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We all know that nutrition is important.
Plants without proper water and nutrients are sickly and unhealthy; it is the same with humans.
We need high quality fuel to be fully empowered to be healthy and active.
As we Floridians are beginning to have an influx of local fresh fruits and veggies, this is a great time to explore human nutrition.
Let’s begin at the very beginning.
It is important for prospective parents to have a healthy diet to enhance fertility and for the health of the sperm, egg and embryo.
For example, studies have shown that a nutritious diet may reduce the risk of female infertility by as much as 69%.
It is important for both men and women to include a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and protein in their diet.
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Folate (aka folic acid) is very important for both men and women.
In fact, all women of child-bearing age should take a supplement of 400 mg folate per day to be sure they get enough of it; this helps prevent serious neurologic birth defects such as spina bifida and certain brain defects.
Once the baby is born, breast milk or formula are the baby’s dietary options.
Mother’s milk is nutritious, provides immune protection against many germs and is easy to digest.
If that is not possible, then the breast-feeding goal would be at least for as long as feasible, even if it is just for a few days.
Formula can certainly provide a safe, healthy alternative to breast feeding, if necessary.
Breast milk or infant formula should be continued through the first birthday.
One of the first opportunities to introduce a variety of healthy choices is with the introduction of baby food at around 6 months of age (4 months at the earliest).
Purees including iron-fortified infant cereals, fruits, vegetables and meats are all great options for the beginning eater.
It is recommended to give a new food consistently for at least 2-3 days to look out for intolerance or allergy.
It is now recommended to begin allergenic foods such as nut butters, eggs, wheat and fish around 6-7 months of age.
Be aware of choking hazards; you can mix nut butters in with other foods to reduce choking risk.
Avoid unhealthy foods and drinks from the beginning.
There are some specific recommendations for the beginning feeder.
For instance, fluoridated water should be an added source of refreshing hydration; 2-4 oz. per day is the goal for the 6-to-9-month-olds.
Interestingly, even though spinach is a super healthy food, most pediatricians recommend waiting until a baby is 8-10 months old to introduce it because it has high levels of oxalic acid, which may be difficult for kidneys to process.
Babies and young children are especially susceptible to food poisoning, so all food should be fresh and carefully cleaned before preparation.
Honey should not be given before a year old due to the risk of botulism.
Juice, even freshly squeezed, is not recommended for any age; it increases the risk of cavities and is high in sugar.
At about eight months, you can expand your baby’s diet to include soft foods such as yogurt, oatmeal, mashed banana, mashed potatoes or even thicker or lumpy pureed vegetables.
Eggs (including scrambled) are an excellent source of protein, as are cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and avocado.
After the first birthday, a child should normally be on a good schedule. Most children do the best with 3 meals and 2-3 healthy snacks per day, so they are eating about every 2 hours.
It is not recommended for a toddler to walk around while eating; it is a choking risk, as are hard foods such as fresh apples, carrots, and many vegetables; these should be cooked so that they are soft.
Nuts, popcorn and candies are not recommended until at least 4 years old, and meats should be cut up and tender.
The child should transition to the cup by a year old. It is recommended for a toddler to have 16-24 oz. of whole milk / dairy per day and 16-32 oz. of water.
The American Heart Association and the AAP also recommend:
• Serve whole-grain / high-fiber breads and cereals. Recommended grain intake ranges from 2 oz./day for a one-year-old to 7 oz./day for a 14–18-year-old boy.
• Serve a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. Each meal should contain at least 1 fruit or vegetable. Children’s recommended fruit intake ranges from 1 cup / day, for ages 1-3, to 3 cups for a 14–18-year-old boy.
• Introduce and regularly serve fish as an entrée. Avoid commercially fried fish.
• Serve fat-free and low-fat dairy foods. From ages 1–8, children need 2 cups of milk or its equivalent each day. Children ages 9–18 need 3 cups.
• Encourage plenty of water, from 4 cups a day for the toddler to as many as 8 cups per day for a busy teen.
• Don’t overfeed.
Follow these guidelines, and you are setting your child up to have a healthy, long life. For more detailed information you should check out these websites (used in preparing this article):
• The AAP site, Healthy Children: www.healthychildren.org
• The American Heart Association: www.heart.org
• My Plate: www.myplate.gov
Margaret Nemethy, ARNP, PPCNP-BC, has been a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner for more than 27 years. She presently works out of the Pediatrics in Brevard, Melbourne office.