Where are we going wrong with food in our toddlers?
Nutrition is important in laying down the foundation of a healthy living. It plays a vital role in the mental, social, physical and behavioral development of a child. We, today, are at the two ends of a spectrum- over and undernutrition. Kids eat an excess of fats, sugars and salt meanwhile the proteins, vitamins, and minerals are compromised. This imbalance in the diet reflects as both short term and long term ill effects on health. Children suffer from poor growth to obesity, mood swings to reduced concentration spans, increased tantrums to mental and physical sluggishness.
Good food- Optimal Growth
Each nutrient, every day is important for the growth and development of a toddler. The rate at which the nutrients are absorbed and utilized in a young child is very high. It thus becomes imperative to provide them with the right amount of each nutrient each day in each meal.
Toddlers grow rapidly in height, weight, increasing muscle strength, developing bones and teeth and improving the acuity of eyes. Hence nutrients like essential fatty acids, high biological value proteins, calcium-magnesium rich foods, both fat and water soluble vitamins and iron play a crucial role in aiding optimum growth.
Does your toddler have dental caries, muscle cramps etc?
Consuming food rich in sugars and fats like wafers, bakery products, aerated drinks, packaged juices and ready to cook foods leads to numerous health impacts. Early Childhood Tooth Decay (ECTD), malformed bones (e.g. knock knees and bow knees) and regular muscle cramps, are the most common repercussions of foods low in calcium and magnesium and abundant in simple carbohydrates.
The growing burden of obesity and underweight are also largely to be blamed on high intake of nutritionally poor junk foods. These, in turn, lead to long-term diseases like diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and obesity among others.
Your child’s brain is growing too!!
The pre-school years (i.e., 1–5 years of age) is a time of rapid and dramatic postnatal brain development. The brain undergoes neural plasticity, fundamental acquisition of cognitive development i.e., working memory and attention. That means the brain generates electrical potentials to pass on messages through-out the body. This requires specific nutrients like choline, folic acid, iron, zinc, copper, iodine, selenium, vitamin A and special fats (e.g. gangliosides, sphingolipids and docosahexaenoic acid). It is important to monitor the mental developmental milestones of a child to assess the growth of the brain. A few indications of a well-developed brain are-
|Age||Mental Development expected|
|1-2 year old||Achieves object performance, Uses Telegraphic sentences- 2-4 word sentences and has a 250 word vocabulary, uses objects to imitate etc|
|2-3 year old||Uses longer sentences, Develops a strong Ego, Use of Pronouns, turns pages carefully, identifies photographs etc|
Can we prevent learning disabilities with nutrition?
A toddler’s brain is growing rapidly and is at the same time sensitive to any insufficient supply of nutrients. Pascual-Leone et al., note that brain plasticity is the mechanism that supports development and learning. On the other hand, it can also cause clinical disorders if a nutrient deficient diet is given to the toddler.
“Junk food is not really food for the body” as an old adage goes is very true. Junk food is full of additives like artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, sugar, and bad fats which can decrease focus and slow down the thought process.
These foods intensify the bouts of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), increases Dyslexia, reduces concentration, increases Dysgraphia and hamper visual sensations. Excess intake of these foods leads to common symptoms like excessive running around in the house, destructive behavior, inability to sleep at night or concentrate during the day. A few kids may even show visual and muscular incoordination and an inability to cope up with simple problems and find solutions to it.
Will nutrition affect my toddler’s social skills as well?
An unsuitable mental development of the child is reflected on many planes, social and behavioral being important. A child will show his/ her first symptoms of malnourishment on the behavioral plane. It may be seen as frequent temper tantrums, excessive aggression, nervousness, and irritability. These are usually rebuffed by parents as “a passing phase” and often the first point at which we could have done an intervention is lost.
This is the age to start identifying the two main types of disruptive behavior disorders— Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and Conduct Disorder (CD). There is a section of children who throw a lot of temper tantrums, may become violent, or show disrespect or disobedience towards elders, have frequent arguments with adults or peers on a regular basis, who can be classified as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Conduct Disorder (CD) is a condition where there may be behavioral symptoms which are more serious and are seen as lying, stealing, bullying, and frequent physical aggression.
Can we do something?
Nutrition plays a vital role in either preventing or managing these issues in children. It is best to inculcate good habits and healthy eating in children, at an early age. Imposing too many restrictions usually rebounds.