Every day we are bombarded with nutrition and health messages and a seemingly endless array of concerns about lifestyle and diet. Healthy eating and a healthful way of life are
important to how we look, feel and how much we enjoy life. The right lifestyle decisions, with a routine of good food and regular exercise, can help us make the most of what life has to offer. Making smart
food choices early in life and through adulthood can also help reduce the risk of certain conditions such as obesity, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, certain cancers and osteoporosis.
Enjoy the wide variety of foods :
This concept is the most consistent health message in dietary recommendations around the world. We need more than 40 different nutrients for good health and no single food can supply
them all. That's why consumption of a wide variety of foods (including fruits, vegetables, cereals and grains, meats, fish and poultry, dairy products and fats and oils), is necessary for good health and any
food can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet. Some studies have linked dietary variety with longevity. In any event, choosing a variety of foods adds to the enjoyment of meals and snacks.
Eat regularly :
Eating is one of the life's great pleasures and its important to take time to stop, relax and enjoy mealtimes and snacks. Scheduling eating times also ensures that meals are not
missed, resulting in missed nutrients that are often not compensated for by subsequent meals. This is especially important for school children, adolescents and the elderly.
Breakfast is particularly important as it helps kick-start the body by supplying energy after the all-night fast. Breakfast also appears to help control weight. All mealtimes offer the opportunity for social
and family interaction. So whether it is three square meals or six mini-meals or snacks, the aim is to make healthy choices you can enjoy.
Maintain a healthy body weight and feel good :
A healthy weight varies between individuals and depends on many factors including gender, height, age and heredity. Excess body fat results when more calories are eaten than are
needed. Those extra calories can come from any source - protein, fat, carbohydrate or alcohol - but fat is the most concentrated source of calories.
Physical activity is a good way of increasing the energy (calories) expended and it can also lead to feelings of well-being. The message is simple: if you are gaining weight eat less and be more active.
Drink plenty of fluids :
Adults need to drink at least 1.5 litres of fluid daily, even more if its hot or they are physically active. Plain water is a good source of liquid but variety can be both pleasant
and healthy. Alternative sources are juices, soft drinks, tea, coffee and milk.
Child and adolescent nutrition :
To develop to their optimal potential, it is vital that children are provided with nutritionally sound diets. Diet and exercise patterns during childhood and adolescence may spell
the difference between health and risk of disease in later years. Different stages of the life cycle dictate differing nutrient needs.
What are the most important nutritional considerations in the first year of life ? :
In the first 12 months of life a baby will triple its weight and increase its length by 50 per cent. These gains in weight and height are the primary indices of nutritional status
and their accurate measure at regular intervals are compared with standard growth charts. These measurements are important tools for monitoring a child's progress particularly during the first 6 to 12 months
Breast-feeding on demand remains the ideal form of feeding for healthy babies who are born at term. Human milk provides optimum nutrition for growth and development. The first 4-6 months are a period of very
rapid growth, particularly for the brain, and the amino acid and fatty acid composition of breast milk is ideally suited to meet those needs. Breast milk also contains anti-bacterial and anti-infection agents,
including immunoglobulins, which have an important role to play in boosting immune function. The colostrum, which is the fluid produced by the mammary gland during the first few days after birth, is rich in
protein and has high levels of minerals and vitamins. Colostrum also contains antibodies, anti-infection agents, anti-inflammatory factors, growth factors, enzymes and hormones, which are beneficial for growth
Breast-feeding is strongly advocated for physiological, psychological and emotional reasons. There is no reason why breast-feeding should not continue for as long as it is nutritionally satisfactory for mother
and child up to 2 years. However, with changing lifestyles and the availability of commercially prepared formulae, prepared formulae are generally safe provided that an approved infant formula is used under
strict hygiene conditions. The infant formulae attempt to mimic as far as possible the composition of human milk and their use must comply with guidelines laid down by the European Union and the World Health
Organization. Formula-fed infants also need to be demand fed and the formulae must be made up exactly according to the manufacturer's instructions for optimal growth. Special attention has to be taken to
sterilise all the feeding equipment to reduce the potential risk of contamination, because formula-fed babies do not have the same degree of immunological protection as breast-fed babies.
What are the most important nutritional considerations for toddlers (1-3 years of age) ? :
During these years, a child begins to take on its own unique personality and to exert its independence by moving around freely and choosing foods to eat. Although the child is still
growing, the rate of growth is slower than in the first 12 months of life. At the end of the third year of age, girls and boys will have achieved about 50 per cent of their adult height.
During this period a child becomes able to drink through a straw and eat with a spoon, and frequently they become "fussy" eaters. The provision of a variety of foods will allow the child to choose from a range
of foods with differing tastes, textures, and colours to help satisfy their appetite. The most important factor is to meet energy needs with a wide variety of foods.
Food intake will be influenced increasingly by family eating patterns and peers. Early food experiences may have important effects on food likes and dislikes and eating patterns in later life. Meal times should
not be rushed and a relaxed approach to feeding will pave the way for healthy attitudes to food.