From The Times
May 2, 2008
Too much healthy eating is as bad for children as too much junk
It is no surprise that children love junk food. Its makers go to great lengths to make sure that their offerings deliver a full-on, unsubtle assault on taste buds, with plenty of salt or sugar to create the sense that it is “tasty”.
But a significant proportion of our nation's children are worryingly chubby and heading for potential obesity problems in later life, it seems that others are suffering from “muesli belt malnutrition”: the overzealous application of “healthy eating” rules imposed on their daily food intake. A recent study warns us that too much fibre and too little fat can lead to vitamin deficiencies and stunts growth in the under-fives.
This means that young children who have wholemeal bread, brown pasta and piles of fruit imposed on them are getting too full too quickly and do not have room for enough foods such as dairy products, meat, eggs and fish, which have vital nutrients for growth and development.
So how do we strike a balance? Children thrive on a good variety of foods, which includes grains and potatoes such as bread, pasta, noodles, rice and all varieties of potatoes; calcium-rich foods such as milk, yoghurt, fish canned with edible bones such as pilchards; protein-rich foods such as eggs, chicken and turkey, red meat and Quorn products; plus a variety of different fruit and vegetables. The million-dollar question is how much should they have of each at various ages.
This to some extent varies with the size and appetite of your child. The World Health Organisation has provided some useful parameters.
You can start giving toddlers semi-skimmed milk from the age of 2. Fully skimmed milk is not suitable as a main drink until they are 5, because it doesn't contain enough calories for a growing child.
Because oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines contain residues of pollutants such as dioxins and PCBs, the Food Standards Agency advises that you can give boys up to four portions a week, but that girls should have no more than two a week, because the residues can build up in their bodies over the years and can affect reproductive functions in later life. Shark, swordfish and marlin contain relatively high levels of mercury, which may affect a child's developing nervous system, so these should be avoided.
Eggs and nuts
Toddlers should have their eggs well cooked until the white and yolk are solid to avoid salmonella, while nuts for children under 5 should be given only crushed or flaked to reduce the risk of choking.
Definitely do not add bran to children's foods and avoid giving very young children wholemeal pasta and brown rice. Too much fibre can sometimes reduce the amount of minerals, such as calcium and iron, that they can absorb and leave them feeling bloated and too full to finish their meal. By the time they are 5, young children can gradually be weaned on to wholegrain versions of cereals.
What about salt?
There is no need to add salt to the food of children under the age of three. Children in the UK manage to chomp their way through as much as 10-12g of salt daily and yet under the age of 7, children should have no more than 3g of salt each day and those between 7 and 10 no more than 5g. Once over 11, like adults, they should have no more than 6g of salt daily. Current high intakes can damage their developing kidneys and store up potential blood pressure and heart disease problems.
How much sugar?
Our children are getting about 17 per cent of their daily calories from sugar when they should, like adults, be getting no more than 10per cent. This means that four to six-year-olds should eat no more than 40g of sugar a day; seven to ten-year-olds no more than 46g and 11 to 14-year-olds no more than 50g.
If you limit children's consumption of sweets, chocolate and biscuits, along with fizzy drinks and squashes, you will cut their sugar intake. But honey in flapjacks, fruit syrup added to “orange drinks”, glucose syrup in breakfast cereals and dextrose in fromage frais all also count towards sugar intake and also need to be watched.
A good rule of thumb is to look on the nutrition label. Foods and drinks with less than 2g per 100g of sugars (this figure will include all the various forms in which sugar comes) is low in sugar, while any with more than 10g is high.