Guidelines for Different Age Groups
Good food plays such an important role in everyone’s life. From infancy through to adulthood, a healthy diet provides the body’s foundation and building blocks and teaches children healthy eating habits. Studies have shown that these eating habits stay with us into later life helping us to maintain a healthier lifestyle as adults. This reduces the risk of illness, disease and certain medical problems.
Striking a healthy balance is important and at certain stages in life, this balance may need to be adjusted to help our bodies cope.
As babies and children, during pregnancy and in later life, our diet assists us in achieving optimal health. So how do we go about achieving this?
We know that certain foods, such as oily fish, for example, are advantageous to all — they are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which have beer linked with more efficient brain functioning and better memory. They can also help lower the risk of cancer and heart disease. But are there any other steps we can take to maximise health benefits through our diet?
Babies & Young Children
Babies should not be given solids until they are at least six months old, from which point new tastes and textures can be introduced to their diets. Probably the easiest and cheapest way is to adapt the food that the rest of the family eat Babies under the age of one should be given breast milk or formula. From the age of one to two, whole milk should be given and from two to five semi.skimmed milk can be given. From then on, skimmed milk can be introduced if desired.
The first foods for babies under six months should be ofa purée-like consistency, which is smooth and fairly liquid, therefore making it easy to swallow. This can be done using an electric blender or hand blender or just by pushing food through a sieve to remove any lumps. Remember, however, that babies still need high levels of milk.
Babies over six months old should still be having puréed food, but the consistency of their diet can be made progressively lumpier Around the io month mark, most babies are able to manage food cut up into small pieces.
So, what food groups do babies and small children need? Like adults, a high proportion of their diet should contain grains such as cereal, pasta, bread and rice. Be careful, however, as babies and
small children cannot cope with too much high-fibre food in their diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be introduced, as well as a balance of dairy and meat proteins and only a small proportion of fats and sweets. Research points out that delaying the introduction of foods which could cause allergies during the first year (such as cow’s milk, wheat, eggs, cheese, yogurt and nuts) can significantly reduce the risk of certain food allergies later on in life. (NB: Peanuts should never be given to children under five years old.)
Seek a doctor or health visitor’s advice regarding babies and toddlers. Limit sugar in young children’s diets as it provides only empty calories. Use less processed sugars (muscovado is very sweet, so the amount used can be reduced) or incorporate less refined alternatives such as dried fruits, dates, rice syrup or honey. (NB: Honey should not be given to infants under one year of age.)
As in a low-fat diet, it is best to eliminate fried foods and avoid adding salt — especially for under one-year-olds and young infants. Instead, introduce herbs and gentle spices to make food appetising. The more varied the tastes that children experience in their formative years, the wider the range of foods they will accept later in life.
During pregnancy, women are advised to take extra vitamin and mineral supplements. Pregnant women benefit from a healthy balanced diet, rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, and full of essential vitamins and minerals. Oily fish, such as salmon, not only give the body essential fats but also provide high levels of bio-available calcium.
Certain food groups, however, hold risks during pregnancy. This section gives advice on everyday foods and those that should be avoided.
There is a slight chance that some eggs will carry salmonella. Cooking the eggs until both the yolk and white are firm will eliminate this risk. However, particular attention should be paid to dishes and products that incorporate lightly cooked or raw eggs, homemade mayonnaise or similar sauces, mousses, souffles, meringues, ice cream and sorbets. Commercially produced products, such as mayonnaise, are made with pasteurised eggs and may be eaten safely. Ifin doubt, play safe and avoid it.
Ready-made meals and ready-to-eat itemsPreviously cooked, then chilled meals are now widely available, but those from the chilled counter can contain bacteria. Avoid prepacked salads in dressings and other foods which are sold loose from chilled cabinets. Also do not eat raw or partly cooked meats, pâté, unpasteurised milk and soil-dirty fruits and vegetables as they can cause toxoplasmosis.
Pregnant women should avoid all soft mould-ripened cheese such as brie. Also, if pregnant, do not eat cheese such as parmesan or blue-veined cheese like stilton as they carry the risk of potential listeria. It is fine for pregnant women to carry on eating hard cheese like cheddar; as well as cottage cheese.
Meat and fish
Certain meats and poultry carry the potential risk of salmonella and should be cooked thoroughly until the juices run clear and there is no pinkness left.
Pay particular attention when buying and cooking fish (especially shellfish). Buy only the freshest fish which should smell salty but not strong or fishy.
Look for bright eyes and reject any with sunken eyes. The bodies should look fresh, plump and shiny. Avoid any fish with dry, shrivelled or damp bodies.
It is also best to avoid any shellfish while pregnant unless it is definitely fresh and thoroughly cooked. Shellfish also contains harmful bacteria and viruses.
o what about later on in life? As the body gets older, we can help stave off infection and illness through our diet. There is evidence to show that the immune system becomes weaker as we get older, which can increase the risk of suffering from cancer and other illnesses. Maintaining a diet rich in antioxidants, fresh fruits and vegetables, plant oils and oily fish is especially beneficial in order to either prevent these illnesses or minimise their effects. As with all age groups, the body benefits from the five-a-day eating plan — try to eat five portions of fruit or vegetables each day. Leal’ green vegetables, in particular; are rich in antioxidants. Cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale contain particularly high levels of antioxidants, which lower the risk of cancer.
Foods which are green in colour tend to provide nutrients essential for healthy nerves, muscles andhormones, while foods red in colour protect against cardiovascular disease. Other foods that can also assist in preventing cardiovascular disease and ensuring a healthy heart include vitamins E and C, oily fish and essential fats (such as extra virgin olive oil). They help lower blood cholesterol levels and clear arteries. A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in salt and saturated fats can considerably reduce heart disease.
Other foods have recognised properties. Certain types of mushrooms are known to boost the immune system, while garlic not only boosts the immune system but also protects the body against cancer Live yogurt, too, has healthy properties as it contains gut- friendly bacteria which help digestion.
Some foods can help to balance the body’s hormone levels during the menopause. For example, soya regulates hormone levels. Studies have shown that a regular intake of soya can help to protect the body against breast and prostate cancer
A balanced, healthy diet, rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates, proteins and essential fats and low in saturates, can help the body protect itself throughout its life. It really is worth spending a little extra time and effort when shopping or even just thinking about what to cook.