Eggs have always been considered extremely nutritious because they contain all the nutrients necessary for the growth of the young chick. Recent research into coronary heart disease has revealed that not only saturated fats, but also a fatlike substance called cholesterol which is concen trated in egg yolks, may contribute to the disease. Some doctors recommend a decrease in cholesterol intake for people with high blood levels of cholesterol, or people at risk from coronary heart disease. This allows only three to four eggs per week but for most healthy people one egg per day does give many essential nutrients without excessive cholesterol intakes.
Chocolate, cheese and red or fortified wines have been accused of causing migraine. They contain certain amines which require specific enzymes for their metabolism otherwise they build up in the body and cause unpleasant reactions. If any of these foods is suspected, ‘a test period of abstinence is worth a trial. Some flrugs, given to relieve depression, can inhibit these enzymes and these foods should then be avoided.
The growing body
There are no special diets for pregnancy and despite the mythology and folklore surrounding the subject, the mother should be allowed to eat as she prefers. Healthy, wellnourished women produce healthier babies of a higher birth weight than malnourished mothers who may also have more complications.
It is normal for a woman to gain 3.5 kg (8 lb) in weight during the first twenty weeks of pregnancy and about 0.5 kg (1 lb) per week until the birth of the baby. The total weight gain should not exceed 12 kg (28 lbs) with a minimum of 7 kg (20 lbs). This weight is due to extra body fluid, fat and the baby.
Extra protein and calcium are supplied by an additional half litre of milk per day. A slight drop in blood haemoglobin develops as a result of the mother’s blood volume increasing slightly throughout the pregnancy. The baby also demands a considerable amount of iron which can cause maternal anaemia if dietary iron is not increased. Most women will be given iron tablets, but a diet rich in foods containing iron is invaluable (red offal meats like liver, kidney, hearts, pates etc.). Fruit or fruit juices are invaluable for their contribution of vitamin C. B vitamins are well represented in milk and offal. Folic acid is a controversial vitamin and is sometimes given during the last three months of pregnancy in order to guarantee against megaloblastic anaemia. Yeast extract products are also rich sources.
Extra energy intake is only justified if the mother remains fully active. Weekly weighings, especially from the twentieth week onwards, should be made to ensure that weight gain is neither excessive nor too low. It is usually convenient to eat slightly larger nutritious meals or introduce an extra meal, rather than taking extra snacks or sweets.
Cravings for food during pregnancy which should be indulged in as conveniently as possible, are no cause for concern. Heartburn and indigestion can be avoided by restriction of acidic or spicey foods. Some women prefer to eat small frequent meals especially during the last few months. Maintaining a sufficient fluid intake is important and there is no harm in consuming alcoholic drinks in moderation. Smoking is not a good idea as toxic products circulating in the bloodstream can stunt the growth of the baby. This fact has been widely publicized in recent years.
For the first few weeks after the birth of the baby, the mother has to learn to readjust her lifestyle to the demands of the new family member and establish a feeding routine. Weight should be lowered to the prepregnancy level, particularly when bottlefeeding.
Obviously breast feeding is preferred as the milk produced by the breast in the first few days, called colostrum, provides the baby with immunological factors. A mother’s milk has a composition which is ideally suited to the baby’s needs. It is worth persevering to establish feeding as it does not come naturally to all mothers or babies. An extra half litre of milk daily covers the nutrient requirements of the mother.
If the baby fails to gain weight and the mother’s milk is insufficient, bottle feeding is a perfectly safe alternative, provided that bottles are well sterilized and feeds made up correctly. Some mothers are inclined to make up feeds which are too concentrated, or too sweet, which can make the baby fat, or overload him with minerals which his poorly developed kidneys cannot excrete.
Milk is the sole source of food for the baby’s first few months of life. As a baby is born with sufficient stores of nutrients like iron, to last for about six months after birth, solid foods are unnecessary before three months of age. Feeding solids before this may be harmful but some type of cereal should be introduced by six months. Gruels, porridges, rusks, milk puddings, yoghurts and pureed foods can be gradually introduced. Manufactured baby foods are very nutritious and convenient but it is best to try to introduce liquidized versions of the family’s food. Overseasoning or oversweetening the baby’s portion should of course be avoided.
Introducing whole foods can be a problem with some children but a gradual approach is successful eventually. A baby should never be forced or dislikes will quickly appear. Welfare foods such as vitamin drops or tablets are useful supplements especially if the child is experiencing a “faddy” stage. Children need to feed regularly so small, frequent nutritious meals should be planned rather than allowing too many snacks. Fruits, nuts or cheese are better than sweets and biscuits.
Each child is individual in his requirement for food and recommended intakes are only a rough guide. Appetites are the best guide and it should be no reason for concern if a child’s intake fluctuates widely from day to day. The best method of assessing development is to check height and weight at threemonthly intervals.
Going to school is a new way of life for children and their eating habits have to adapt likewise into a regularized pattern. Children need breakfast to start the day. School lunches are designed to provide half the daily protein and onethird of the energy that the child needs, and are good value for money much though they seem to vary. Otherwise sensible packed lunches can be just as nutritious. School milk is now available only for the five to sevenyearolds.
Extra nutrients are required by children during the adolescent growth spurt, when their bodies develop into shapes characteristic to their sex, and hormone changes are rapidly taking place. Whereas milk may be associated with childhood, more savoury adult food can be introduced at this stage, so this is a good opportunity for mothers who have felt restricted by children’s conservative tastes to be more adventurous. Teenagers may demand more freedom to choose their own food and this can be supervised with a watchful but uninterfering eye.
Moving away from home and going to live ‘in residence, digs or fiats causes a dramatic change in lifestyle. This can come as a shock to young adults especially if they have little practical experience of shopping for food, and cooking, often with limited facilities. Managing on a small budget can be a problem unless the nutritional basis for bargain buying has been taught. Initially, sharing accommodation can provide an atmosphere which is conducive to regular eating. A rota system of cooking helps to minimise some of the labour involved and is usually more economical as larger quantities of food can be bought.
In elderly people a readjustment of dietary habits is necessary so that reduced intake of energy matches any decrease in activity.
Elderly people do not necessarily have greater requirements. It is better to ensure that sufficient food is eaten. Loneliness, disability or illfitting dentures can add to the difficulty of eating sensible meals. “Mealsonwheels” and luncheon clubs provide invaluable social contact and nutritious supplements. Food can be bought in smaller quantities to allow plenty of variety. For decades it has been assumed that the increased level of nutrition has led to faster growth rates and taller, healthier people. Several experiments on animals have shown that feeding low intakes gives a longer life span than feeding higher nutrient levels. The question of factors affecting man’s longevity remains unsolved.