Wouldn’t it be marvellous if we could eat as many cream cakes, chips or chocolates — or whatever your favourite fantasy food is — and still look slim and glowing with health! Alas, even eating food that is considered good for us, such as meat, eggs or cheese, can be unhealthy if we do so to excess.
A ‘balanced’ diet is an eating pattern that contains a bit of everything. Bodies have different requirements at different stages, but everybody needs to eat balanced, regular meals. This is a habit that is the foundation of good health and good looks and it’s something careful parents can help their children establish early, getting them into the habit of eating well — and properly — all their lives.
WHAT IS A BALANCED DIET?
All foods contain at least one of these nutrients, and each nutrient has a specific function in the body-building process. They are:
CARBOHYDRATES and FATS which provide bodily energy. Anything left over is stored in the body as fat, PROTEINS help body growth and repair. MINERALS also help with growth and repair and, with VITAMINS, help to regulate body processes.
Carbohydrates are sugars, starches and cellulose (dietary fibre) or roughage. Main sources for these are all sweetened items such as jams, ice cream, etc., as well as items containing natural sugar such as fruits and milk. Starches are found in all flour-based items such as bread and in processed foods with thickened sauces.
Main sources of fats are butter, cream, cooking oils, hard cheeses, fatty meats such as pork. All dairy products contain a certain amount of fats although this is quite low in the case of milk, eggs and cottage cheese.
Proteins are found in all meats, fish, cheese and pulses, with useful amounts in bread and milk.
Most balanced diets contain sufficient of the 15 or so minerals that are essential for good health. The minerals calcium, phosphorus and magnesium are very important for strong bones and teeth. Iron is particularly important as it is involved with the use of oxygen. If there is a deficiency of iron it results in anaemia. Other minerals are also necessary for the body’s well being but only in small quantities.
Vitamins are essential in minute amounts for normal body growth and general good health. Vitamins fall into two main types: the fat soluble vitamins which are found in fats and oils, meat, fish and dairy products; and the water soluble vitamins which are found in cereals, fruit, vegetables and, like fat soluble vitamins, in dairy products.
Here are some of the major ‘building’ foods and what they contain: MILK contains nearly every constituent of nutritional importance although it is somewhat deficient in iron and vitamins C and D.
A and D are both present in fatty fish such as herring and mackerel. They are also found in the livers of cod and halibut.
VEGETABLES contain dietary fibre to help the digestive process, vitamins A, C, iron and other minerals. Pulses, such as beans, peas (fresh), are also rich in protein.
FRUITS contain vitamin C and fructose (fruit sugar) — especially dried fruits — an important source of energy. Nuts are high in protein and fat and a good source of B vitamins.
CEREALS: most breakfast cereals are reinforced with vitamin and mineral ingredients, as is white flour. Wholemeal flour has a natural content of iron, vitamins and dietary fibre.
WHAT EVERY BODY NEEDS
Although we all need a good proportion of these different foods to help us function efficiently, individual needs vary as the body changes. One important thing to remember is that children’s eating habits are established very early in life.
Children should be given a wide variety of different foods to try from a fairly early age and a stable meal pattern should be encouraged as well. A well-balanced diet will provide all the energy needed. High-energy, snack-type foods are best avoided as they can help to encourage both obesity and dental decay.
For instance, all the sugar we need can be found in the fruit we eat, all the fats in items such as milk, cheese, toast and butter, and in vegetable oils. Cream cakes, sweets, and jams are really ‘treats’. We honestly don’t need them to maintain life — although they do make life that much more pleasant!
And here’s a further dire warning — sucrose (the sugar found in sugars and sugar-based items like sweets) can wreak havoc on young teeth and cause a lot of trouble all through your child’s adult life.
But don’t worry if your pre-teenage child displays a big appetite. This is really ‘healthy’ and should be encouraged — but in the right way.
During their schooldays, children are extremely active and, as they are growing very rapidly at that time in their lives, their dietary requirements are high in relation to the actual size of their body. However, bulky-type foods that fill up but only have a very low nutritional value such as sweets, soft drinks, cakes and biscuits should not be allowed to spoil the child’s appetite so that they do not want to eat when it is time for their proper meals. ‘Snacks’ should be discouraged.
Milk is a good source for calcium, riboflavin and protein and should form a regular part of your children’s diet. Add bread, cheese, meat (particularly liver), fish, eggs, fruit, green vegetables and potatoes and you have the basis of a good balanced diet that will ensure that they have all the nourishment they need and that they will probably never have a weight problem when they grow up. Adolescents basically require the same varied, well balanced, easily converted diet, although their own fads and fancies often defeat this aim. Obesity (overweight) among school children is now a very sad but common sight and it is due entirely to bad eating habits.
On the other hand, anorexia nervosa is also becoming increasingly common among teenagers, particularly girls. This is compulsive dieting to the point of malnutrition and, in extreme cases, it can be fatal.
As far as the nutritionist is concerned, although Johnny is grossly overweight and his sister looks like a scarecrow, both are suffering from a form of malnutrition because both, in their own separate ways, are not eating the foods they need to maintain their bodies.
There’s no easy answer to these difficult problems and, although they represent extremes, most parents have had to cope with ‘difficult’ teenage eating at some stage or another. Nagging doesn’t
really help; neither does pointing out that something is ‘good for you’. Delicious-smelling meals, attractively presented and which just happen to contain all the right things, may go a long way to helping the teenager adjust his cravings to his real needs.
Like pre-teen children, they do need a lot of energy. A big appetite isn’t necessarily a bad thing and should be fully indulged. Probably at no other time in their lives will they require so much energy, and energy-giving food will help build up bodies beautifully.
Adults are frequently less active than they were when they were adolescents and, in consequence, their energy requirements decline. However, it is often the caSee that appetites remain the same as they were before.
If your weight was right for you at 20, then ideally it should remain the same at 40 — but has it? Women tend to be more weight-conscio ds than men, but with more and more people doing sedentary jobs with a minimum of exercise, and probably not eating properly — e.g., filling up at the pub at lunch with beer and crisps — it’s no wonder that obesity is becoming more and more of a problem with adults, too.
It is also a health problem. A heavy body puts undue strain on the body’s organs, particularly the heart. An unexercised, overweight body means slack muscles that cannot easily cope with the added weight strain, and bad health is the all-too-common result. It isn’t vanity to want to stay slim all your life — just plain common sense!
The elderly, on the other hand, are often in danger of suffering from another form of anorexia, particularly if they live on their own. Because energy requirements diminish with age, nature adjusts by lessening the appetite. But this natural process can be extended unhealthily by the eating habits of the senior citizen.
Very often they lose interest in their food, particularly if they have to prepare it for themselves and there is no-one else to cook for. They will tend to heat up a tin of something or other, or skip meals altogether. A balanced diet is just as important for them as for everyone else. Eggs and other dairy products should form a large part of their diet, as well as items containing natural roughage such as greens and wholemeal bread to help with digestion.