Balanced diet is a complete diet containing the required amounts of all the nutrients which are essential for the optimum growth and development of an individual.
A child’s growing body has an ever-increasing demand for nutrients. An improper diet can cause deficiency of any of these nutrients, leading to poor growth and development. If the deficiencies are severe, they can also cause serious health problems. Hence providing a diet rich in all essential nutrients is very vital to your child’s healthy development. A balanced diet should mainly comprise of the following nutrients:
Proteins are essential for growth and maintenance of all body parts and organs. They build the muscles and tissues, contribute to the body weight, and also provide energy. Body’s demand for proteins is very high in infants and little children because of their rapid growth. The requirement shoots up again during adolescence due to sudden burst of growth. Infants below a year get most of their proteins through milk, but preschoolers and above need to take proteins from a variety of sources like meats, pulses, eggs, and other dairy products.
Carbohydrates provide energy to the body. Children have very high levels of activity and they tend to dispel a lot of energy. Their body constantly needs to be boosted with high calorie healthy foods. Carbohydrates provide this much needed energy to their bodies, but do make sure the source of energy is healthy too.
Foods like sweets and chocolates which are rich in calories but unhealthy, should be avoided. They provide quick bouts of energy followed by a steep fall in sugar levels. Such rapid fluctuations in sugar levels could make the child both hyperactive and inactive, swinging moods alternately. They also contribute to obesity, dental caries and childhood Diabetes. But healthy carbohydrates on the other hand, derived from wholesome foods, and fresh fruits provide a steady supply of energy, neither high nor low. They form no threat to health and weight and are absolutely essential for carrying out day-to-day activities.
Fats are as essential as the other nutrients. Fats provide calories and give contour to the body. Children should not be completely abstained from taking foods rich in fats. Children need fats for cell membrane development and maintenance, for brain development, for protection of skin against infections and allergies, and for prevention of cancer and heart diseases. Low-fat diets can lead to deficiency of essential fatty acids in children. Vitamin E, present in most of the fat rich sources is a potent antioxidant that protects the children from infections.
Children do need sufficient supply of fats as they have large energy expenditure. But those kids who are relatively inactive or sedentary should be cautious about their intake, as fats are an insidious cause of Obesity in children with low activity levels. Once again, the emphasis lies on taking the right type in right amounts according to individual requirements. Eggs, butter, dairy products, fish, nuts and olive oil are healthy fats for children, but partially hydrogenated fats present in fried foods, chips and cookies can be harmful.
There are several types of minerals that are required by the human body, but Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Phosphorus, Zinc, Fluoride, Iodine and Potassium, are some of the essential ones.
Iron and calcium are important minerals for growth of body tissues. While Iron is crucial for blood production, calcium and phosphorus promotes bone and muscle growth. Almost 1200-1500mg of calcium and 12-15mg of Iron are required per day at the peak of adolescence due to rapid growth bursts. Fluoride protects the teeth and enamel and prevents dental caries in children. Zinc is an essential part of many body enzymes, and is crucial for development and maturation of genital organs.
Children should consume a diet rich in whole grain cereals, fresh fruits, milk and milk products, meat, fish and nuts to derive most of the essential minerals.
Human body cannot synthesize vitamins and that is why you need to supplement these through diet. As you might be aware, there are various types of vitamins and each one has a different role to play. Almost all the vitamins are equally essential for the body and children should consume a variety of colorful foods to get all the Vitamins. Fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, wholemeal foods, and eggs can provide most of the Vitamins. However, Vitamin D is not naturally available in food products. It is available through fortified food products like milk or naturally available through sunlight.Picture: Rajesh Pattabiraman | Dreamstime Stock Photos