Luhv Drinks and our in-house scientist Liz have created this blog post looking at child nutrition whilst working with "Thinking of Oscar"and supporting their up and coming #TOO500 unique cycle challenge.
Thinking of Oscar is a charity set up by Hannah and David Cole in memory of their little boy, Oscar, who died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2014. Their purpose is to improve child health by investing in technology and innovation.
This month they are cycling around all of the main children’s hospitals in the UK on a mission to increase awareness of the need to invest in child health and to raise lots of money along the way. If you would like to find more about their cause or donate then you can do so at www.thinkingofoscar.com. We are delighted to be supporting their riders through the provision of some of our amazing juices.
Hacking health for life: why early life nutrition is key
If I had to pick an age span for which nutrition is the most important determinant of life span and future health, I’d pick ages 0-5. Let me explain the simple science behind this, and what early life nutrition should look like.
Environmental factors such as childhood trauma are known to negatively impact a child’s emotional and psychological wellbeing, well into adulthood and sometimes beyond. Environmental enrichment, such as a happy and supportive upbringing, has the opposite effects. So, it should come to no surprise that environmental factors such as diet and exercise also impact a child’s biological and psychological development. But what, how, and why?
The answer is epigenetic memory. Your genes remember different states your body has been in by being marked with various tags, and it’s these tags that can reduce or increase the function of those genes (or even switch them on or off completely). These tags don’t change your DNA sequence but just act as accessories. Both human and animal studies have shown that changes in your environment in early life, such as exposure to abuse, trauma, bad nutrition, toxins, pollutants, pesticides and so forth, can increase your risk of obesity and metabolic disorders (such as diabetes) by changing the levels of these epigenetic tags in your body. There is even research to suggest that these tags are passed onto the next generation. But the same can be said for leading a healthy lifestyle, as some tags can increase your resilience to stress, reduce depression-like behaviours, and improve memory.
These detrimental changes to a child’s genes may or may not be visible to the outer world. If obese, a two-year-old is more likely to be obese at 35 than a 19-year-old who is overweight but not obese, but this may also be the case if the child has hidden fat around its internal organs which is not visible to you and me – some may call this “skinny fat”.
So, what solid foods should be included in a toddler’s diet?
Favour full fat and fibre:
25 to 40% of calories in a child’s diet should be provided by fats, primarily the unsaturated ones, which is 33 to 45 grams of fat per day for toddlers consuming 1,000-calorie diets. Fats are essential because the developing brain, nervous system, and immune system are primarily reliant on fats for growth, fuel and to help the body absorb all the fat-soluble vitamins found in foods (vitamins A, D, K, E).
Avocados (½ provides 15g fat), grass-fed butter, coconut butter/oil, wild-caught salmon (packed with polyunsaturated fats called omega-3 fatty acids which are essential and only found in cold-water fish, fish oils, algae, and some nuts and seeds, like chia, flax and hemp), chicken/beef/fish/liver stock, nuts, eggs, and yogurt, are good sources of fats. If budget is tight, I would focus on including full fat natural yoghurt or Greek yoghurt (for sweetness add homemade pureed apple/banana or chopped fruit, or even cinnamon) which not only provides the healthy fats but the calcium too for bone development. Including more fats in a child’s diet will also help them feel fuller for longer and therefore less snacking throughout the day - two birds, one stone!
Fibre is crucial for gut health, which is provided not only from vegetables and fruit (even avocados!) but also legumes and grains. An example would be to include oatmeal with milk as a breakfast go-to, which is itself cheap and easy to prep, and can be topped with fruit for sweetness.
Shun simple sugars:
Most of the sugars consumed by children are simple sugars. They are called simple because they are made up of only one or two sugar molecules and are therefore easier for your body to break down; The easier it is to digest sugars, then the easier and quicker it is for the sugars to be released into your blood and cause an increase in your blood sugar levels.
Examples of simple sugars are table sugar, concentrated fruit juices, condiments, honey, white bread/pasta, and the usual suspects such as biscuits, sweets and so forth. Most of the simple sugars consumed by children are from sugar-sweetened drinks, which are associated with childhood obesity. So, by simply reaching for the water (perhaps add fresh lemon/orange juice, or cucumber slices for taste) or unsweetened milk, you are already cutting a substantial amount of sugar from your child’s diet.
What should a child’s daily diet look like? At every meal, it should ideally consist of a substantial amount of fruits and vegetables (about half a plate’s worth, and the only thing allowed for second servings) and the sum of the meals in the day should also include whole grains, lean protein and a full fat product. Sugar-sweetened drinks and juices should be avoided, and occasional sweets are fine, but they should really be just that: occasional ie. once weekly. The same goes for junk/processed/fast foods.
I focussed this article on healthy fats because this food group is not getting the attention it needs and deserves. Fats have long been villainised, when the blame should always have been with its evil third cousin: simple sugars. If there is one message you need to take away from this article, let it be to embrace natural, full fat products!