We humans need a wide range of nutrients to lead a healthy and active life. The question is how to provide these nutrients? Good nutrition or proper intake of food in relation to the body’s dietary needs is required. An adequate, well-balanced diet combined with regular exercise is a sure sign of good health. Poor nutrition can lead to reduced immunity, increased susceptibility to disease, impaired physical and mental development, and reduced productivity.
A healthy and natural diet consumed throughout our life helps in preventing malnutrition in all its forms as well as wide range of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and conditions. But rapid urbanization and globalization, increased consumption of processed foods and changing lifestyles has led to a shift in dietary patterns.
People are consuming more foods high in energy, fats, free sugars or salt, and many do not eat enough fruits, vegetables and dietary fibers such as whole grains. So, these factors contribute to an imbalanced eating habit. A balanced and healthy diet will vary depending on the individual needs like age, gender, lifestyle, degree of physical activity, cultural context, locally available foods and dietary customs but the basic principles of what constitute a healthy diet remain the same.
It is easy to talk about a balanced diet. What is balanced diet? A balanced diet is one which contains variety of foods in such quantities and proportion that the need of all nutrients is adequately met for maintaining health, vitality and general wellbeing and makes a small provision for extra nutrients to withstand short duration of leanness.
The major food issues of concern are insufficient or imbalanced intake of foods or nutrients. One of the most common nutritional problems of public health importance in India are low birth weight, protein energy malnutrition in children, chronic energy deficiency in adults, micronutrient malnutrition and diet related non-communicable diseases. Health and nutrition are the most important contributory factors for human resource development in the country.
Healthy dietary practices begin very early in life. Recent evidences indicate that under nutrition in uterus may set the pace for diet-related chronic diseases in later life. Breast-feeding promotes healthy growth and improves cognitive development, and may have longer-term health benefits, like reducing the risk of becoming overweight or obese and developing NCDs later in life. Since a healthy diet consists of different kinds of foods, the emphasis has been shifted from nutrient orientation to the food-based approach.
Foods can be categorized according to the function as:
- Energy rich foods (Carbohydrates and fats)-whole grain cereals, millets, vegetable oils, ghee, nuts and oilseeds and sugars.
- Body building foods (Proteins)- Pulses, nuts and oilseeds, milk and milk products, meat, fish, poultry.
- Protective foods (Vitamins and minerals) – Green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk and milk products and flesh foods.
Let us now talk about nutrition in various stages of life. However, the requirement is different for every individual from an infant, growing child, grown man or pregnant or lactating women and elderly people. The diet varies from person to person depending upon various factors like age, gender, physical activity, nutritional requirement during different physiological stages of the body and other various factors. Body weights and heights of children reflect their state of physical growth and development, while weights and heights of adults represent steps taken towards good health.
Diet for an Infant:
If you have an infant or toddler, make sure that they get enough nutrition in their growing years of age. Babies should be exclusively breast-fed for the first six months of life. Breast feeding should be started within an hour after delivery and do not discard first milk called colostrum, as it boosts the immunity of the baby and protects the baby from several infections. Exclusive breast-feeding ensures safe nutrition to the infant thereby reducing the risk of infections and also helps in the overall development of the baby Breast-milk is the most natural and wholesome food for growth and healthy development of infants. Breast–fed infants do not need additional water. After six months, you can feed your baby with complementary foods while continuing to breast-feed. Complementary food should be rich in nutrients. These complementary foods can be prepared at home from commonly used food materials such as cereals, pulses, nuts and oilseeds, oils, sugar and jaggery. You can feed your baby to variety of soft foods like potatoes, porridge, cereals, or even eggs.
Infants cannot eat large quantities of food at a single time so they should be fed small quantities at frequent intervals (3-4 times a day). Also, the food should be of semi-solid consistency so that the infants can swallow it easily. A balanced diet is the key to protect your child against nutritional deficiencies. Protein Energy Malnutrition more commonly affects young children till the age of 5. Malnutrition is defined as "a state of poor nutrition caused by insufficient or unbalanced diet".
Diet for a Growing Child:
Children who eat a balanced diet lay the foundation for a healthy and active lifestyle and this further lowers the risk of long-term health issues. Childhood is the most critical time for growth as well as for development of the mind and to fight infections. So, it is very essential that the children get a good dose of energy, proteins, vitamins and minerals. It is very important to see that hygienic practices are followed while preparing and feeding the complementary food to the child, otherwise, it might lead to diarrhea. A well formulated balanced diet is necessary for children and adolescents to achieve optimum growth and boost their immunity. Balanced Diet, playing outdoors, physical activities of the child are essential for optimum body composition and to reduce the risk of diet related chronic conditions later in life and to prevent any sort of vitamin deficiency. Adolescence has various other factors attached to it: rapid increase in height and weight, hormonal changes and mood swings.
Development of bone mass is going on during this period so inclusion of dairy products milk, cheese, yoghurt and vegetables like spinach, broccoli and celery which are rich in calcium is a must. Children require good amount of carbohydrates and fats for energy. Therefore, it is very essential to give them a daily intake of energy rich foods as whole grains (wheat, brown rice), nuts, vegetable oils, vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, fruits like banana.
In case of children, proteins are essentials for muscle building, repair and growth and building antibodies. So, a diet which has meat, eggs, fish and dairy products are needed. A child needs vitamins for the body to function properly and to boost the immune system. A variety of fruits and vegetables of different colors should be added in the child’s food. Vitamin A is essential for vision and a deficiency of the same can lead to night blindness (difficulty in seeing in night). Dark green leafy vegetables, yellow, orange-colored vegetables and fruits such as carrots, papaya, mangoes are good sources of Vitamin A.
Vitamin D helps in bone growth and development and it is essential for absorption of calcium. Children get most of their Vitamin D from sunlight and a small amount from some food items like fish oils, fatty fish, mushrooms, cheese and egg yolks.
Teenage girls experience more physiological changes and psychological stress than boys because of onset of menarche or onset of menstruation .Therefore, teenage girls should eat diet which is rich in both vitamins as well as minerals to prevent anemia.
Now a days, children are more inclined towards junk food but it is very important to motivate your kids in teenage to eat nutrition rich foods. Many children have poor eating habits, which can lead to various long-term health complications, such as obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. As a parent, keep making frequent changes in their menu to avoid boredom of eating the same food every day. Adolescence is the most vulnerable stage for developing bad food habits as well as bad habits like smoking, chewing tobacco or drinking alcohol should be avoided. In addition to consumption of a nutritious well-balanced diet, appropriate lifestyle practices and involvement in outdoor activities such as games or sports should be encouraged among children as well as adolescents. Regular physical exercises increase strength and stamina, and are necessary for good health and well-being of the teenager.