The do’s & the don’ts when it comes to nutrition – By Monica Hodges

When the time came to start Amaya on solids, I had a lot of questions. My friend Monica Hodges, who has studied nutrition (among other things…click on her name to visit her website or click here to visit her Facebook page), gave me a lot of helpful tips. I found them so useful when making good food choices for Amaya, therefore I asked Monica to write a blog so I could share this knowledge with you all….


The do’s & don’ts when it comes to nutrition- By Monica Hodges

In children, good nutrition is essential for normal growth and development. It also plays an important role in providing resistance to infection and disease. When a child is properly nourished, it means that they are being given all the essential nutrients for health and wellbeing.

Vitamins, minerals and water all regulate body functions. Fats and Carbohydrates provide energy. Proteins also provide energy, as well as build body tissue.

It’s recommended that we use the healthy eating model on the Nutrition Australia website as a guide. When feeding our children though, it is also important to be aware of the lengths food companies will go to for big profits. Products aimed and advertised directly to and for children, these are not always healthy and quite often are highly processed, containing little or no nutritional content. The supermarket aisles are full of products, which contain too much sugar, salt, food additives and preservatives.

When food shopping, check food labels for excess sugar in products like juice, cordial, fizzy drinks, cereals, cereal bars, canned fruits, hazelnut spreads, flavoured milk and dairy desserts. The proportion of sugar in foods is listed by ranking in the ingredients list, on the product packaging. If sugar is listed as a first, second, or third in the ingredients list, it is probably a good idea to avoid that particular product. Also, any more than 15g of sugars per 100g on the nutritional panel is considered too much sugar. Other names that come under the category of added sugars are: dextrose, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, sucrose, malt, maltose, lactose, maple syrup, brown sugar, sucrose and raw sugar. Always buy unsweetened juices and wholegrain cereal products where sugar has not been added. And fresh unprocessed produce is always better.

Salt (which is by chemical name sodium chloride), is included in many processed foods for preservation and for flavouring. Smoked foods like ham and bacon usually have large amounts of salt added. Snack foods like chips, crackers and processed cheeses can contain a lot of salt. As well as canned fish and anchovies. Tuna in springwater is a better choice than tuna in brine. Be aware of products which have sodium sources, listed as ‘sodium’ or ‘monosodium glutamate’, ‘baking soda’ and ‘baking powder’ in ingredients lists. There is also a variety of flavoured salts which can be added into products eg. chicken salt, celery salt or onion salt. Look into reduced salt versions of products that you normally buy, for example tomato based products, pasta sauces, canned tomatoes and other canned products. Foods which have less than 120mg of sodium per 100g on the products nutritional panel are considered best.

Because of the rate at which toddlers grow, reduced fat dairy products do not contain enough nutrient content and energy for children under two years of age. It is recommended that reduced fat milk and dairy products only be given to children over 5 years of age. Reduced fat products can be offered after the age of two, as long as they are getting a range of fats from a wide variety of foods.


Which food additives to avoid:

1. Artificial sweetening substances.

These are found in drinks, sweets, chewing gum, biscuits, even some diet yoghurts. These substances are listed on product labels as ‘Aspartame’, ‘Saccharin’ and ‘Cylamate’. There has been some public concern in recent years, about the health implications with regular consumption of products containing artificial sweeteners. Reduced sugar or low calorie soft drinks often contain artificial sweeteners so please check the product label.


2. Flavour Enhancers.

The best known flavour enhancer is monosodium glutamate or 621. It is in a lot of processed foods like flavoured packet soups and noodles, canned foods and potato chips. Other enhancers used in packaged foods are ‘sodium inosinate 631’ and ‘sodium guanylate 627’. There has been some public concern regarding the effects flavour enhancers, in general, have on our health and the possible behavioural effects in children. These are not allowed to be present in infant foods so best to be avoided if possible.


3. Bleaching agents.

Try to always buy unbleached flour for baking. Unbleached flour is more yellowish in colour than bleached flour. If the bleaching is done chemically, the chemicals used in the bleaching process can be chlorine, chlorine dioxide and benzoyl peroxide. If a flour is unbleached, it will usually be put on the front of the flour packaging.


4. Nitrates.

Though not really classified as a ‘food additive’, nitrates are worth a mentioning. Based on the results of a recent study, the World Health Organisation has classified processed meat as carcinogenic to humans. Different preservation methods used in processing meat could result in the formation of N-nitroso compounds (Nitrates). These are considered carcinogenic – linked to cancer. ‘Processed’ meat refers to meats that have been salted, cured, fermented and smoked. Hot Dogs (frankfurters), salami, ham and kabana are all considered processed meats. The recommendation is to reduce or moderate the consumption of these types of meats. Fresh, cooked meat is considered a healthier alternative. If you would like more information please refer to the World Health Organisation website.

Nutritionists recommend to buy wholegrain, unprocessed cereals and brown rice products, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables, instead of the canned options. The least amount of handling a food has had, the better. Having said this, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with using snap frozen vegetables when time is limited. Mashed avocado can be a very healthy spread for bread but if avocado isn’t available, butter is better because it is natural. Plain tasty cheese from the cold section in a supermarket, and is a better choice than processed cheese. Hummas is a healthy dip for carrot, cucumber or celery sticks. Plain natural yoghurt is far healthier than the already sweetened varieties and can be eaten with fresh fruit. When you need to use a natural sweetener, Stevia is a good alternative to sugar.

Home baking is always going to be far healthier than the store bought options (muffins, cakes, biscuits, muesli bars etc) because you always know what is in your own baking. Look at the ingredients list on the back of a cake mix, can you see all the numbers and additives? Make large batches of your own home baking and freeze if you can. The same goes for baby food…home made vegetable mashes, frozen, are far better than store bought jars of baby food. Chemical free, organic produce is the ideal, but not everyone can afford it. It’s about trying to keep yours and your child’s diet as natural as possible.

Food definitely has changed a lot in the last 100 years. Our ancestors would raise their own animals for meat, or buy meat and dairy very locally. A lot of meat was eaten, but meat had a higher nutrient value because it was grass fed meat. Fruits and vegetables were also home farmed or grown locally. Highly processed food was non-existent and breads were homemade. Next time you visit the supermarket or order your groceries, question the variety of foods available. Some would say that we are lucky to have such an abundance and variety of different foods. Unfortunately though, our great grandparents, as children, wouldn’t recognise a lot of these options as food.

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