nutrition.
3. Kids abroad eat pasta & pizza regularly, and they look healthy
The food we grow up eating, the recipes and the ingredients, has evolved over generations. It has been specially cultivated to suit your climate and your culture. When you eat locally-sourced food, you eat the food your ancestors ate and indirectly helped shape your DNA.
As the world keeps shrinking, food from other cultures have found their way to our shores. And high-calorie food items that may be beneficial in colder climates to keep warm find themselves on our plates.
If your child eats the occasional pizza made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients, there isn’t much cause for complaint. But when western cuisine grew popular, the packaged food industry found a way to make big bucks. So they use lower quality ingredients, but high levels of unhealthy carbohydrates and fats to get the job done.
Packaged food usually contain large amounts of sugar, saturated fat and sodium to improve taste and shelf-life. Which when consumed on a frequent basis, leads to obesity, hypertension and hormonal imbalances that affect young growing bodies.
This phenomenon isn’t ours alone. Kids abroad are also fighting obesity-related health issues. Let’s not join them.
4. Packet label says ‘healthy’ & ‘cholesterol-free’, it must be good
Ever picked up a packet of chaklis or chips that proudly proclaimed to be cholesterol free? Are they lying? Oh no. That packet of food most definitely has zero cholesterol. In fact, all plant-based food is devoid of it. Cholesterol is an animal by-product. It’s natural. We have it. Dogs, too. But when processed, vegetarian foods claim they are cholesterol free, they are trying to divert your attention from what you really should be looking at. That they are made up of mostly refined floor, toxic preservatives, high amounts of sodium and other harmful substances. Also interestingly enough, fried vegetarian snacks may contain polyunsaturated fats which could affect your cholesterol levels (okay but is Cholesterol good or bad …. that theory keeps changing every decade or so).
Ideally avoid or restrict the use of packaged, ready to eat food. But if you are opting for it, never judge a food packet by its front cover. Look for the back label where the ingredients are listed. Click here to understand how to decode a food packet label.
Any food item with a long shelf life (than what it would have if you made it at home) needs preservatives to survive. If the food on your plate was manufactured on a conveyor belt and not in a kitchen, it will contain ingredients that serve the manufacturers, not your health.
5. My child loves fast food, but he burns off the calories quickly
Most parents believe that health has a very basic formula. The calories consumed minus calories burnt equals calories gained. An active child will burn off the food devoured. So no harm, no foul. Except, that is not entirely true. There is more to high-calorie fast food than just the weight gain factor.
Most kids eat with their eyes first. And fast food looks appetising. Tastes delicious too. The trouble lies with the things you don’t see. Like, how the food is prepared. You don’t see the quality of oil that is used and sadly re-used (even though oil should only be used for frying one time, after which it turns toxic). You don’t see the poor sanitation standards that accompany most mass-produced food brands. Possible contamination is a high-risk factor, which could potentially lead to heart disease. The high sugar content can lead to eroded teeth and cavities, while the lack of micronutrients like calcium and magnesium in fast food that is consumed regularly can lead to premature osteoporosis later on in life.
So while your child can burn off the excessively high calories that come with eating at fast food places, the impact of the food lasts for a long time. Let your kids eat occasionally at such places, but try not to make it a habit. The consequences are far too severe.
6. My son eats really well when he watches TV
Eating isn’t just about your taste buds, it’s about involving all your senses. Look at the food you’re eating, inhale the delicious aroma, enjoy the satisfying sound of the crunch and lastly feel your food through your fingertips. It’s a heady, sensory experience that prepares your body for digestion. It triggers saliva production, which contains enzymes essential for digestion. it releases hormones in your stomach that send signals to your brain that it is ready to receive the food, and also when it is full. When your child’s attention is captured by a series of moving images on a screen, he is cut off from this entire process. As a result, the hormonal signals in his body are misfired. It leads to eating too much or too little. The lack of awareness also leads to poor posture while eating, which in turn, leads to poor digestion. It’s all a vicious cycle.
Watching television while eating is also an addictive habit, one that could follow into adulthood. So, hit the red button on the remote. Instead, encourage your child to engage with his food.
When your child involves all his senses during a meal, his hormones are in tune and function to stop eating when satiated.
Things were simpler in our grandparents’ time. The food they ate was clean and wholesome. They had zero distractions and an instinct about the benefits of nutritious food. Maybe, as parents, we all can take a leaf out of their book and help our kids eat better and healthier.