People have varying nutritional needs depending on their age. Toddles should consume more fat than adults, teenagers need to consume more calcium, and menopausal women should cut back on caffeine. A guide to the best nutritional advice for different age groups is given.
A LOT OF NUTRITIONAL advice takes a “one-diet-fits-all” approach. Watch your cholesterol. Eat more calcium. Boost your fiber intake. Such broad generalizations, though, don’t address your day-to-day eating habits–exactly what foods should you emphasize and why? And even more specifically, how does your age affect what food choices you should be making? Human beings are complex and evolutionary, growing from curious toddlers to energetic teenagers, to time-pressed adults. Each stage comes with its own joys, demands, risks and rewards, and each stage has its own unique nutritional needs. How can you figure out what those needs are? Read on for a nutritional trip through the ages and stages of life, complete with tips on how to create a diet that’s fit for you.
BIRTH TO AGE 10
THE FORMULA MAKERS may not like it, but even they admit it in their ads: Human milk is the bestfood for babies. Period. “Breast milk alone provides not only all the essential nutrients, but it also provides immunological factors and possibly growth factors,” says Frances Stewart, M.S., R.D., chief of clinical nutrition at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. “We don’t know for sure yet, but some studies have indicated that breast milk fosters intellectual growth as well as gastrointestinal development.” Breast milk also may help prevent both environmental and food allergies, and breastfed babies have fewer ear infections than formula-fed babies.
Stewart is thrilled to see those rare women who breastfeed their babies for at least a year (less than 6 percent of all mothers); in a perfect world she’d have them nurse two to three years. “There’s a stigma in the United States about breastfeeding for more than a year, and we need to remove that,” she says, citing such benefits as stronger mother-child bonds, effective comforting and continuing immunological protection for as long as you nurse.
At four to six months, most babies start tasting the foods of their future. About this time, some parents start worrying that their adorable little pudgeball will be every bit as chubby on his 21st birthday. Not to worry, say the experts; before age 2, you’ll do your child more harm than good if you restrict his intake of fat. “I’ve seen cases of what we call failure to thrive, or retarded growth, because of what was basically malnutrition [from restricting fat intake],” says Stewart.
Accept that your toddler needs a higher percentage of fat in his diet than you do, to foster growth of his brain and body. If you intend for your child to have dairy products, whole milk is best between the ages of I and 2. (Experts advise against giving cow’s milk to any child younger than 1, because it is so commonly allergenic; milk also has been linked to the development of diabetes in genetically predisposed infants.) If you’d rather not give your child milk, then avocadoes, peanut butter and other nut butters are healthful high-fat foods to try.
After age 2 the growth rate slows and the seeds of heart disease are already being sown–arterial fatty deposits have been found in children as young as 3–so it’s time to watch fat intake. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children 2 and older consume no more than 3 0 percent of their calories from fat; however, the Washington, D.C.-based consumer-advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest believes that 2 5 percent (the same recommendation it makes for adults) is a more healthful limit. Read more