New research offers important insights about nutrition for kids.
For example, studies confirm that, for their body weight, children burn more fat (Kostyak et al 2007). These and other observations suggest that many seemingly natural, healthful diets for adults are inappropriate for children.
What else should parents keep in mind? Here is an index to evidence-based articles about feeding children.
Fish, mercury, and nutrition for kids. Fish oil contains
healthful omega-3 fatty acids that are crucial for brain development.
Moreover, fish consumption has been linked with better cognitive
development. But people are concerned about mercury in fish, and these
are legitimate concerns. For highlights of the research and a guide to
choosing the right fish, see this article about
mercury levels in fish.
Milk. There is a lot of
pseudoscientific nonsense written about the dangers of cow's milk and milk products. Invariably, the
writers fail to cite the relevant studies. The truth? There are good and
potentially bad things about milk. Whether or not milk consumption is
worthwhile depends on what other choices you have. For the details, see
this evidence-based look at
the costs and benefits of milk consumption for kids.
For instance, it appears that
modern agricultural diets--the diets associated with affluent,
industrial nations--are in many ways inferior to the diets of our Stone
In part, this is because agricultural diets are relatively new.
hundreds of thousands of years, humans ate only wild plant and animal
foods. Then, around 10,000 years ago, people began the shift to
agriculture and animal husbandry. Humans began eating food types they’d
never eaten before. The human body, adapted to digest a Paleolithic
diet, was suddenly challenged with an agricultural diet.
hundred generations later, descendants of the first farmers have evolved
new adaptations for coping with new foods (Patin and Quintana-Murci
2008). For instance, some people retain the ability to digest milk
sugars after infancy.
possess genes that produce extra amylase--an enzyme that breaks down
dietary starch (Perry et al 2007). Indeed, there is evidence that our
ancestors began eating starchy roots and tubers long before the advent
of agriculture (e.g., Gibbons 2009; or, better yet, read anthropologist
Richard Wrangham's witty and absorbing book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human).
humans haven’t had enough time to adapt completely to the new menu of
saturated fats and highly refined, highly processed cereals. Some
anthropologists argue that 21st century diets are responsible for many
chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and
diabetes (Cordain et al 2005).
So I think it’s worth a review. What can Stone Age menu teach us about nutrition for kids? Perhaps that the traditional food pyramid--which tells us to eat lots of bread and rice--is misguided.
Vitamin A supplements: Are your kids getting too much A? Kids
with diagnosed deficiencies may need extra sources of vitamin A. But
many well-nourished kids might be getting too much retinol, or vitamin
A, in their multivitamin supplements.
Here are the details.
References: The science of nutrition for kids
Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, Mann N, Lindeberg S, Watkins BA, et
al. 2005. Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health
implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr 81: 341-354.
Gibbons A. 2009. Of tools and tubers. Science 324 (5927): 588 - 589.
Patin E, Quintana-Murci L. 2008. Demeter's legacy: rapid changes to our genome imposed by diet. Trends Ecol Evol. 2:56-9.
GH, Dominy NJ, Claw KG, Lee AS, Fiegler H, Redon R, Werner J, Villanea
FA, Mountain JL, Misra R, Carter NP, Lee C, and Stone AC. 2007. Diet and
the evolution of human salivary amylase gene copy number. Nat. Genet.