Two main factors in staying healthy are eating well and staying active. What does it mean to eat well though? Do your dietary needs remain the same as you grow and age?
Considering the growth of the body and its various developmental and functional stages, you can’t expect to keep your diet the same through the years. The body’s nutritional needs change over time. A toddler’s nutrient requirements, for instance, differ from those of an adult male’s.
General Rule of Thumb
To meet the body’s nutritional needs, the following are a must:
- A wide variety of nutrients.
- Enough carbohydrates for energy.
- Enough protein for cell repair and maintenance.
- Important fatty acids.
- Water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins.
- Essential minerals, primarily calcium, iron, and zinc.
- Foods with plant-derived phytochemicals.
- Sufficient daily water intake.
This basically tells you that your diet should generally consist of fruits, veggies, lean meats, poultry, fish, dairy, whole grains, and legumes.
Nutritional Focus at Every Life Stage
If you’re responsible for feeding your family and different stages are currently represented, you need to be aware of the varying nutritional requirements per stage and what the emphasis should be for each one.
1. Babies (0-6 months)
At this stage, all they need is breastmilk or infant milk, either of which provides enough water as well as remedy any fluid loss.
2. Babies (6-12 months)
Solids are usually introduced at six months. Breastfeeding should continue to support 1-year-old baby development. Solids introduced should be rich in zinc and iron. They can be sourced from fortified cereals, pureed meat and poultry, cooked tofu, and legumes.
Babies this age should also get vitamins and minerals. Suitably textured fruits and vegetables are good sources of these dietary requirements.
3. Young Children
At this stage, the child nutrition needs will increase. Their energy, protein, vitamin, and mineral needs increase with age, so augment their portions accordingly.
However, if your children seem to be battling with extra weight, lower their consumption of energy-dense but nutrient-poor snacks along with their sedentary activities, such as watching TV.
Make sure that they get enough fluids, primarily water. They should have at least two servings of whole milk or fortified milk, nothing low-fat for them as they need the fat for energy and growth. Fruit juices, even natural ones, should be limited.
Late tweens and early teens require extra energy for growth, but this should be obtained from nutritious foods and not just empty calorie-snacks. They also need to boost their calcium intake for their rapidly growing bones.
5. Older Teenagers
While nutrients, especially iron and calcium, remain vital to them, they have to consciously make the effort to reduce their intake of fats and sodium.
Bone building continues into the 20s, so calcium requirements remain high. Other important nutrients at this stage are iron and folate. Iron is for metabolism support, muscle oxygenation, improved concentration, and tissue and hormone production. Folate is for making and repairing DNA.
The focus at this time would be on calories and magnesium. Calorie consumption should be lower since the body’s metabolism has slowed down. Magnesium, on the other hand, is great for generating energy, regulating both blood sugar and blood pressure, and keeping bones strong.
You should get a lot of antioxidants for fending off free radicals that contribute to advanced aging and the onset of many chronic diseases. Vitamins C and E get special mention, as well as selenium and beta-carotene.
9. Fifties and older
Rapid bone loss occurs at this time, especially among women at menopause, so emphasis is once again placed on calcium intake. Other essential nutrients for this stage are vitamins D and B12.
The required vitamin D dietary amount significantly increases, hence the recommendation to supplement. Vitamin B12, on the other hand, is for making red blood cells, DNA, and nerves.
It’s hard to keep track of everyone’s nutritional needs, especially if your children considerably vary in age or if you have elderly family living with you. All you really can do is to keep on serving balanced healthy meals and to always have plenty of fruits on hand for the whole family’s consumption.