- Zinc. This can be found in many types of meat, fish, dairy, and nuts. Among other functions, zinc is important in the production of protein in the brain.
- Choline. This is found in meat, dairy, eggs, and some veggies. It produces acetylcholine, which is involved in regulating mood and memory.
- Folate. This is a nutrient that pregnant mothers need, as it is necessary for the development of a child’s nervous system. It is found in the liver, spinach, fortified cereals, and bread, among other sources.
- Iodine. Iodine deficiencies can cause mental impairment and can easily be prevented by consuming iodized salt, seafood, dairy, and enriched grains.
- Vitamin B6. This is necessary for brain development and function. It is found in the liver, organ meats, fish, non-citrus fruits, potatoes, and other starchy vegetables.
- Vitamin B12. This also helps in brain development and function and can be found in meat, fish, dairy, and eggs.
- Omega-3 fatty acid. This is mostly found in fatty fish and fish oils, and can also be found in foods fortified with omega-3. This helps in brain function and development as well.
Some families may find it challenging to gain access to foods that have these nutrients. Meat, fish, vegetables, and other food products are expensive and as such, malnutrition is an issue especially in developing countries.
Child nutrition in the Philippines
A report by UNICEF last year disclosed that 1 in 3 Filipino children under five years of age is stunted – they are too short for their age. 7% of children, meanwhile, are too thin for their height. Many factors contribute to undernutrition in early childhood, including poor health-seeking behavior, incomplete immunization, poor hygiene, and inadequate quantity and quality of diet.
Newborn babies are not receiving proper nutrition despite the importance of the first 1,000 days of life to two years. They are surviving, but not thriving. Only a small percentage (about one-third) of infants are exclusively breastfed in the first six months, while 44% of children between the ages of 6 and 23 months are not eating fruits or vegetables. 59% percent are not eating eggs, dairy, fish,0, or meat.
Malnutrition is still a serious public health concern in the Philippines. Stunting is currently considered a major hindrance to normal development and is a clear sign of poor child development. As such, the government has come up with several nutritional programs: RA 11148 (“Kalusugan at Nutrisyon ng Mag-Nanay Act” or the First 1,000 Days Law) and the Philippine Plan of Action on Nutrition (PPAN) 2017-2022. These are geared toward ending stunting and all types of malnutrition.
The Food and Nutrition Research Institute – Department of Science and Technology also proposed dietary guidelines back in 2012 in the form of daily nutritional guide pyramids, along with messages regarding exercise as well as personal and environmental hygiene.
Completing the messages is what is called “Pinggang Pinoy”, or “healthy food plate for Filipinos”. This shows the correct allocation of healthy foods in a given meal.
The following nutritional guideline messages encompass even adult nutrition, but these are also directed towards nutrition for a growing child as well. Note that these are only some and not all of the guideline’s messages:
- Include different types of foods in order to absorb all nutrients required by the body.
- Babies should be exclusively breastfed up to 6 months, while complementary foods are introduced while still breastfeeding for up to 2 years.
- Prevent diarrhea and other diseases carried by food and water by consuming clean food and water.
- Prevent against iodine deficiency by consuming iodized salt.
- Cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by avoiding intake of salt, fried, fatty and sugar-rich foods.
- Observe proper diet and exercise to sustain good health and prevent obesity.
- Physical activity, nutritious food options, stress management, avoidance of alcoholic beverages, and smoking can greatly reduce the risk of lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases.