By Cliff Harvey (co-founder of Holistic Performance Nutrition and NuZest)
Nutrition for kids creates a lot of controversies. In just the last few years we have seen Chef Pete Evans being hauled over the coals for his ‘Paleo’ views on children’s nutrition, through to my friend and colleague Caryn Zinn being lambasted by dieticians for her ‘real food first’ views on nutrition for children (highlighted in a Campbell Live report on kids lunches) and now Professor Tim Noakes having to defend himself against misconduct charges in South Africa for recommending lower-carb, higher-fat foods for infants.
Amongst all of this swirling debate and rebuttal, my question is; “When did it become so controversial to recommend real food to growing kids?”
There is a large body of evidence showing that fresh produce (fruit, vegetables and berries) are associated with improved health outcomes later in life,12 and yet worryingly, the latest research from the New Zealand Ministry of Health ‘National Children’s Nutrition Survey’ suggests that only 40% of children eat the recommended amounts of both fruit and vegetables per day.3
So, surely recommendations and eating styles that prioritise REAL food and whole, unprocessed produce over processed and refined foods (that are often lower in vitamins and minerals) are warranted?
This data also suggested that although most children are getting adequate amounts of the essential vitamins and minerals when they are young, that this gets progressively worse as they age, and by the time they reach adulthood most Kiwis are not getting the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals from diet alone.4
It is clear that the shift towards more sugar, more carbohydrate and more processed food that has occurred over the past four decades has been detrimental to health and has encouraged increased rates of obesity, diabetes and other metabolic disorders. Just one of the solutions we should be pursuing is to encourage the receptive minds of our young people to become reconnected to REAL food and I believe there is also a role for quality supplementation, just as there is for adults.
Some simple strategies to improve kids nutrition:
- Try to make at least 80% of what you put in your child's lunchbox (or on their plate) natural, whole, unprocessed food
- Choose natural carbohydrate choices (such as kumara, yams, potato and some whole, unprocessed grains) over pasta, bread, crackers and other refined choices
- Choose water over fruit juices
- Get kids eating vegetables early! Much of our food preferences are based on what we ‘learn’ to eat early in life
- Use smoothies made with whole, unprocessed foods (such as vegetables, berries, nuts and nut-butter, seeds and fruit) as an option in addition to meals to boost vegetable intake
- If choosing a multi, stay away from ‘gummies’ and other multi-vitamin lollies as these may habituate kids to eating lollies regularly! (instead of as occasional treats at most). Instead use a multi like Kids Good Stuff that includes only the best vitamins and minerals, along with whole-food ingredients that support overall health, wellness and vitality for growing bodies.
There’s nothing wrong with an occasional treat, but we should always try to prioritise whole, natural, foods to provide the essential nutrients that growing bodies need!
- He FJ, Nowson CA, Lucas M, MacGregor GA. Increased consumption of fruit and vegetables is related to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease: meta-analysis of cohort studies. J Hum Hypertens. 2007;21(9):717-28.
- Dauchet L, Amouyel P, Hercberg S, Dallongeville J. Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies. The Journal of Nutrition. 2006;136(10):2588-93.
- Ministry of Health. Key Results of the 2002 National Children's Nutrition Survey. Wellington: 2003.
- University of Otago and Ministry of Health. A Focus on Nutrition: Key findings of the 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey. Wellington: 2011.