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Benefits of Diet Diversity

A diverse diet is the single most valuable way of meeting a child’s nutritional needs. The first nutritional need for a child to thrive well is energy. Foods rich in energy include grains, roots, fats and oils from a wide variety of foods.

Proteins also provides energy, but the primary purpose of protein is for body growth and repair. Meat, fish, eggs, dairy foods, tofu, pulses, nuts, seeds and some vegetables are rich protein. And so, a balance of energy to protein is needed for the body to work at its best.

Supporting Health with a Diverse Gut Microbiota

Importantly, the gut microbiota thrives on a diverse diet, particularly from unprocessed plant foods, like wholegrains, pulses, vegetables, nuts & seeds which provide the right “diet” for the microbes that live in the large bowel. Sugars provide energy and flavour in the diet, but no additional nutritive value – no vitamins or minerals. Sugars also provide fuel for the less-friendly microbes in the gut such as candida, clostridium and E.coli.

Eating too much sugar can lead to inflammation and IBS-like symptoms. A healthy and diverse microbiota will produce vitamins, hormones and many other bio-active substances beneficial for health including immune, digestive, metabolic and mental health. The microbiota is part of what gives the gut its second brain status, alongside the millions of nerve connections the gut has directly to the brain.

Meeting Nutritional Needs
with Diet Diversity

Balancing foods groups

from grains & roots, fats & oils and proteins is a good starting point. Meeting needs for key nutrients can be achieved with a focus on diet diversity. Whole and unprocessed foods contain the most nutrition, but generally need more chewing, and so adapting to a well-textured diet is a fundamental skill to address in infancy and early toddlerhood. Getting all the intelligent nutrients the body needs to function well in addition to these food groups will include essential fats, vitamins and mineral combinations.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium is essential for growing bones and is found in dairy foods, plant milks, tofu, nuts, seeds, fortified white flour and hard water.

Vitamin D is a hormone-like substance, produced in the body from the sun’s rays on the skin, and not found in any significant amounts in foods except oily fish. All children in the UK need a daily supplement of at least 10ug; teens need 25ug

Iron an Essential Component of Haemoglobin

Iron from eggs, red meat, green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, wholegrains, fortified cereals, nuts and pulses is needed for making haemoglobin, the oxygen carrying substance in red blood cells. Importantly, haemoglobin carries oxygenated blood to the muscles, body and brain. It’s necessary for brain development in infancy, vitality, appetite, exercise tolerance and concentration.

Omega 3 Fats

Essential fats of the Omega 3 family are necessary for many aspects of brain development, vision, cardiac, arterial and immune function, and are found in a range of foods including oily fish, egg yolk, walnuts, flax, chia seeds.

Other nutrients such as iodine are essential for metabolic regulation and thyroid function. B vitamins and magnesium for production of energy. Vitamins A, C, and E to protect cells and zinc to boost immunity and body growth.

Investing in Lifelong Health

The benefits of nutritional health are lifelong, and I believe investing in this at the beginning pays dividends over a whole lifetime. Developing routines, behaviours and patterns regulates the body and also educates the mind into healthful behaviours.

This is a valuable parenting task throughout childhood, a balancing act to help children learn to enjoy eating as diverse a diet as possible.

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Carine offers accessible online workshops on a variety of topics, designed to provide a space alongside others to listen, learn, share, practice and develop tools and strategies for nutritional health.

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