Proper nutrition is important throughout life, but children have special nutritional needs. Children grow faster during their first few years than at any other time in their lives, and this rapid growth dramatically increases their nutritional needs. Although specific nutrient needs vary throughout the different stages of life, there is probably no more critical time for optimal nutrition than during childhood—especially early childhood (ages 2 through 5).
Good nutrition is essential for the development of healthy bodies that thrive and are full of abundant energy, healthy brain function, a responsive immune system, and strong bones and teeth.
Growing children need considerable amounts of nutrition from their diets, including macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) which provide calories and essential nutrients that are critical to proper growth, development, and immune function. They also need vitamins and minerals — including all eight B vitamins and vitamins C, A, and D, as well as calcium, iron, zinc, and other minerals. In addition, growing children need adequate intakes of omega-3 fatty acids (especially DHA) which are essential for early brain and eye development.
Healthful eating and exercise habits established during childhood also will help reduce the risk of obesity as well as many degenerative and lifestyle-related diseases of adulthood, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, hypertension, osteoarthritis, and other conditions that are related to nutrition, weight, and lifestyle. In other words, nutritional investments early in life — making nutritious and healthful food choices, being physically active, and filling in nutritional gaps with the appropriate dietary supplements— can provide a strong foundation for a lifetime of health and wellness.
In this series, we will explore how to best optimize health for our greatest resource, our children.
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Did You Know?
[i] Borrud C et al. What we eat in America: USDA surveys food consumption changes. Food Reviews 1996;14-19.
[iii] Position of the American Dietetic Association: Dietary guidance for healthy children ages 2 to 11 years. JADA 2004;104:660-77.
[iv] Simeon DT, Grantham-McGregor S. Effects of missing breakfast on the cognitive functions of school children of differing nutritional status. AJCN 1989;49:646-53.
[v] Kleinman RE et al. Diet, breakfast, and academic performance in children. Ann Nutr Metab 2002;46(suppl 1):24-30.
[vi] Madden SM, Garrioch CF, Holub BJ. Diet quantification indicates low intakes of (n-3) fatty acids in children 4 to 8 years old. J Nutr. 2009;139:528-32.