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At What Stage of Life Is Nutrition More Important?

By Rob Callahan

Although nutrition is important at every stage of life, a healthy diet is most important for children. A child needs a healthy, balanced diet to achieve his full growth potential, and nutrition influences his social and cognitive development, as well. Just as proper nutrition during childhood helps to shape the health of adults, poor nutrition may contribute to unhealthy eating habits and health issues later in life, such as obesity and heart disease.

Nutrition During Pregnancy

Physical development begins in the womb. This is when avoiding toxins such as alcohol and tobacco and excessive amounts of sugar is crucial. A healthy diet at this time encourages optimal fetal development. During pregnancy, eat five or more portions of fruits and vegetables daily. Consume protein sources such as lean meats, fish, poultry and eggs, but avoid fattier meats. Skim milk and other low-fat dairy products are also encouraged, as are the starchy carbohydrates found in pasta, bread, rice, potatoes and cereal. Drink six to eight glasses of water and other fluids daily.

A Mother's Nutrition While Breastfeeding

As a breastfeeding mother, you will continue to provide your baby with much-needed protein, calcium and folate, as well as vitamin A and vitamin C. Your baby also needs vitamin D, but your breast milk may not provide high-enough levels, so talk to your doctor about adding a vitamin D supplement to your diet. Avoid excessively fatty or sugary foods, as these will give you fewer nutrients to pass on.

Switching Babies to Solid Food

Once your baby's doctor approves a switch to solid food, transition to specially formulated baby cereals, mixed with breast milk or formula, and single-grain oatmeal or barley cereals. Gradually Introduce jarred baby food or pureed meats, vegetables and fruits. Give her one new type of food every few days. By 8 to 10 months, she will be able to handle finely cut finger foods such as soft fruits, graham crackers and ground meats. You may continue to offer breast milk between meals to supplement her diet or provide comfort.

Growing Children and Pre-Teens

As children grow, their caloric needs change, depending on age, gender, level of physical activity and genetic factors such as metabolism and growth rate. Regular visits to the doctor will help you determine your child's ideal weight, as well as any needed dietary changes. In general, girls need 1,400 and 1,800 calories daily up to the age of 9 and 1,600 to 2,200 calories until the age of 12. Boys require 1,600 to 2,000 calories and 1,800 to 2,400 calories at the same ages. Ensure that these calories come from a balanced diet rich in whole grains, lean protein sources, low-fat dairy products and fruits or vegetables so that that their caloric intake fuels their growing bodies and satisfies their nutritional needs.

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