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Eating healthy is a habit that should be nurtured for life long. It begins right from the time when your baby starts with complementary feeding at six months. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is a great healthy start that we can give our babies. As we start with solids post that, it is to be ensured that the baby gets all kinds of nutrients via food for his overall growth and development. Let me elaborate on it.
WHO defines complementary feeding as the process when other foods are introduced to the baby apart from the breast milk. The transition from exclusively breastfeeds to family food is called as complementary feeding. WHO recommends Breastfeeding on demand till at least two years of age and beyond. At the same time, solids should be introduced because breastmilk alone cannot meet the nutritional demands of a growing baby.
Starting solids is often a phase of anxiety, happiness and excitement for parents. Babies too love to explore a different new world of food. They love to explore various textures and tastes. The habits we build now will continue for life.so why not make it a great start! According to UNICEF, the state of children worldwide is poor because many of them do not get nutritionally rich foods. Babies need right food at the right time to grow appropriately. As long as they breastfeed exclusively, they do get their minerals and vitamins which they need. Once solids are introduced it is a greater work to ensure that the kind of food the baby intakes should carry all the necessary nutrients. The 6-8 months is a critical window because this is the time to set a healthy start and also, the early all kind of foods are introduced into a baby's diet, the more the chances of its acceptance. Feeding the baby, the right food is crucially important for a healthier next gen.
Talking about the nutrients, it is a component which is found in food which a living organisms like us, uses to survive and grow. They are also called as Essential Nutrients. These Nutrients are difficult for our body to synthesize on its own and hence needs to be taken externally in form of food. The six most essential nutrients are, carbohydrates, protein, fats, minerals, vitamins and water.
They can be broadly classified into two groups. Macronutrients and Micronutrients. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are macronutrients. They are usually easier to get from food. The micronutrients are vitamins and minerals which is a tricky thing to decide which food gives what. So let's take a look at their functions and sources.
Carbohydrates - They are the main source of energy for the body which we require every day for functioning. We get carbohydrates from whole grains, breads, starchy Vegetables and fruits. In our Indian diet, we usually consume roti’s, rice, bread, vegetables and other foods as carbohydrates.
Proteins - Protein is responsible for building and repair of body tissues. We get protein from meats, eggs, beans, dairy products and anything which is soaked overnight such as Chana, Chole, rajma and certain legumes.
Fats - Yes, you heard that right. We need to consume healthy fats in our diet. Fat is a source of energy which also helps the body to absorb fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A,D and E. We must choose food which is rich in Omega-3 and limit the saturated fats. Its again found in nuts, dairy and meats and dairy
You can introduce eggs, fish and meats right around 6-7 months. They are a great source of various nutrients. Many a times, parents are not sure about introducing meats to their child at such young age. I say, if your baby is eating everything else, then why not meat, eggs and fish? To make your child a less fussy eater, it would be wise to introduce varieties right from the beginning. And trust me, you don't have to wait for the little teeth to erupt. They do a pretty good job otherwise too.
More often than not, what we miss in our diet are the micronutrients. As the name suggests, they are required in miniscule quantities but are very critical for the overall development of the baby. These are the vitamins and the minerals which our body cannot make on its own and hence we have to depend on food. So we have to make a right choice here. According to WHO, Iodine, vitamin A and Iron are the most required Nutrients in terms public health. Let's have a closer inspection of the micro nutrients.
Vitamins and minerals are the two type of micronutrients. They are essential for proper regulation of metabolism, pH levels, heartbeat and bone density. Lack of these can result into stunted growth for children and also increases the chances of various diseases like anaemia, rickets, scurvy etc. when they grow up.
Vitamins are further classified into water soluble vitamins and fat soluble vitamins. Water soluble vitamins such as B6 &12 are lost easily through body fluids and hence needs to be replaced every day. Whereas the fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K are not easily lost and hence we do not need their sources every day.
Vitamin A is found in green leafy veggies, broccoli, apricots, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, tomatoes, milk and capsicum.
Vitamin D is found in Mushrooms, cheese, eggs, fish, almonds, soy, milk, orange juice and of course the sunshine.
Vitamin E comes from Almonds, Spinach, and your daily oil for cooking such as sunflower oil, olive oil and others because these days many of the oils are fortified with vitamin E. Then you have peanuts, avocado and shrimps also to the list.
Vitamin K is found in foods like Cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, broccoli, eggs, chicken, fish and lettuce.
Vitamin C comes from citrus fruits like orange, lemon, and also bananas. Minerals also comes in two forms. The micro minerals and the macro minerals.
Macro minerals are calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium which are needed in larger quantities. Micro minerals are required in miniscule quantities which include iron, copper, zinc, iodine and fluoride.
The sources of calcium are milk, orange, almonds, green leafy vegetables, oats, paneer, curd, tofu, figs and many more.
Phosphorus is mainly found in fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Also in eggs and meats.
Potassium is in potatoes, tomatoes, bananas, lemon, guava, muskmelon, spinach again and all kind of dals, poha, jowar and the list goes on. Micro minerals play a very crucial role in the proper development of infants. Proper intake of Iron and Zinc rich foods is important because the lack of it hampers the child's cognitive growth. Studies have suggested that Iron deficiency, also known as anemia is a common problem which is affecting billions of people worldwide especially children which can cause irreparable damage to the young children. According to statistics around 79℅ of children in India are anemic. Now that's an alarming figure.
Children who suffer from acute anemia require external supplementation. However, the healthy children can absorb most of the iron from the food. Vitamin C helps in the absorption of Iron well in the body whereas too much calcium is found to hinder the iron absorption. Full term babies are usually born with a stock of iron which lasts them for the first six months. Once the baby starts solids, we have to offer them iron rich foods. Breastmilk contains a kind of lactose which helps in the iron absorption unlike the cow's milk. Therefore it is also important to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months and continue till minimum a year because cow milk is big NO for babies under 1 year.
Looking at the iron rich foods, there are green leafy vegetables especially Palak, then we have lentils, raisins, chicken liver, fish, soyabeans, eggs, whole wheat breads/pasta. Vegetables like cauliflower, raddish, legumes like rajma, chole are all a good source of Iron. The another vital micro mineral being Zinc which is important to keep diarrhoea at bay for children. It takes care of their stomach and boosts immune system. The enzymes which aids the digestion process and the metabolism requires zinc to function. Foods which are high in zinc are whole grain cereals, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds(til), fruits like pomegranates and avocadoes, spinach, mushrooms, chole, nuts and many more.
Our body needs nutrients to stay healthy. We live with our body for as long as we live, so taking care of it is worth all our time. It is ideal if we set a healthy example for our babies too. As parents, we must offer them variety to food. Some they choose, some they ignore because every taste is new to them and just like us some may appeal and some may not. It may take good number of attempts before your little one develops a healthy liking towards a particular food. Keep offering! Stay healthy!