Dispelling nutrition myths

Substitute sugar with fruits and provide healthy snacks between meals for your child

When it comes to nutrition and healthy eating, there are many misconceptions.

They are confusing too. Just look at all the messages bombarding consumers about low-fat, sugar-free, all natural and organic products.

How can a parent start his child on the right path? Health Promotion Board dietitian Li Xinyi dispels some common misconceptions.

A child's food intake should not be restricted. A big appetite is a sign of a healthy child: Growing children should not have food restrictions, but portions should be controlled, using the recommended number of servings for food groups as a guide.

My Healthy Plate (right) gives a visual representation of what a healthy meal should look like and illustrates the approximate proportions of each food group to be included in a healthy meal.

You can encourage your child to eat more whole-grains, starting with a daily staple such as bread.

Fine and soft wholemeal bread is available in supermarkets and it is a softer whole-grain option before introducing your child to other whole-grain food like brown rice.

Sugar makes children hyper: Sugar may not be the cause of a child's hyperactivity. Studies have found that it does not affect the behaviour or cognition of children.

However, sugar consumption may cause hyperactive symptoms in children as sugar is quickly absorbed into the blood. This causes blood sugar to rise quickly, leading to an adrenaline-rush effect that looks like hyperactivity.

Consuming too much sugar is linked to obesity and poor oral health, including cavities.

If your child wants a sweetened drink, give him the option of fruit-infused water - strawberry or apple - for a drink. The fruits impart a tinge of natural sweetness.

  • Recipe: Fruity seafood fried rice

  • Here is an example of a healthy recipe to introduce to children and which adults can enjoy too.

    Prep time:20 minutes Cook time: 10 minutes

    INGREDIENTS

    • 1½ cup (300g) white rice, cooked and cooled

    • ¾ cup (150g) brown rice, cooked and cooled

    • 1 tbsp sunflower oil

    • 400g medium prawns, shelled and diced

    • One Fuji apple, diced into fine pieces

    • Two eggs

    • 2 tbsp onions, chopped

    • 1 stalk spring onion, thinly sliced

    • 1 tsp soft margarine (choose soft margarine because the amount of saturated and trans fats is lower)

    • ¼ tsp salt to taste

    • Pepper to taste

    METHOD

    Heat oil in a non-stick wok till hot.

    • Stir-fry onions for two minutes.

    • Add prawns, stir-fry over high heat for two to three minutes till pink.

    • Break eggs into the wok and stir quickly to scramble.

    • Lower heat and stir in the cooked rice. Add salt and pepper to taste.

    • Turn up the heat and stir-fry for two to three minutes.

    • Add the diced apple and margarine. Stir-fry for one to two minutes.

    • Transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with spring onions. Serve hot.

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (per serving)

    Energy: 375 kcal

    Protein: 24.9g

    Total fat: 11.3g

    Carbohydrates: 43.2g

    Dietary fibre: 2.1g

    SERVES FOUR

Fruits are a good enough substitute if a child refuses to eat vegetables: Both fruits and vegetables should be consumed daily without one replacing the other as they are two different groups that offer a unique combination of nutrients and phytochemicals.

For instance, vegetables in general are higher in iron, folate and dietary fibre.

Fruits are generally higher in vitamin C. They are usually eaten raw, which helps to retain the nutrition value of heat-sensitive vitamin C.

By consuming both fruits and vegetables, a child would get the benefit of a wide range of important nutrients and phytochemicals.

To enhance the palatability of fruits to children, try serving slightly chilled fruits in shapes, such as watermelon balls, strawberry hearts and kiwi/dragon fruit stars.

Snacking between meals should be avoided: Snacks are bad for health but total elimination is not practical, as they can play an important role in a child's diet if nutrient-dense options are provided.

Examples of healthier, nutrient- dense snacks are yogurt with fruits, cheese and whole-grain crackers and vegetable sticks with small amounts of dips such as peanut butter or hummus (made from chickpeas). Such snacks are good alternatives to potato chips or cookies, and can satisfy hunger pangs and prevent a child from overeating at the next meal.

Fat is unhealthy: Fat is an essential nutrient in your child's diet. It provides energy and helps absorb, transport and store vitamins in the body.

However, too much fat, particularly saturated and trans fat, can lead to excessive weight gain, resulting in health problems like diabetes and heart disease later on in life.

Choose unsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) which are found in oily fish such as salmon and sardines, nuts, seeds, and vegetable plant-based oils.

If your child is under two years of age, fat restriction is not recommended as he needs more energy to fuel his growth.

Reduced- or low-fat milk is not suitable for this age group. For them, milk fat is an important source of energy, certain vitamins and important types of fat.

Ng Wan Ching

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2016, with the headline 'Dispelling nutrition myths'. Print Edition | Subscribe