Fonterra Head of Nutrition Mindy Wigzell looks at our nutritional needs that change as we age.
While it’s true that our nutritional needs change throughout our lives, the good news is that enjoying a variety of nutritious foods and drinks - such as fruit, vegetables, lean meats, dairy, wholegrains, legumes and nuts- is the best way to get the nutrition you need, whatever your age.
In the first few years of life, energy needs are high relative to their size and support children’s rapid growth. Early childhood is also a time of learning and experiencing new foods, with different textures, tastes and smells helping to shape healthy eating habits for life.
A varied diet is also important as children get older. This helps them get essential nutrients including high quality protein, calcium and vitamin D to keep bones strong as they grow. To ensure kids make the most of every day, vitamin A is important for a healthy immune system, and iron supports mental performance so they are primed and ready for learning at school.
Fussy eating can be a problem for some children but a few simple tips may help: try and involve your kids in shopping and food preparation, offer nutritious snacks if mealtimes are a struggle and make mealtimes a positive experience.
The teenage years can be challenging… and not just for parents! Because the greatest increase in bone mass occurs post-puberty, adolescence provides a particularly critical window of opportunity to build strong bones for later in life.
For this reason, it’s really important to make sure bones get the nutrients they need at this age, especially calcium.
Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are well known as a rich source of calcium but did you know they also contain other nutrients which are essential for bones like high quality protein and phosphorus? Some dairy products are also fortified with vitamin D, a nutrient that helps calcium absorption.
As well as thinking about essential bone nutrients, it’s also important for teenage girls in particular to include iron-rich foods such as red meat, chicken, mussels, spinach, tofu and kidney beans in their diet once puberty hits.
After all those years of growth, development and change, adulthood is all about maintaining that healthy body we’ve spent years building. Good nutrition with enough protein, calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus is important to help maintain healthy bones and muscles – both of which naturally tend to decrease as we age. B vitamins and iron help us feel less tired and increase our energy levels to go about our daily lives.
Focusing on nutrient-dense foods goes a long way to giving you all the nutrients you need to feel great and stay healthy.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding bring their own special nutrition needs as requirements for certain nutrients increase to support the growing foetus and baby, as well as mum.
Some nutrients are particularly important during pregnancy. Getting enough iron can help reduce fatigue and folic acid is important for the first three months of pregnancy for the healthy development of the baby’s brain and spinal cord. While vitamin A is still essential during pregnancy, it’s important not to get too much as very high levels of vitamin A can increase the risk of birth defects. Due to the unique requirements and potential safety concerns during pregnancy, it’s important to consult with a health professional for expert nutrition advice.
Concerns around health naturally play a part in our senior years. Continuing to eat a varied and balanced diet and being active is as important as ever. As we age, we may eat less than previously for a number of reasons such as reduced appetite, medications or dental issues. In that case, eating ‘little and often’ can be an effective way to get sufficient essential nutrients, especially protein, calcium and vitamin D for mobility and folate and vitamin B12 to support an active mind.
So, while our nutrition needs may change throughout our lives, there are a few key principles that are important for everyone. Enjoying a variety of foods and drinks and choosing nutritious options like, fruit, vegetables, lean meats, dairy, wholegrains, legumes and nuts is the best way to get the essential nutrients needed for growth, mental and physical performance.