As parents and as caring family members, we all want to give the best start to our children's lives by giving them a healthy start. But we tend to underestimate how often that intention gets hijacked by other subtle forces at play. My own personal experience with a child who used to be a picky eater (we have made HUGE progress in the past year or so) showed me that none of us is really immune to those influences unless we choose to open our eyes to the way that it shapes our children's health.
As a result, both as a mother of two children and as a health professional, I am quite concerned about the nutritional value of the foods that children today are having on a regular basis. There are many things that are worth emulating the Western countries for but their modern diet is not one of them. Unfortunately, as more and more international food giants look for newer markets and launch their highly processed products along with highly refined marketing campaigns in India, it is difficult to resist the allure of what they seem to be offering us. We have the same problem with Indian manufacturers peddling their processed foods products to our children.
What do these highly processed foods seem to offer us?
Nutritional Value- MAYBE (or in some cases MINIMAL and/or HARMFUL)
Should you be concerned with the impact these foods may be having on your child? ABSOLUTELY!
While childhood obesity is one of the most obvious manifestations of this worldwide epidemic, there are less obvious health issues that our children are facing today and which can all be traced back to their diet (along with other causes)
ADD, ADHD and behavioural challenges
Fatigue or low energy levels
Inability to concentrate and lack of focus
Poor immunity (having constant colds and cough) and prolonged recovery from an illness
Diabetes and kidney disease
Overfed and undernourished
Do you have a child who has weight issues?
Do you have a picky eater who refuses to eat anything apart from refined and processed foods and minimal vegetables and fruits?
Do you have a child who craves for sweet foods and has them on a regular basis?
Do you have a child who has behavioural issues, digestive issues, low energy or poor immunity?
We may not realise how critical role poor nutrition plays in all of this and as a result many children today are "overfed" and at the same time "undernourished"
As you may have realised by now, this article aims to highlight and bring awareness to one of the main causes behind the poor health of many children today- their equally poor nutritional status. Most children (at least in the urban areas) are getting the requisite calories needed daily but are NOT getting the necessary ingredients that their developing bodies need to repair, grow, maintain optimal health and have robust immune systems. As a result, we are seeing many of the "consequences" of this nutritional status in our children from a very early age. Today we have seen a massive explosion in the number of children suffering from obesity, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, other chronic conditions, neurological disorders, behavioural issues and many more.
As one of the unintended consequences, we have started normalising many of our children's health issues. Chronic health issues like eczema, asthma, recurrent headaches, allergies, digestive issues, anxiety are actually "symptoms" of underlying imbalances and one of the causes is usually nutritional deficiencies. Healthy children are pretty resilient and usually bounce back quite quickly from a bout of illness with some rest, time and proper nutrition. However, even this time taken to recover from an illness can become extended as many children today suffer from low or poor immunity. I have covered this aspect of children's health in my previous article and webinar.
Even if you are not sure whether this is really the case for your child and irrespective of whether he or she has any health issues as of now, would you really like to wait to find out?
Would you like to become more proactive by taking full responsibility for your child's health and therefore her nutritional status as a parent and do what is right even if it means being sometimes "unpopular"?
Today, as parents we have become far too lenient with our children's health. We have confused being a "good parent" to being a "popular one". Somehow we have come to believe that our children should be never unhappy or uncomfortable and that it is our duty as a parent to ensure the same 24X7.
Do we all want what is best for our children? Of course we do!
Does it mean that they will be happy with whatever decisions we make for them till they are ready to take that responsibility? Not always!
A toddler or a 5 year old does not know what to eat that it is nourishing for her, yet we let them decide every meal. Even a 10 or 12 year old will not fully comprehend why they need to eat the nutritious foods that we give them, but they need to eat it anyway. So does a 15 year old for that matter, but the conversations that we have on this subject will be different and will depend on their age. (This is exactly the reason there is an age restriction when it comes to smoking and alcohol and driving, we know our children are not yet capable of making these decisions on their own, they need us as parents to guide them).
As far as food is concerned, as we have become scared of saying NO to the things that are affecting our children's health, in effect we are saying YES to processed and nutritionally depleted foods which will have long term impact on our children's health
And childhood is the time when their little bodies need the MAXIMUM amount of highly nutritious foods as their brains and other organs develop, the foods that they eat now will lay the foundation for their health for the rest of their life. This is equally true of their eating habits and preferences. So if we have not helped our child learn to develop a taste for vegetables AND other nutritious foods, learn to be adventurous in trying new foods and develop good eating hygiene, chances are that is exactly what they will still be like when they are 40 years old!
YOU are the "expert" on your child
As parents, we need to educate ourselves and protect our children by making healthy choices FOR THEM.
We are the "experts" on what is BEST for our children in terms of nutrition and everything else. And we simply cannot outsource that responsibility to other people, organisations and corporates!
Being the parent of a "picky" eater, for a while I lived under the illusion that my child was somehow to blame for preferring to eat fewer vegetables and unprocessed foods and prefer breads and other such refined foods. Once I realised my folly and started to take back responsibility for my child's nutrition, I started to make changes which were necessary all the while keeping the bigger picture in mind. It has not been an easy process, but we have made much progress and it all started with me realising this need to make changes.
The one other thing I would like to point out is our need to celebrate special occasions like birthdays with a menu comprising solely of what we would otherwise call "junk food". Somehow it has become acceptable that children's birthday menu reads like a fast food chain restaurant's menu. Instead of the concept of "treats" which we were raised with and looked forward to occasionally, our children are being raised on a daily diet of foods like pastries, cakes, fries, candies etc which have crowded out other wholesome and natural foods.
"Our bodies are hardwired for sweet"
We all need to be aware that children have a natural affinity towards sweet as a part of their nature to ensure survival when they are born. The sweet receptor as an important part of the taste system enables their bodies to make the decision of whether to accept a particular food (and hence ensure survival) and also to prepare the digestive system about the foods coming in. Sweet also acts as an analgesic towards pain and helps calm down babies and children. It is this basic biological mechanism that is being exploited by an onslaught of highly refined, sugar laded foods that are luring them to choose these foods over other healthier options that they actually need to grow.
Food is both nutrition AND enjoyment and we need to teach our children to choose options which satisfy both these needs.
This is what I have learned over the years BOTH as a parent and as a Health Coach
We simply cannot give away our responsibility of providing proper nutrition to our child to "experts" no matter who they are!
We need to stop making excuses about what our child "likes to eat" (read junk and processed foods like pizza, soda, chips) and take back our power as a parent from the clutches of the food industry
We need to educate ourselves about the foods that we are giving our children and the impact it is having on their health, our ignorance can cause our children harm in the long run
We can choose to celebrate special ocassions like birthdays with healthier dietary options without compromising on taste
We have to model the behaviour and preferences for a healthy life and eating hygiene ourselves; we cannot expect our children to follow something which we are not embodying at home
We owe it to our children to give them as healthy a start in childhood as we possibly can even if it means going against popular societal trends at that time and being "unpopular" at times; we are not here to win a popularity contest
And most importantly, we are not "depriving" our children by doing all of this, we are actually giving them the gift of long lasting health