Fruit and vegetables play a vital role in providing children with essential nutrients for healthy growth and development.The vast variety of essential vitamins and minerals provided by consuming a range of fruits and vegetables ensure optimal functioning of a child’s body. Not only do a mixture of different fruits and vegetables supply the body with key nutrients but also assists in the prevention and resistance against disease.
Nutrients provide our bodies with the essentials for healthy growth, maintenance and repair.A healthy diet is therefore crucial, as our bodies are unable to manufacture these key nutrients itself, consequently relying purely on our dietary intake to supply these fundamental nutrients .Nutrients play several vital roles within the body; they perform as a source of heat and energy production, assist in the management of primary bodily functions and structure growth and maintenance of tissues. Diets with a high content of fruit and vegetables are vastly praised and renowned for their health-promoting characteristics .For countless years diets composed of substantial amounts fruit and vegetables have held high precedence within dietary guidelines due to their contents containing high portions of these essential vitamins and minerals, promoting a healthy functioning body.
The importance of fruits and vegetables on a child’s development and growth
A healthy, balanced diet for children is essential in ensuring they receive all the fundamental vitamins, minerals and other nutritional elements necessary for healthy growth and development. An assortment of fruit and vegetables supply our body with plentiful supplies of vitamins and minerals, each playing a specific role in the function of our bodies. A diet rich with Calcium, Vitamin C, B Vitamins, Iodine and Zinc ensures a growing child receives the most benefits from the foods they are consuming and encourages healthy growth and development towards adolescents.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that performs several significant roles in the functioning and development of a child’s body.Typically found in oranges, apricots, tomato, watermelon, carrots, cabbage, spinach, pumpkin and broccoli, vitamin A has five common tasks within the body.
Improvement of vision, primarily night vision – Vitamin A is required for the production of Rhodopsin. When activated by light Rhodopsin slips into two proteins (Opsin and All Trans Retinal), in the dark the reverse process occurs requiring large amounts of vitamin A to recombine these two proteins to form Rhodopsin.An individual with a large vitamin A storage is able to complete this process at a faster rate and more efficiently, allowing for better eyesight in darkness.
Acts as a barrier to bacteria and infection – Vitamin A assists in the maintenance and promotion of healthy growth of skin and tissue cells. A healthy growth of tissue cells aid in maintaining a moist environment within the urinary, respiratory, genital, intestinal tracts and eyes, mouth and stomach linings, primarily acting as a barrier against harmful bacteria and virus’s (Deen & Hark, 2007).
Increases strength of bones, teeth and connective tissues – Aids the production of collagen, which is the foundational matrix of bones, teeth, tendons, connective tissue and cartilage. Vitamin A ensures sufficient collagen is produced to build strong, healthy bones and other connecting tissues (Deen & Hark, 2007).
Supports unproblematic reproduction – Vitamin A assists in the functioning of the testis and ovaries in the production of healthy gametes.
Decreases risk of cancers – Exists as beta-carotene, an antioxidant the prevention of common cancers.
B Vitamins (B2, B3, B6, Folate)
- B Vitamins are classic water-soluble vitamins, which influence growth and development in several different ways. Consuming fruits and vegetables such as avocado, brussels’ sprouts, grapes, mangoes, nectarines, pineapple, peas and strawberries will ensure children get sufficient B vitamins. B vitamins assist bodily function in diverse ways.
- Aid natural growth and development.
- Maintain optimal functioning of nervous, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems.
- Assist in the release of energy from foods through the breakdown and manufacturing of glucose.
- Maintains mucous cell tissues to ensure a secure barrier against harmful bacteria’s and disease.
- Helps absorption of Niacin, which plays an important role in the synthesis of DNA.
- Synthesis, development, production and growth of new cells.
- Work cooperatively with each other to form hemoglobin for the transport of oxygen in red blood cells.
Calcium supports child growth in many varying ways. Common sources of calcium are found in dates, grapefruit, oranges, celery, beans, turnips and Brussels’ sprouts.
Strong Foundation for healthy bones and teeth – majority of the calcium consumed as a child is deposited onto collagen bone matrix, sufficient calcium ensures strong collagen fibers supporting the bone and its growth.
Assists in functionality of muscle construction and nerve impulses – Calcium regulates the transmutation of nerve impulses for muscle contractions. Strong impulses allow for fast recognition of stimulus and allow for muscle contraction.
Helps with blood clotting.
Iodine is required within the body to manufacture thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones are essential in the metabolism of hormones and maintaining homeostasis within the body. As a child in the body requires iodine for brain and bone development. Fruit and vegetables grown in iodine rich soils provide the body with the essential iodine intake. Iodine also helps regulate body weight and promotes hair, nail, skin and teeth growth.
Zinc is an important mineral in keeping our bodies healthy. Zinc within the body primarily used within the immune system, for cell division and growth, healing of wounds and for carbohydrate breakdown to keep the body healthy and functioning. Zinc is found in many fruits and vegetables for example: Avocado, dates, raspberries, bamboo shoots, Brussels’ sprouts, worn and potato. Zinc ensures the body has healthy growth by influencing cell division and cell growth.
Prevention of disease
Development of chronic disease has become closely related to the consumption of fruits and vegetables throughout childhood. Many studies of nutrition programs within our younger population have demonstrated that an increase in fruit and vegetable intake has significantly improved wellbeing, health and disease risk as we age .Our diets as children play a large role in influencing our health later in life. A 2007 study by Boeing et al., explored common chronic lifestyle diseases including diabetes type 2 mellitus, obesity, hypertension, coronary heart disease, dimension, osteoporosis, eye disease, stroke, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis and the influence of consumption of fruit and vegetables had on the incidence of development of these diseases.The study concluded for hypertension, coronary heart disease and strokes strong conclusive evidence of the correlation between fruit and vegetable intake and the reduced risk of disease. Furthermore, data supplied supported the association of fruit and vegetables with the reduced risk of development of common cancers. Data also proposed a decrease in weight gain as a result of increased consumption lessens the risk of developing diabetes type 2 mellitus. Evidence in Child Health Alert study also supported Boeing et al., studies suggesting that good nutrition as a child decreases lung damage as an adult as well as having a large influencing factor in respiratory health.
How to encourage children to consume more fruit and vegetables
It is recommended by The Department of Agriculture (USDA) that on an average, children up to the age of ten should be consuming two to three and a half cups of fruit and vegetables a day. This is then varied according to gender, age and activity level.
Quick, easy strategies to inspire children to love fruit and vegetables
- Purchase fresh fruit and vegetables regularly
- Have fruit and vegetables available in places easily accessible for children to reach and eat if they are hungry.
- Plan to eat meals together as a family more often to encourage an enjoyable atmosphere.
- Be a strong role model and have lots of vegetables on your plate at mealtimes.
- Involve children in meal preparation so they have input to what they are eating.
- Create a weekly tradition and allow 1 child to pick a new vegetable to try each week.
- Offer varieties of Fruit and Vegetables so that children have a range of choices.
Go for 2 and 5
Children aged between 4 and 11 need to be consuming at least five pieces of vegetables and two pieces of fruit each day according to
dietary guidelines. In 2007, only 22% and 61% of four- to eight-year-old children were meeting these Observers recorded the uptake of individual students and children completed interviews with preference ratings. The Research showed that after two weeks of implementing the program, preference ratings increased for fruit and vegetables. But seven months later, levels had decreased and returned to baseline levels.