Written by Whitney Lewis
The food pyramid (or plate these days, with choosemyplate.gov) provides a good guideline, but the truth is, your body needs different things in different growing stages. So before you go putting your baby on a skim milk diet or get fed up with your teenage son’s requests for more meat, look at what each growth spurt calls for.
When babies are born, their bodies are no longer connected to the nutrients that came from the umbilical cord. Instead, they find their nutrients through breast milk or formula. As infants grow and begin eating more solids, it’s important that they keep getting the vitamins that are essential to proper development.
Omega 3 fatty acids are important for an infant’s brain development. Feeding infants whole milk (after the first year of life), flax seed, cheeses, and olive oil will help provide the necessary Omega 3 acids. Because infants have a reduced capacity to sweat than adults, it’s important that infants also drink a lot of liquids. Water is the best choice, but infants can also get their nutrients from other drinks, as long as soda and other sugary drinks are avoided.
Advice from the doctors at WebMD: “Spread the variety of foods into several small meals and snacks throughout the day. If your child won’t eat a particular food for a few days—like vegetables— don’t fret. But reintroduce those foods again a day or two later, perhaps prepared in a different way. Kids’ “food strikes” usually end by themselves.”
Children are at a crucial time of development, and they need a supply of several different vitamins to promote healthy growth. Vitamin A advocates normal development; tissue and bone repair; and healthy skin, eyes, and immune responses. This vitamin can be found in milk, eggs, yellow-to-orange vegetables, yams, and squash. Children also need the Vitamin Bs (B2, B3, B6, and B12) for a good metabolism, high energy, and normal circulatory and nervous systems. Foods that contain the Vitamin B family include chicken, fish, nuts, eggs, milk, beans, and soy beans. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes, and broccoli; ingesting these foods can help muscle development, and connective tissue and skin growth. Children also need a supply of Vitamin D to help form healthy teeth and bones, and to help the body absorb calcium. Vitamin D is found in milk, fortified dairy products, egg yolks, fish oil, and sunlight.
“Teens are at particular risk of dietary shortfalls, since they often skip breakfast, consume much of their food outside the home, and are more likely to have sodas, snack foods, and fast foods rather than low-fat milk, fruits, and vegetables,” says Ulfat Shaikh, a pediatrician at the University of California-Davis School of Medicine and supplement scholar. With that being said, it is important to follow the given recommendations.
Iron is a key nutrient for teens, especially when it comes to keeping healthy red blood cells and building muscle. Iron deficiency is one of the most common ailments among teenagers, so it’s important that they get their daily iron intake, especially girls who have begun menstruating. The most common iron-rich foods are beef, turkey, pork, spinach, beans, and prunes.
Wouldn’t a vitamin supplement be easier than worrying about all these different foods and their vitamins?
Easier, yes, but a pill won’t give you the health your children need. Even the supplement industry and doctors agree that in an ideal world, we’d all—kids, teens, and adults—get our nutrients from food.
“A pill will never replace the goodness that a well-balanced diet brings,” says Shaikh.
Experts say there is definitely a place for vitamin or mineral supplements in our diets, but their primary function is to fill in small nutrient gaps. They are “supplements” intended to add to your diet, not take the place of real food or a healthy meal plan, says Kathleen Zelman, Registered Dietician.
There are thousands of phytochemicals, fiber and other nutrients in food which all work together to promote good health. These natural combinations cannot be duplicated by a pill or a cocktail of supplements.
Large doses of vitamins also aren’t good for kids; they can even be toxic at times. If you’re set on dietary supplements, think food first, then add vitamins and minerals as needed to fill in the gaps. Be sure that whatever supplements you use are in combination with healthy food choices.