Every age and stage of life ushers in new and exciting opportunities: Building friendships and enjoying the carefree days of childhood; gaining new responsibilities and freedoms as a teenager; entering the beginning of adulthood in those exciting college years.
The adventures continue as we build families, have children and watch them create their own memories. Throughout each of these ages and stages, our bodies are growing and changing, too.
Nutrition is an essential way we give our bodies the energy and resources they need to remain healthy and strong, inside and out. Here are some of the unique nutritional needs for every age.
Children and Teenagers
Children's bodies are constantly growing and changing from the time they are infants until a few years after puberty. One of the most important things parents can do to support their child's nutrition is teach them healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.
These habits demonstrate the importance of making good choices and will show kids that eating right can be fun. It's never too early to start. As soon as your child is eating solid food, make nutrition a priority with these simple tips.
Have Your Child Help in the Kitchen
Give your children age-appropriate tasks in the kitchen as you prepare your family meals.
Small children, for example, can help add ingredients and stir recipes; older children can begin to prepare some parts of the meal on their own.
Include Your Child in Meal Planning
Brainstorm a list of meals for the week and then head to the grocery store together to get the ingredients. As you select your groceries, talk with them about nutrition labels — what to look for, what different labels mean and how to understand serving sizes. These skills will help your children take pride and ownership in your family meals now, and equip them to take care of their own families in the future.
Offer Well-Balanced Meals
Offer well-balanced meals that include a lean protein, whole grains, and a fruit or vegetable. Talk about these choices and encourage conversation about the benefits as you eat.
Regularly Offer Fruits and Vegetables as a Snack
Help your children discover delicious and healthy snack choices. Making a veggie sampler with a selection of healthy dips — such as Greek yogurt, hummus or low-fat ranch dip — can make trying new healthy snacks more fun.
Teach Your Child How to Choose Healthy Snacks
Developing these skills and habits in your child now will serve them for a lifetime. Make sure they understand the basics, such as pairing complex carbohydrates with protein, like whole-wheat crackers and natural peanut butter.
Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women
Pregnancy and breastfeeding are amazing times for a woman. Your body is giving nutrients, energy and life to your little one. It's also working extra hard, which makes it even more important that you give it what it needs to stay healthy enough to support you and your bundle of joy.
During pregnancy, a prenatal vitamin delivers the vitamins, nutrients and minerals you and your baby need. It's also important to continue to eat healthy to provide adequate nutrition for you and baby. Just keep in mind you're not really eating for two! Excessive weight gain can lead to serious complications including gestational diabetes, preterm delivery and babies with high birth weight.
Breastfeeding women also have unique nutritional needs. Continue taking your prenatal vitamin to supply yourself and baby with all those important nutrients. Breastfeeding can also burn a lot of calories, so don't be surprised if you're still ravenous after delivery.
Eat plenty of lean protein, complex carbs, fruits, vegetables and whole grains to power through those feedings, late nights and early mornings.
It seems like every time we turn on the news, scroll through news feeds or open the paper there's a new study about what you should or shouldn't eat. Keep the confusion in check by focusing on the timeless basics for good nutrition:
- Choose whole-grain foods over simple carbohydrates like white bread or white rice
- Eat lean protein and avoid meat high in saturated fat
- Eat low-fat dairy, such as cheese or yogurt
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (at least five servings per day)
- Limit alcohol and caffeine
- Reduce your sugar intake
- Season food with herbs and spices instead of salt
- Stay active with plenty of exercise
Your nutritional needs may change if you're diagnosed with a chronic health condition, like high blood sugar or diabetes. Your doctor will work closely with you to create an eating plan that helps you manage your disease and improve your whole health.
Aging shouldn't stop you from enjoying the people, places and activities you love. Proper nutrition can help give your body the fuel it needs to stay healthy. Sometimes that's easier said than done, because of unique changes happening in our bodies.
Older adults don't require as many calories as younger individuals. Changing taste buds can also cause appetites to shrink and food to become unappetizing. These changes make it important to make smart, healthy choices for meals and snacks in order to pack in all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients you need for a strong body, mind and spirit.
Boost Calcium Intake
Keep your bones healthy and strong with plenty of vitamin D and calcium-rich foods and drinks. Eat at least three servings every day of low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt or cheese.
Choose Foods High in B12
Older adults don't absorb as much B12 from foods. This powerful vitamin promotes the production of red blood cells and DNA. It also maintains healthy nerve function. Eat foods high in B12, like fish, meat, eggs, milk and poultry.
Drink Plenty of Water
Staying hydrated is just as important to your health as staying physically active. Drink three to five glasses of water every day to keep your body and brain functioning at their best.
Focus on Whole Health with Magnesium
Magnesium can help keep your immune system strong, improve heart health, prevent bone loss — and plays a role in 297 other important internal systems and processes. Make sure you're getting enough magnesium with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains and beans.
Stay Regular with Fiber
Fiber is great for your digestive and heart health. The best sources of fiber are whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
Strengthen Bones with Potassium
A mineral that doesn't always get much attention, potassium can help strengthen bones. It can also reduce high blood pressure and the risk of kidney stones. Bananas, prunes and plums are all great sources of potassium.
Make a Plan That's Right for You and Your Family
Eating healthy should be fun. Everyone has slightly different needs and very different tastes. Create a plan that's right for you — one that you and your family can enjoy. If you or a loved one have any chronic health conditions, be sure to talk to a primary care provider before adjusting a diet. Your doctor can help determine what diet will best support your whole health.
This material is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for examination, diagnosis and medical care provided by a licensed and qualified health professional. Please consult your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment and/or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.