For those who guessed it, our next topic is NUTRITION. There is so much to cover, so strap in and get ready for the ride! We hope to break this down into bite-size, easy-to-digest pieces (pun intended) in order to really lay a good foundation of understanding. We hope this will help you make informed and intentional decisions about what foods to include in your family’s diet. For those of you who feel like we have left our discussion on adolescent mental health hanging – hold tight – because nutrition will absolutely tie into this discussion later on – but first, we need to create a basic understanding of some fundamental concepts…
One more side note before we start – the topic of picky eaters WILL be covered – don’t let it get in the way of learning about nutrition basics… once we’ve laid the foundation, we can start talking about the realities on the ground, with picky toddlers.
Okay, let’s get started…
Food provides the vital nutrients that our bodies need for survival. It helps our body function and stay healthy. Just like a house is only as good as the materials used to build it, so too, our bodies can only be as healthy as the building blocks used to build it. Our bodies derive value from the following components, or building blocks, of food:
1. Macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates and fat
2. Micronutrients – vitamins and minerals
3. Phytochemicals – beneficial chemicals produced by plants
Protein: Protein is necessary for growth, development, repair and maintenance of the body. Protein provides structure to muscle and bone, repairs tissues when damaged and helps immune cells fight inflammation and infection.
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates provide the body’s preferred source of energy and act as a fuel for our bodies, the same way gasoline acts as a fuel for our cars. Carbohydrates provide the energy our bodies need to perform all our daily activities, from walking and talking to more intense activities like running and lifting and jumping. Fuel is needed for regular body functions like maintaining body temperature, keeping our heart beating, and digesting food. And in children, fuel is needed for the body to grow.
Fat: Fat is a concentrated source of energy that our bodies can store for later use. Fats provide structure to cells and cushion our internal organs and membranes to help prevent damage. Oils and fats are also essential for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins, which perform vital functions in our bodies.
Vitamins: Vitamins aid in many critical functions in our body: they help us make energy, heal wounds, form bones, develop immunity, and maintain skin and eye health.
Minerals: Minerals support many bodily functions – they help maintain heart health, provide structure to our skeleton, help transport oxygen throughout our body, and help transmit nerve impulses.
Phytochemicals are plant-based molecules that serve as antioxidants (minimize damage from aging), anti-inflammatories and, potentially, as anti-cancer agents. They are found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables.
ALL FOODS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL
All the foods we consume have calories that our bodies use to provide energy. Our bodies need a particular number of calories to function optimally. For children, calories are used for energy AND growth. If children don’t consume enough calories, they will fail to grow optimally, or feel sluggish. If they consume too many calories, these extra calories will be stored as fat.
It is important to understand that all foods are not created equal. If we don’t have the right building blocks in our diet, the structure we are building won't be strong and resilient. Macronutrients, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals play a tremendous role in our day-to-day functioning, overall health and the prevention of disease.
In order to healthy and strong, the food we eat needs to be rich in proteins, carbohydrates and fats that contain vitamins, nutrients and phytochemicals. It is therefore critical to consume calories that are nutrient dense (whole foods like vegetables, fruits, eggs, fish, meat, nuts, unsweetened dairy and seeds), rather than foods that are high in calories, yet have no nutrients (ex. Soda, candy, cake). These foods might give us energy in the short term, but they will not promote long term health and wellbeing.
Food has tremendous power – it can be used as fuel…a source of nourishment that supports and repairs our bodies and minds – or it can be the source of toxins and chemicals that deplete our wellbeing and cause harm. As we continue on this journey, we will continue to understand how and why…and how to help our kids make the right choices for the right reasons...stay tuned!