A healthy diet is important through all phases of life. Since the habits formed in childhood are continued throughout life, children must be taught to choose healthy foods over unhealthy foods from the beginning. Studies from the best nutritionist say that, “A nutrient-rich diet promotes physical and mental health while helping the child feel energized and overall positive mood.”
Promoting healthy eating habits in early childhood has the following health benefits:
Proper Physical Growth: A balanced diet consisting of adequate amounts of Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats, Vitamins and Mineral obtained from Cereals, Pulses, Whole Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, Milk and Milk Products, non – Vegetarian foods, Dry fruits, Nuts and Oil seeds are essential for meeting the child’s requirements during the growth spurt. Intensive physical growth takes place during the early childhood period which is characterized by an in height, weight, proportionate increase in length of bones, changes in the composition of bones, development of muscles and synthesis of fat cells. These physical processes are significant for normal development of children. The number of calories taken through food must be higher than that expended by the child for various physical activities, which will lead to a positive energy balance that helps to increase weight and height in children. Foods rich in Vitamin D such as Egg yolk, Milk and Milk Products, fatty fish and fortified cereals as well as Calcium rich foods including Milk and Milk products, Ragi and green leafy vegetables are required for bone health and growth as well as deposition of Calcium in the bone to make it strong. Adequate intake of high biological value protein (Eggs, Milk and Milk products, Fish, Chicken, Meat, Dals and pulses) through diet combined with increased physical activity helps to build muscles. Iron rich foods such as Lentils, Tofu, Amaranth, Spinach and organ meat are required for the increasing the synthesis of Red Blood Cells in the bone marrow. Vitamin C rich foods such as Orange, guava and amla enhance the absorption of iron from food. Thus, consumption of Calcium rich foods must be accompanied with Vitamin D rich foods and Iron should be accompanied with Vitamin C rich foods.
Adequate Mental Development: Mental Development is a characteristic feature of early childhood. In the first two years of life, children develop various skills such as responding to stimulus, hands, legs, neck and eye moments as a response to sound, light or touch, children
learn to hold objects and develop grip strength, vocabulary skills, starting to remember and recognize familiar people as well as sound are some of the results of mental development taking place during early childhood years. The most important nutrients for the mental development of children are Vitamin B12, Folic acid, Acetylcholine, Selenium, Iodine, Iron and Omega 3 fatty acid. Cognitive and motor development delays are common among children who eat caloric dense but less nutritious foods. Intake of DHA in early childhood is important for learning and brain development. When these nutrients are made available to the child through breast milk and weaning foods, the child has an increased chance of performing better in academics as well as logistic tasks. Children who are made to follow a colourful plate pattern from early childhood tend to be smarter than those following an unhealthy, monotonous diet simply because the amount of nutrients the children obtain from rainbow coloured foods is way more than that obtained from unhealthy and junk foods.
Strong Immunity: Usually foods cooked at home is healthier compared to that from outside, because the type of ingredients used in the outside food could be of poor quality as well as prepared in unhygienic conditions. Children eating unhealthy foods are at an increased risk of infection caused by ingestion of harmful micro-organisms. Frequent infections cause inflammation in the body and leads to poor immunity among children. On the other hand, children who consume healthy food with variation tend to be resistant to infections and are less prone to illness. This is because such children consume nutrients essential to build a strong immunity and the ability to fight infections.
Reduced risk of disease later in life: The future depends on the past. Inculcating healthy eating habits during the early childhood years ensures a disease-free future to the child. Healthy eating in childhood develops the child into a strong, immune, healthy, responsible and independent individual. The risk of developing lifestyle-related disorders such as obesity, Diabetes Mellitus, Hypertension and Cancer later in life is lower among children who eat healthily during childhood. Also, the onset of age – related degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Osteoporosis is earlier among individuals who had unhealthy eating habits in childhood. As per the best nutritionist, health issues in both childhood as well as adulthood can be avoided if children are taught to choose healthy foods in the early childhood years.