In the quest to keep them healthy, many adults are mistakenly putting young children on low fat and sugar diets, which are more suited to adults, and could cause problems, writes REKHA NAIDU.
The Muesli Belt Malnutrition Syndrome is a form of malnutrition that came about when well-read professional parents started to put their children on supposedly healthy high fibre, low sugar and low fat diets. This resulted in the children not having sufficient energy from their food to help them grow both mentally and physically. Dietitians had to advise parents on how to increase the energy intake by adding extra sugar or glucose in to the food and drinks plus frying some of the food.
Energy is essential for your growing child, especially when he/she starts running around. Energy is derived from glucose, which is the end product after the body digests carbohydrates like rice, bread and sugar.
Is it happening in Malaysia?
Like any developing or developed society, the good and the bad is taken from other countries. Malaysians are well aware that coronary heart disease and diabetes are on the increase, so in some sectors of the population, families are taking a low fat and low sugar diet, especially if a member of the family has been diagnosed with one of these illnesses.
As a dietitian, I always stress that such a diet is for adults and if there are young children in the family, care must be taken that they do not lose weight. There have been a few cases where fat and sugar has not been introduced into the diet as it was felt to be unhealthy for all in the family. Remember, everything in moderation, which means fat, sugar like glucose, and salt, unless you have severe health problems.
For adults only
A word of caution – the healthy eating guidelines were always aimed at the adult population and not for young growing children. They were never intended for children less than two years of age, and in some countries, under five years, resulting in separate guidelines being developed for younger children.
There is no doubt that childhood obesity is increasing at a high rate as illustrated in a recent British Dietetic Association publication. Healthy eating plays an important part in developing sensible eating habits, but not to the extent that children start losing weight.
Dangers of strict dieting
For children to consume a very high fibre diet, it often means that less food is consumed as their small stomachs become full quickly. This will lead to less energy taken in. Besides, munching muesli with no added sugar or salt would be a challenge to some Malaysians and a struggle for many four-year-olds.
Yet, in the quest for healthy eating for children, some parents go to extremes without realising the consequences.
Another problem occurs when children are given low fat or skimmed milk instead of full fat full cream milk. This further decreases the total energy intake. After two years, low fat milk may be given to a child if the child is eating and growing well. Skimmed milk should not be given to children under the age of five, according to the British Dietetic Association Paediatric Group.
Some overzealous parents cut out all sweet foods, sugar, glucose and chocolates from the child’s diet, further reducing energy intake. The general advice is to try and limit the amount of sugar and sweets eaten. If they are given, offer them at the end of meals rather than in between and remind the child to brush his or her teeth after eating them.
Poor weight gain
If your child is not gaining weight well, talk to your doctor, who may refer your child to a dietitian. As children have small appetites, encourage your child to have snacks between meals and encourage more fat- and sugar-containing foods, eg, use butter or margarine generously on bread and vegetables and offer fried rice or noodles at least once a week rather than porridge at every meal.
Add sugar or glucose to puddings and breakfast cereals. Glucose is the primary fuel used by all cells and is essential for the body's functioning. A gram of glucose provides approximately 4kcal of energy and is often easy to sneak into a child’s food. Fry food in vegetable oil rather than grilling or boiling.
Children need to eat a variety of foods for good health. Mealtimes should be fun and enjoyed by all. Happy family eating!