Nutritional science and dietetics belong to the most controversial of subjects. There are many schools of nutrition, hundreds of different diets that come and go according to the current fashion and thousands of different claims, both scientific and non-scientific that propound the virtues or vices of all kinds of foods and food nutrients. Against this backdrop, how can parents find their way through the hype of controversy and contradiction, fads and fashion, and come to a sensible and rational approach to providing their children with healthy food? This article will appear in two parts. In the first part Dr Raoul Goldberg offers a general common sense and rational approach to the healthy nutrition of children.
Dr Raoul Goldberg
[cl=wqual]BSc (Med), MB ChB (Wits),CEDH (Hom)
Nutritional science and dietetics belong to the most controversial of subjects. There are many schools of nutrition, hundreds of different diets that come and go according to the current fashion and thousands of different claims, both scientific and non-scientific that propound the virtues or vices of all kinds of foods and food nutrients. Patients visiting different health practitioners will tell you that if they followed all the good advice given they would literally have nothing to eat.
To add to the confusion the average medical practitioner has only had a few hours of nutritional training and will give little or no dietary advice to the patient, whereas naturopathic or nutrition-oriented practitioners will stress nutrition as an essential part of every consultation. Then there are the extremists who claim that their diet is the answer to all ills. And in recent years the discovery of micronutrients such as essential fatty acids, antioxidants and amino acids to name but a few, have made it even more difficult for caring parents to make a clear decision on how to nourish their children in a healthy way. Anxious that their children may be missing out on something, they ask whether it is necessary to supplement their child’s diet with nutritional supplements.
Such a question becomes even more relevant when we learn that the average Western diet is becoming increasingly impoverished in health-giving nutrients, either because of decreasing nutritional quality of the food grown or manufactured, or because of the kinds of food that children and their parents are choosing to eat today. Many children in affluent first-world societies are being nourished on a diet so refined and lacking in wholesome foodstuffs that these children are being classified as malnourished. In the USA one in four children is overweight, one in eight is obese, and the incidence of acquired type 2 diabetes is occurring commonly in children whereas until recently it occurred only in adults.
Against this backdrop, how can parents find their way through the hype of controversy and contradiction, fads and fashion, and come to a sensible and rational approach to providing their children with healthy food?
This article will appear in two parts. In the first part I will try to offer a general common sense and rational approach to the healthy nutrition of children. In part 2 I will focus on a more specialised approach based on a spiritual-scientific understanding of the child. By virtue of the natural correspondence that exists between the child’s constitution and Nature (the source of all our food), parents can work creatively to provide a wholesome and balanced nutrition using the nutritional discipline of their choice for each and every child, as well as for each stage of the child’s development.
As always my point of departure in these articles is the child as a physical/spiritual being. On the one hand the child is connected to the earth and nature through his physical body. On the other hand the child is connected through his soul and spirit to the invisible reality of those other dimensions that every child is completely at home in, i.e. the world of sleep, dreams, fantasy and inner experience. The inner being of the child has embarked on a life journey and will require a vehicle in which to travel in order to unravel its life story. The body of the growing child is this highly organised vehicle permeated with a genius of living forces and functions, and mandated to carry its owner and chauffeur on his/her appointed journey through life. The owner, the “I’ or higher self, appoints a faithful servant, the soul, to represent him and to manage his worldly affairs. This living vehicle, the physical-etheric body, needs earthly nourishment to maintain its form and function in order to develop in accordance with the specific needs of the one who owns and travels in it. Nutrition fulfils this purpose. Healthy food will strengthen the body in its fulfilment of this task; unhealthy food will weaken it.
So what constitutes healthy food?
Nutritional science informs us firstly of the basic food constituents that the body requires for its healthy survival.
[bul]Proteins are found primarily in meat, fish, dairy products, some grains, nuts, seeds and leguminous vegetables such as beans, peas, lentils and soya. These proteins are broken down by the digestive juices into their constituent amino acids, which are absorbed by the body for use as a fuel for energy or as building blocks for the growth, maintenance and repair of body tissues. They are also used to make cellular enzymes, hormones, antibodies, and nerve transmitters. The best quality protein foods include meat, fish, eggs, soya, beans, lentils and quinoa.
Carbohydrates or starch occur in nature as whole grains, fruits, legumes, and vegetables. These are complex carbohydrates containing variable amounts of valuable non-digestible fibre that on digestion release their component sugars slowly and thus provide a healthier sustained energy release. This is in contrast to the simple carbohydrates occurring in most refined foods such as white flour and sugar products, which lack fibre, essential vitamins and minerals and release sugar rapidly leading to fluctuating energy levels.
Fats occur in meat and dairy products as saturated fats and as unsaturated fats in olive and seed oils, nuts and fish. Fats are utilised in the body to build cell membranes, store energy, provide metabolic fuel, and serve as insulating and protective material for certain organs especially the nerve tissue.
The 15 known vitamins found in different food sources are essential to health and have specific roles to play in bodily functions. The fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E and K, and the water-soluble vitamins are the B vitamins, i.e. B[sub]1[/sub] (thiamine), B[sub]2[/sub] (riboflavin), B[sub]3[/sub] (niacin), B[sub]6[/sub] (pyridoxine), B[sub]12[/sub] (cyanocobalamine, biotin), B[sub]5[/sub] (pantothenic acid, folic acid, choline, and inositol) and vitamin C. Vitamin A is found as retinol in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, and as beta-carotene in yellow, orange and red vegetables and fruits. Vitamins B and C occur mostly in fresh fruit and vegetables. Vitamin D occurs in sunlight, dairy products, meat and fish. Vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds and their oils. Vitamin K is found in large quantities in green leafy vegetables.
Minerals or trace elements are likewise essential for almost all bodily functions. The most important minerals and their sources include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, potassium, chromium, zinc, manganese and selenium. A diet rich in dairy products, nuts, seeds, grains, fruits, legumes, seafood, seaweed and vegetables especially kale, cabbage and broccoli will contain all these minerals.[/bul]
The growing child will need a minimum daily quantity of these basic food nutrients to nourish the body optimally. Average daily requirements and the recommended balance of nutrients are controversial. A ratio of 60 – 70% starch to 10 – 20% protein to 10 – 20% fat, may be regarded as optimal for most children. Guidelines need to be easily applicable and personalised. Here are some of them:
[bul]A growing child should eat three meals a day. Many children skip breakfast, and others lunch, either because they don’t feel like eating, or because of laziness or poor supervision. Poor appetite is a sign of digestive weakness; the other reasons require better discipline.
Protein: the amount of protein foods contained in the palm of a child’s hand is an approximate daily quantity of protein required. Adding some protein to the morning and midday meal will benefit some children greatly, giving them increased energy and stamina. Ensure that protein foods are good quality proteins. Avoid excess animal protein, i.e. not more than 3 times weekly.
Complex carbohydrates should be eaten in order to maintain stable blood sugar levels and provide additional vitamins and minerals.
Limit refined foods, sugar, confectionary and sugar products to a minimum. Avoid the habitual drinking of fruit juices and dilute sweet drinks.
Fats, which are often omitted, can easily be obtained through cold-pressed seed oils such as sesame, sunflower or flax seeds added as a salad dressing, or by grinding seeds and nuts and adding the mix to food. Avoid the hydrogenated polyunsaturated fats contained in processed foods such as margarine and mayonnaise, as well as fried and burnt foods.
Fibre found in whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, vegetables and fresh fruit should be present in each meal to strengthen digestive, metabolic and immune functions.
Sufficient vitamins and minerals will be present if the daily diet contains abundant quantities of green, red, orange and other root vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts and seeds.
Encourage daily intake of 1 – 2 litres of fluid in the form of filtered water, herb or fruit teas or diluted pure fruit juices.
As far as possible avoid alcohol, coffee and other caffeinated beverages, food preservatives and colourants.[/bul]
However, the growing child needs much more than merely a balanced daily quantity of fuel. The body is not a machine, but a living organism requiring the living nourishment that nature provides. All foodstuffs derived from the mineral, plant or animal kingdoms are invested with living forces, which upon entering the body interact with the child’s dynamic system. This is true despite the apparent contradiction that the forces of nature are completely destroyed by the human digestive processes and then assimilated in a form appropriate to the human organism.
Minerals all have unique crystalline structures and elemental electromagnetic frequencies, which upon ingestion have specific effects in the human organism. In general minerals provide essential building materials for the physical framework of the body, e.g. calcium and magnesium for the bones, but they also provide differentiated resistance against which the growing child and the emerging “I’ can develop inner strength. The elements of the mineral world are the same as those present in the physical body and therefore have a close connection with the child’s [i]physical body[/i].
Plants are built up out of these minerals with the addition of water, light and warmth. These elements endow the plant with the forces of life that support all the plant’s dynamic life processes such as cell division and growth, respiration of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and the production of starch through photosynthesis and its transportation through the plant system.
The child’s growing body is likewise enlivened by a system of dynamic life forces called the [i]etheric life forces[/i] by Rudolf Steiner, [i]chi[/i] by Traditional Chinese Medicine and [i]prana[/i] by Ayurvedic medicine. This system drives the development of the child’s physical body and is responsible for all metabolic functions, maintenance and repair of the system. The [i]etheric[/i] body is like a synthesis of all the plant species within the human organism. When the plant structure is broken down by digestion its forces are released into the system and [i]strengthen the child’s connection with the spiritual world[/i].
Similarly animals are nourished by plants. In addition to their physical-etheric nature, they also contain a sentient and reactive nature, i.e. the ability to be aware of their environment and to react to it with sympathy or antipathy. In the face of danger they either fight or flee, whereas they are drawn irresistibly towards food and comfort. These same animal-like forces are present in the [i]psyche[/i] or [i]astral body[/i] of the growing child. The [i]astral body[/i] is like the sum of all animals in the human organism. Upon ingestion of animal food, the forces inherent in it [i]connect the child more strongly with the earth and make him more earthbound[/i].
The natural power present in these food substances will determine the quality of the food nutrients and their effects on the human organism. It has been shown, for instance, that water taken from different sources has different biological qualities. Plant food grown organically or biodynamically has a higher level of minerals and trace elements. Vegetables and fruit grown without artificial fertiliser and pesticides have unquestionably superior taste and smell. Free-range chickens fed on natural grain look and taste very different to battery chickens. The manufacturing process that follows the growing and production of food will further influence its quality. The longer food is stored on the shelf the poorer the quality and quantity.
[bul]To maximise the natural power in foods strive to obtain fresh food produced and processed as naturally as possible.
Choose organic and biodynamically grown foods and foods without added chemicals and hormones.
Avoid refined and synthetically processed food.[/bul]
The cooking process will profoundly influence the quality of food. Cooking destroys many vital enzymes, essential fatty acids and certain vitamins, e.g. vitamin B[sub]1[/sub], and reduces the activity of phytochemicals. Water-soluble vitamins are lost when food is cut, peeled and exposed to water, or when the cooking liquid is discarded. Bruised and wilted fruits and vegetables have undergone major nutrient loss. Microwave cooking heats and cooks the food unnaturally quickly and will inevitably change the quality of the food, as can be confirmed by sensitive tasting.
[bul]Vegetables should never be overcooked. These should be eaten raw or undercooked.
Avoid discarding the water from cooked food.
Wash and cut vegetables immediately prior to cooking or serving.
Avoid peeling vegetables and fruit if possible.
Thawed foods should be cooked immediately and not refrozen after cooking.
Store vegetables and ripe fruit in the refrigerator to retain nutrients.
Limit microwave cooking as far as possible.[/bul]
Finally, the way food is presented on the table will also enhance the nutritional value for the child.
[bul]Provide aesthetically pleasing, pleasure-creating food that has an abundance of colour, taste and aroma.[/bul]
Healthy well cared for children who receive wholesome, unprocessed food, prepared and served in a balanced way, do not in my opinion require additional supplementation. However, this issue needs to be addressed on an individual basis according to the health and constitution of the child, as well as the quality of the food and the way it is prepared. Furthermore, I do not belong to the ranks of those who believe nutrition is everything, that “we are what we eat’. Other factors, described in previous articles in the [i]Naturally Healthy Children[/i] section of this [i]Journal[/i] such as the proper care of the child in the home and school, have profound effects on the health of the child and also need to be taken into account when considering supplementation.[/just]
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