There are things I wish I had known about nutrition when I was bringing up my children – for there aren’t many mothers who would deliberately reduce their child’s life-long health, or intelligence, height, or social skills. Yet, it turns out, that feeding choices can do all those things.
However, as food gets shorter in supply and costlier in price, be clear, there are some shortcuts where the impact won’t be that great, but some that will change everything forever for your kids. First off, it’s worth knowing that the younger your child, the more critical their nutrition.
At nine or 10 years old, or 12 or 15, a child can go without essential vitamins and minerals, temporarily, and the effect will only be passing. But put a two-year-old on a diet short of iron, or zinc, or vitamin A and you’re running between a death sentence and permanent harm.
A host of nutritional issues in early childhood can cause anaemia, now identified as the leading cause of death in children under 5.
It was always a driver because once children’s red blood cells aren’t firing properly, they can quickly succumb to infections such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, or sepsis. But, for decades, it was the end-point illnesses that were identified as the causes of death.
Now, more modern surveys are finding that underlying anaemia is often the reason why many of these otherwise mild conditions emerge as killers. And that’s big news in Kenya, where 46 percent of under-5-year-olds are anaemic.
Most of that anaemia comes from iron deficiency, but some can be caused by illnesses, such as malaria, that kids are more prone to when their immune systems are knocked out by alternative routes, most commonly zinc and vitamin A deficiencies.
Thus, malnutrition based on the wrong kinds of foods is like a circular cocktail. If you shortcut vitamin A – available in abundance in orange-fleshed sweet potatoes – it impairs a child’s immunity, so does a shortage of zinc, iron, or vitamin B12.
Even without an all-out health crisis, young children’s learning skills will then be impaired, their growth stunted and their chances of behavioural issues raised.
In the world of political correctness, it’s not done to point out that almost all these nutrients are in meat, but this hardly helps, when meat is generally far too expensive to be a core source of nutrition.
But it is a fact that beans tick nearly every box for keeping kids healthy, as do milk and eggs, so if you wanted one route to your children achieving their full potential a layer would do that trick, plus some beans, and some orange-fleshed sweet potato and tomatoes for good measure.