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How to Meet the Dietary Needs of Babies – Health, Palate, and Lifestyle
A growing body of research is proving that food has a major impact on our overall health and can even determine what diseases and ailments we develop later in life. The more aware we are of the importance of our food choices, the sooner we can teach and protect our children. Of course, we always have to find a balance between what is good for our body and what is good for our taste buds and lifestyle. Here’s a breakdown of which nutrients are most important to your baby’s development and which foods meet his needs.
Babies are born with their own source of iron, but it is depleted after six months. Iron is best absorbed from meat, but a vegetarian can increase iron absorption by eating foods rich in vitamin C (citrus fruits, berries, spinach, tomatoes). Giving milk separately from meals also promotes absorption. Iron-rich foods for vegetarians include pureed apricots, molasses, fortified cereals, refined lentils, beans and green vegetables.
Breast milk or formula provides all of your baby’s calcium needs at first. Calcium helps teeth and bones and increases overall strength. Good sources later include: cow’s milk, fortified soy milk and orange juice, cheeses, molasses, dark green vegetables, beans, lentils and tofu.
Babies need more protein than adults because of their rapid growth. A one-year-old child needs about 15 grams or two cups of protein a day, such as milk, cheese, beans, tofu, fish, poultry and lean meat. Combination foods such as grains (bread, pasta, rice) with beans, lentils, avocados, cheese or tofu provide the necessary balance for vegetarians.
Vitamin B12 is usually found in animal products such as meat and chicken. Other non-meat sources include dairy products and eggs, as well as fortified foods such as soy milk and cereals.
Vitamin D is produced in the skin by sunlight. Most children in warm climates get enough vitamin D (20-30 minutes a day, 2-3 times a week). Food sources of vitamin D include dairy products, eggs, and fortified foods. Breast milk or formula provides vitamin D in the initial phase. Some pediatricians recommend vitamin D supplements.
Most of your child’s fiber needs are covered by fruits and vegetables and grains. Be careful, as foods that are too high in fiber and whole grains can fill a child up before their nutritional needs are met and interfere with the absorption of minerals such as zinc, iron and calcium. Too much fiber can also cause your baby to have diarrhea or an upset stomach.
Zinc is important for a healthy immune system and growth. Offer your child plenty of zinc-rich foods such as wheat germ, lean meat, milk, lentils, beans, peas, corn and soybeans. Zinc, like iron, can be a problem for vegetarians because it is poorly absorbed.
Babies get 40-50% of their calories from fat, through breast milk or formula. After the first 12 months, your baby gets fat from whole cow’s milk. After age two, the Pediatric Panel of the National Cholesterol Education Program recommends reducing calories from fat to less than 30% of the total diet. This is the time to switch from whole milk and dairy products to low-fat versions. Healthy sources of fat include walnuts, canola oil, avocado, milk, cheese and yogurt.
They are important early on because they prevent developmental damage to DNA. The average American family eats only 50% of what is recommended. Vegetables and fruits are the best source of antioxidants, including: sweet potatoes, carrots, kiwi, broccoli, avocados, and blueberries.
Babies get water from formula and breast milk early on. But once solids have been ingested, they may need more liquid to make swallowing easier. Water is necessary for hydration as children become more active.
The nutrients listed above are beneficial at any age. While they help your child’s development, they also keep adults healthy and disease-free. You are an expert on your family and your child. If you’re concerned, trust your gut and find someone to help you with your health and nutrition questions and concerns—pediatricians, nutritionists, dietitians, and lactation consultants are ideal resources. Usually, steady growth is the best evidence that your baby is getting the right amount of food.
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