“we do not recommend a strict vegetarian diet for children,. . . . . . . .lot of people don’t realize that 70 percent of the cells in the brain are fat. These need to be repaired and replaced to keep functioning. So folks that go on a total fat free diet are in danger.”
With the spate of life style related diseases and evidence piling up that quite a lot of them are the makings of poor-eating habits, casualties in this fight against nutritional inadequacy involve more children than ever before. Where before, it was believed that the chronic degenerative diseases like hypertension and Type II diabetes strike only when one is at least fully grown, alarmingly, they are now showing up in the pediatric age group. With obesity busy with laying down tracks towards an epidemic of diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and joint diseases, endocrinologists are now pushing that the nutrition improvement campaigns be intensified to the level where predisposition to these diseases has not yet taken place or is just about to.
Developmental problems are also rampant among preschool and school aged children. The 1998 National Nutrition Survey reports protein-energy malnutrition and micro-nutrient deficiency as the obstacles to optimum growth and performance among those in formative years. In many regions of the country, underweight and stunting are prevalent as well. Overall, malnutrition is a child’s dogged companion when more wholesome playmates are in such short supply. Why this nationwide state of nutrition is so is attributed to poverty-inability to buy food and lack of a healthful diet, characterized by lack of balance, variety, and moderation.
As one of the ways to get around the poverty issue, the government encourages backyard farming of vegetables, root crops, and fruits, especially in rural areas where space is plentiful. Where vegetables are available, however, partiality to quick-served, filling, but incomplete meals deny children the benefits from essential micro nutrients and other potent photochemical as heart protectors, cancer fighters, obesity and diabetes buffers, and possibly longevity agents. Fast-food and junk food advertisements have a lot to do with creating this setup. But parents themselves, because of pressures from work and time constraints, voluntarily step into the malnutrition trap. To satisfy the hunger of their kids, some parents take the easy way out. They rush to the nearest fast-food center for lunch or dinner to bring home to the kids. Blithe about their lack of control on what went on and in the preparation, they knowingly or unknowingly cultivate a taste for fat and sodium-high foods among their kids. Hunger is served. However, a hidden hunger for micro-nutrients, within the billions of cells in the body, cries out for attention.
Another complication-Filipinos are not really vegetable eaters. “Only about 10 percent of the average Filipino diet is composed of vegetables (MEDICAL OBSERVER, October 2001).” Nutritionist-dietitian Anna Dugang cautions: “If the parents are biased against eating vegetables, that bias should not be transferred to the child.” It will deprive the child of the multiple health benefits of a diet high in phytochemicals. But, “schoolchildren are a captive group,” points out Ma.Imelda Cardino of the Nutritionist-Dietitians Association of the Philippines. They may start out liking fruits and vegetables, but as soon they step into the campus atmosphere, where it’s cool to have burger, fries, and soft drinks for lunch-and baduy( not “in”) to bring baon-they become captive to the mindset of their peers. Ms. Dugang and Ms. Cardino suggest ways of getting around this bias. Since kids like burgers anyway so much, they could he augmented and prepared in such a way that they end up as a “complete food.”
Don’t buy ground meat, they advise. Buy whole meat (lean) instead. Personally see to its grinding. Discard the fat or use it in other ways. Use egg white as binder. Add vegetables-chopped carrots, celery, and mushrooms-before turning the meat into patties. This way, the greens are not so visible and even very picky children will not notice they are eating the “hated” vegetables. For a grill, use Teflon pan. A little oil is all right since fat absorption would not be too high compared with deep fat frying. Top it off with tomatoes, lettuce, alfalfa and perhaps, yogurt instead of cheese. They also recommend transforming a mixture of vegetables into purse, and serving it as soup. And when mixed in with fruit juices, the taste of vegetable juices (carrot, tomato, and squash) will not stand out so much.
The dietitians extol the merits of a diet rich in vegetables, but “we do not recommend a strict vegetarian diet for children,” stresses Ms. Dugang. She explains such a diet will not be able to supply children with the complete set of amino acids needed to sustain proper growth and development. What scientist and cancer specialist Dr. Kim O’Neill said-when he visited the Philippines last year to discuss the Potency of a good diet against cancer-supports this: “A lot of people don’t realize that 70 percent of the cells in the brain are fat. These need to be repaired and replaced to keep functioning. So folks that go on a total fat free diet are in danger.”
Also, the body is able to absorb some essential nutrients more efficiently if they came from animal food sources rather than from plants. For a really picky eater, a varied well balanced diet might take too long to happen. This is where vitamins-supplementation could play an important role. They came in vogue when the urban lifestyle became too fast-paced. What parents felt was not being provided for in their kids, they believed dietary supplements could stand in for.
However, Ms.Cardino clarifies: “As the term implies, they are only supplements. So do not expect them to give your requirements a hundred percent.” They could satisfy the micronutrient needs but not the macronutrients. Ms. Dugang is a bit more cautious about the matter, stressing that natural is still the best. “If we rely on supplements, the kids won’t be taught to like eating vegetables. Siguro,(maybe) the vitamins will come later when the kids really do not want to eat vegetables.” Ms. Cardino agrees that, “dietitians would rather recommend you get it from natural foods. Given the scenario that the child is able to consume what is the required amount, then the dietary supplement is not necessary.” Supplementation would be a way of just making sure consumption of identified micronutrients is always consistent with RDA. Lately, research has been coming out with strong evidence that fruits, vegetables, and nuts have so much more to offer than previously thought of. They are abundant in chemical compounds-flavonoids in grapes, lycopene in tomatoes, terpineol in carrots, lutein in spinach; organic sulfur compounds in onions that are remarkable anticarcinogens, heart protectors, good cholesterol enhancers, and antioxidants.
The growing-up years should be the green years, when conditioning on food likes and dislikes starts. One of Ms. Cardino’s concerns is the mindset that expensive is better. “Usually, mothers would always equate quality with price, which is not true all the time.” Monggo soup with tomatoes and malunggay, rice and tinapa, as an example of a very affordable meal, is one of the best well-balanced meals a person can come up with. Monggo and malunggay can easily be harvested right at one’s own home, either from a backyard vegetable plot or from pots.
Ms. Cardino adds that making a child understand the importance of eating his greens “depends on how it is presented to him.” She based this belief on her years as a nutritional counselor to diabetic and obese children. She explains that a child, even a very young one, has the capacity to understand that a modified diet more suitable for his condition is working for his good. He is able to equate his feeling of wellness to his new diet plan-even if he has to forego certain favorite foods.
“He may not be able to understand the physiological reason why he has to forego [certain] things. But definitely to a certain degree, naiintindihan niya kung bakit,” assures Ms. Cardino. “A nutritional counselor just has to be adaptable,” she says, just as parents need to be with their children. To make sure their children experience first-hand the meaning of “green years.” And having known it, never wanting to leave it behind. ( Source: Medical Observer September 2002 By MICHELLE CIRIACRUZ)