Proper nutrition is important for all age groups.
Nutrition is a basic human need and a prerequisite for a healthy life. For optimal growth, development and maintenance of bodily functions and to stay fit and active, good nutrition is essential from the earliest stages of life. Nutrients obtained through food have a dynamic effect on physical and mental health. Therefore, our diet should provide all essential nutrients in the required amounts. These nutrients must be obtained by consciously choosing and combining a variety of foods from different food groups.
So the question arises: how do we know our daily nutritional needs?
It should be noted that nutrient requirements do not remain the same throughout life. They vary according to age, sex, physiological state and physical activity.
Let’s see why nutrient needs differ and what are the special requirements for each phase of life.
Infants: They typically double in length and triple in weight between birth and one year of age. Therefore, they need breast milk and high energy foods (fats, sugar) to reach the growth stages. Breast milk is the most natural and perfect food for infants. It is associated with better cognitive development in children and provides long-term health benefits.
Young children: They grow rapidly and therefore need 2-3 times more nutrients per kg of body weight than adults. Energy, muscle-building and protective foods are necessary for development and to fight infection. Ideally, they should accumulate nutrient reserves to prepare for the rapid growth spurt experienced in adolescence.
Teenagers: Teenagers need strength training and protective foods for their growth spurt, maturation and bone development. Their needs are greater than those of adults. The extra energy needed for growth and physical activity should come from nutrient-dense foods, not just empty calories. Keep an eye out for foods high in fat, salt, and sugars. Include more fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains and milk in their diet.
Adults: They need nutrients to maintain consistent body weight, ensure proper bodily functions, productivity, and disease prevention. Men have higher requirements than women due to differences in body composition.
Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers: They require additional nutrients to meet the demand for fetal growth and expansion of maternal tissues during pregnancy and milk secretion during lactation. These additional nutrient intakes are essential for the normal growth of infants in utero and early postnatal life.
Elderly: As their physical activity decreases, their carbohydrates and fats should be limited. However, to limit muscle loss, delay degeneration and prevent disease, protein and micronutrients are needed.
For each age group, gender and physical activity, the ICMR-NIN (National Institute of Nutrition) has recommended the average nutrient requirements (macronutrients and micronutrients) in the form of EAR (estimated average requirement) and RDA (nutrient intake recommended).
Common nutritional problems among Indians include low birth weight, protein-energy malnutrition in children, chronic energy deficiency in adults, micronutrient malnutrition in adolescents, and diet-related non-communicable diseases ( high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, cancer). The main cause of these problems is that dietary intakes in excess of the body’s needs can respectively lead to undernutrition (deficiency diseases) or overeating (overweight, obesity). The main cause of the above problems is excessive intake of macronutrients (saturated fats, sugar) and insufficient intake of fiber and micronutrients from vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes.
Thus, to complete Poshan (nutrition) you need to eat the right portions of each food group. A balanced diet, i.e. one that contains grains/cereals, legumes/legumes/eggs/fish, vegetables/fruits, nuts, milk/dairy products and healthy fats in optimal amounts, is the KEY to overcoming the triple burden of malnutrition.
The author is Nutrition Consultant, Arogya World. Views are personal.