Celebrating Youth Day – The Importance of Proper Nutrition in Children

Nutrition and The Youth

by Georgina Pujol-Busquets Guillén


What’s the Youth’s Day?

Youth Day in South Africa commemorates the Soweto Uprising in the country, a series of protests led by black school children that began on the morning of 16 June 1976. Students from numerous Sowetan schools began to protest in the streets in response to the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in local schools. It is estimated that 20,000 students took part in the protests. They were met with fierce police brutality and the number of protesters killed by police is usually given as 176, but estimates of up to 700 have been made. In remembrance of these events, the 16th of June is now a public holiday in South Africa. Youth Day in South Africa is celebrated in memory of all the youth who lost their lives during the protest. The day is celebrated in order to recognize the role of youth in the liberation of South Africa from the Apartheid regime.


The importance of proper nutrition in childhood development

Nutrition is very important for everyone, but it is especially important for children because it is directly linked to all aspects of their growth and development; factors which will have direct ties to their health as adults. For instance, a child with the right balance of omega fatty acids in their daily diet has a much better chance at creating a more solid foundation for their brain activity and capabilities later on. Children don’t know enough on their own to naturally choose to eat well and unfortunately, the foods and snacks that taste the best are usually the worst for our bodies, and a child left to their own whim will almost always choose junk food over healthy vegetables, meat and nuts.

The risk factors for adult chronic diseases, like hypertension and type 2 diabetes, are increasingly seen in younger ages, often a result of unhealthy eating habits and increased weight gain. Dietary habits established in childhood often carry into adulthood, so teaching children how to eat healthy at a young age will help them stay healthy throughout their life. Provide them with the right nutrition now and they will learn at an early age what’s necessary for good health. This will also help to set them up for a life of proper eating and nutrition, almost certainly helping them to live longer. Countless studies show that what someone learns as a child is then perpetuated throughout their life.


The effects of sugar on children and hidden sugars in children’s snacks

The effect of sugar intake on children’s behavior is a hotly debated topic in paediatrics. It is commonly acknowledged that as blood glucose levels fall, there is a compensatory release of adrenaline. When the blood glucose level falls below normal, the resulting situation is called hypoglycemia. Signs and symptoms that accompany this include shakiness, sweating, and altered thinking and behavior. They demonstrated that this adrenaline release occurs at higher glucose levels in children than it does in adults. In children it occurs at a blood sugar level that would not be considered hypoglycemic. The peak of this adrenaline surge comes about four hours after eating. The main problem is the highly refined sugars and carbohydrates which enter the bloodstream quickly and produce more rapid fluctuations in blood glucose levels. A recent study* supports the idea that a breakfast with a lower sugar content may improve short-term memory and attention span at school.


Sugar is one of the leading culprits behind the childhood obesity epidemic. It is known that children under 2 shouldn’t be consuming sugar but here are some examples of hidden sugar:


(Image taken from: http://www.foodforthebrain.org/smart-kids/where-are-the-hidden-sugars.aspx)


There are also many unexpected everyday foods that are adding to the excess sugar in child’s diet.


  • Fruit juice: Kids might like to start off the day with a glass of orange juice or apple juice, but even 100% fruit juices are a sugar shock in the system. When fruit is juiced its fiber and most of its nutrients are lost, while its sugar content becomes more concentrated.


  • Tomato soup. One can has 20 grams of sugar and that’s over 75% of the recommended daily sugar intake and the sugar equivalent of eating two donuts!


  • Salad dressings. Particularly light and fat-free versions are loaded with salt and sugar to compensate for the flavour lost by cutting out the fat. Just 2 tablespoons of dressing can have around 7 grams of sugar. Some brands pack in as much as 9 grams of sugar per serving.


  • Oat cereal. It may not shock you that cereals with the words “fruit” or “chocolatey” on the box contain added sugar, but somewhat less obvious are “healthy,” “whole grain” cereals and granolas that can pack upwards of 15 grams of sugar in less than a cup.


  • Flavoured yogurt. There is already naturally occurring sugar in milk, so yogurt’s added flavours only hike up its sugar content. All yogurts contain some sugar in the form of lactose (milk sugar); it’s the added sugar typical of “fruit” yogurts that you need to watch out for.


  • Dried fruit. Dried fruit can be a healthy, fiber-filled snack or salad topping. But in many cases, it might as well be candy. Just one-quarter of a cup of dried cranberries — a single handful — can have as much as 29 grams of sugar. And it’s not all coming from the naturally sweet fruit; a full cup of fresh cranberries has a mere 4 grams of natural sugar.


  • Sauces and marinades for the grill. Adding sauces, such as barbeque, teriyaki or jerk to grilled meats can add mega flavour, but in some products, sugars can account for 80 percent of the calories. A skimpy two tablespoon serving of barbeque sauce can have 12 grams of sugar.


Benefits of LCHF for kids

Kids like all humans respond well to a nutrient dense diet. Children, like adults, should eat until they are satisfied.  Their food should be based on primal principles. In other words, the starting hypothesis for the diet that children thrive on should be based in evolutionary biology, not what the modern food supply is. The reality is that we have had millions of generations of humans who have successfully bred, raised offspring, and bred again on diets full of whole foods, often high in fat and low in carbohydrates. There is still no evidence that diets high in carbohydrates are essential for optimal human growth and development. However, there is a widespread belief that carbs are absolutely essential for children’s growth and development and it is true that children have slightly different nutritional requirements to adults, but these are the need for more fat and protein.


Filling children’s plates with empty calories in the form of white pasta, bread and rice is no nutritional kindness. From an evolutionary biology perspective, there is no reason children shouldn’t flourish under these sorts of whole food conditions. Metabolically healthy children, with a normal weight, are highly insulin sensitive.  They will spontaneously react to swiftly remove carbohydrate from their blood.  This is what a sugar high is in its extreme in children – the body reacting to remove carbohydrate from the system by all means possible. A high carb diet in a metabolically deregulated child is not healthy since children now have fatty livers, insulin resistance and diabetes because of the food, mostly sugar, they are being fed.  It’s not people’s fault, it’s the fault of the food industry, poor government regulation, poor nutrition research, and poor public health recommendations.


All children will benefit from drinking fewer soft drinks, eating fewer cakes, fewer sweets, less ice cream, fewer chips and sauces. Their bodies are growing at a rapid rate, and if we don’t feed them the nutrients they need for all the complex mechanisms that are going on inside their body, we are setting them up for a very unhealthy future. Since the kids of today are going be the future adults, it is our responsibility as part of the community to spread the knowledge of healthy habits and lifestyle. If we want a better future for the new generations we can not wait. It all starts with a small change towards a better future and what a better time than now.


LCHF snack/lunchbox ideas

(Images taken from www.ditchthecarbs.com)


*  Cooper SB, Bandelow S, Nute ML, Morris JG, Nevill ME. Breakfast glycaemic index and cognitive function in adolescent school children. Br J Nutr. 2012;107(12):1823-1832.


Georgina Pujol-Busquets Guillén is from Barcelona and is currently interning at The Noakes Foundation – she is an instrumental member of the team working on the Eat Better South Africa! community intervention program.


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