As a mom, I’m quite proud of myself! Since I’ve introduced my children to nutritious food early in their lives, they actually love to eat vegetables and fruits at any time of the day. Whenever they are hungry, they grab an apple or orange instead of potato chips or chocolate bars. But recently, I noticed a gap in their growth pattern.
Both my kids were slightly underweight and a little below the desired level on the height chart too. I was perplexed as to why this should happen when their diets seemed to be on the right track. After researching the matter a little, I realized that even nutritious food, when not consumed adequately or correctly, may not be entirely sufficient for a child’s growth.
The Process of Nutrient Loss
Did you know that fruits and vegetables lose some of their nutritional value at various stages before they are consumed? Yes, almost as soon as the fruit or vegetable is plucked, the nutrient value slowly starts to decrease. How does this happen? In two, not-so-simple ways:
1. Loss through respiration:
Just like you and I, plants breathe too. When veggies and fruits are plucked off their parent plants, they begin to die and as they can no longer depend on the parent plant for sustenance, they start using more and more oxygen from when cells that are contained within. It is this loss of oxygen that drains away the nutrients.
As the respiration rates differ (for example, sweet corn and peas lose oxygen faster than apples or garlic), the loss of nutrients also differs. The bottom line is the sooner you consume a fruit or vegetable post-plucking, the better it would be for your health.
2. Loss during the cooking process:
The nutrient value in food decreases after you peel or cook the fruit or vegetable. This does not mean that we eat raw food, but adopting a healthy cooking style will retain most nutrients. Steaming foods, especially ones good for salads, is one of the best ways to consume fruits and vegetables. You can even avoid nutrient loss through blanching (cooking in boiling water for a short time and then putting in cold water) or by consuming soon after peeling. Below, we list how various cooking forms drain out the nutrients.
- Boiling water: soluble nutrients and vitamin C are lost.
- Grilling and broiling: Vitamin B is lost (grills can cause cancer as well).
- Microwaving retains most nutrients due to shorter cooking times but can result in vitamin C loss.
- Roasting and baking could lead to vitamin B loss amongst others and add trans fats in some cases.
- Frying can cause cancer (due to cancerous substances such as aldehydes) if not fried in healthy oils, fried for a long time and re-use the oil for frying.
3. Through freezing:
Freezing affects nutrients only if the food is not fresh. If vegetables and fruits are frozen soon after being picked, they do not lose their nutrient values.
How Does Nutrition Affect Growth in Early Years?
An undernourished child could have growth and developmental problems. But there is a way to correct this. Giving a child the right kind of nutrition goes a long way in the making of a healthy individual. How does good nutrition help in childhood? When a child is young (say till the age of 12 to 15), the child’s body cells are fairly new. The cells aging process is slower and hence, they function at their best potential. As the child grows older, the cells age faster. This means that if the right kind of nutrition is provided at a young age, the cells can process this nutrition well and aid in the overall body growth and development as compared to when the child grows older.
If a child or a baby is not given the right kind of nutrition when they’re young, their brain development is affected. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, is required for producing quick and intensive synapses. These help in easing the process of learning and storing information for longer periods.
The United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition says, “Even in mild or moderate situations, stunted growth resulting from poor nutrition is correlated with poor academic performance and lowered mental capacity.”
As per research conducted by doctors H. Peter Chase and Harold P. Martin, children who were hospitalized in less than one year of their lives, were lower in height, weight, and other physical developments (1).
Also, according to Dr. David E. Barrett, a Harvard Medical School psychologist, and Dr. Marian Radke-Yarrow, a US National Institutes of Health child development psychologist, children with lower nutrition rates have more problems in being socially active and cannot gel well with other people (2).
What are the Nutrient Requirements of Children?
Proteins are the cell building nutrients due to the presence of amino acids in them. Proteins are required in large quantities as they help the body fight infection, build immunity, help in carrying oxygen, and more. They are also some of the important hormones in the body responsible for regulating body functions. Insulin, for example, is a protein. The cell repair in growing bodies is all thanks to proteins. This makes proteins one of the most important nutrients in the body and essential for child growth.
Fats aren’t always bad! There are saturated and unsaturated fats along with trans fats. While saturated fats (from sources such as meat, milk, cheese) are not very bad for the body and should be consumed in moderation, unsaturated fats (usually from plant oils) hold a houseful of goodness. Trans fats are the scariest of all. They are harder fats, formed due to hydrogenation (a process used in making frosted cakes and microwave popcorn) and cannot be broken down by the body easily. These fats increase the cholesterol levels in the body.
Fats are a source of energy and aid in the essential absorption of fat soluble vitamins . Besides this, if the body is low on carbohydrates, then the fats are broken down to provide the body with energy.
While you may think that carbohydrates are bad, the fact is that a child needs 50% to 60% of calories sourced from carbohydrates. However, make sure these are sourced from healthy foods such as rice, ragi, oats, jowar, etc and not from added sugars such as cold drinks and sweetened toffies (3).
An essential job of iron is to help the blood carry oxygen to different cells. It helps to purify the blood and thereby helps the body parts receives oxygen. Moreover, the adverse effects caused due to the reduced intake of iron by the body, are anaemia, reduced oxygen supply, and stunted growth among others.
Fibre helps in regulating the bowel movement, prevents cancerous cells from building in the body, and reduces heart disorders.
With the number of toothpaste ads, it must have become quite clear that calcium is required for healthy and strong teeth. The milk energy drinks industry too must have given you the role of calcium in having strong bones. Calcium is also required by the body to clot blood, contract muscles, maintain a regular heartbeat, and more.
Like proteins, folates also help in a child’s cell development, brain development and prevents anemia.
8. Vitamin A:
Probably one of the most important vitamins, it helps in better vision (essentially the function of the eyes to adjust to various intensities of light), prevents infections, provides healthy skin, and aids with growth.
9. Vitamin C:
Vitamin C is a must for repairing all the inner wounds of the body. This means that it strengthens the blood vessel walls, improves immunity, prevents infections, coordinates the body cells together, and repairs wounds.
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It requires no cooking, frying, or picking, which means that there would be no loss of nutrients. Further, nutrients would also be easily absorbed by the body. A bonus here is that the nutritional drink has Choline, Taurine, and Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids. These help in supporting and aiding brain development.
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