After following four years of study with clinical practice at the University of Greenwich and the UK College of Nutritional Health (BCNH), Mary van der Westhuizen qualified as a Nutritional Therapist. She now runs a private practice in London, meeting clients with a wide range of health and lifestyle objectives. In this article, Mary explains how kids can benefit physically and mentally from a balanced and healthy diet…
It’s so important to give our children a healthy diet. Not only to benefit here and now, but also to hopefully inculcate healthy habits and practices for life.
What do I mean by a healthy diet? I am talking about a diet that is diverse, balanced and nutrient-rich. A diet that is full of a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, wholegrains, lean protein, beneficial fats and fresh water; a diet that is void of sugar, juices and processed foods.
Better health & immunity
By nourishing children with a healthy diet we are giving them all the macronutrients and micronutrients they need for optimum growth and development. A healthy diet is also the best ammunition we can give them to fight the bugs and lurgies that surround children at nursery and school.
If you give your child a healthy diet, their blood sugar levels will be balanced. Balanced blood sugar levels result in the best chance of an even, balanced mood (or as balanced as a child’s can be!) because there won’t be the highs and lows in mood associated with blood sugar surges and dips.
Great energy levels
Balanced blood sugar levels, achieved through a healthy diet, result in optimum energy levels so children can take advantage of everything life offers them.
Increased focus and better attention: Want your child to succeed at school? Give them the best possible chance of success with a great diet. Balanced blood sugar levels increase our ability to focus and encourage a prolonged attention span. By giving our children a healthy diet we’ll be including foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. oily fish, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and chia). These are essential ingredients for healthy brain development and optimum mental health.
With balanced blood sugar levels we have a better chance of a good night’s rest and so do our children. When we suffer blood sugar lows during the night (e.g. if we’ve had a particularly sugar heavy supper or no supper at all), this can cause us to wake in the night. Additionally, by giving our children a healthy varied diet, they’ll be getting lots of magnesium-rich foods (e.g. green leafy vegetables, quinoa, almonds, cashews, black beans). Magnesium is an important muscle relaxant that can enhance the chance of a better night’s sleep.
If you give your child a healthy diet you give them the best chance of maintaining a healthy weight. This will benefit their metabolic and cardiovascular health. Studies suggest that children who are overweight may be at higher risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and obesity in adulthood.
Longer term benefits into adulthood
Studies show the more variety we give our children when they’re young, the less chance of them becoming a fussy eater. Research tells us the more familiar children are with a food (through exposure), the more chance they have of liking that food. So, exposing children to lots of different foods is likely to result in them enjoying a wide variety of nutrients.
Drinking water, eating vegetables, limiting sugar; these are all healthy habits which, if taught in childhood, a person has more chance of maintaining (or at least returning to post a quick blip at university!?) throughout their lives.