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Santa Claus is showing the way: why is healthy nutrition so important for kids?

Edited on

29 January 2020
Read time: 2 minutes

On December the 18th, the second grade of the 6th Primary School of Trikala, along with their teachers, presented a slightly different theatrical event; they managed to combine the Christmas spirit of this period along with BioCanteens’ general message: “eat healthy in order to be more healthy”, with an event entitled “Santa Claus is eating healthy and shows us the way….” which was presented in front of thousands of visitors during the “Christmas Theme Park at Mill of Elves”.

The answer to the question why these children decided to deliver this particular message is that they have started to get the message themselves, as the pilot of the project’s implementation procedure and particularly through the close collaboration with the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition of the University of Thessaly.

According the Department’s President, Professor Thanasis Jamurtas and his colleague, Professor Popi Georgakouli, the connection between childhood and healthy nutrition is rather significant. Cognitive function refers to a set of mental abilities, including learning, thinking, reasoning, memory, problem solving, decision making and attention. Cognitive dysfunction can manifest as problems with memory, learning, concentration or decision making, affecting daily life of a person, and can range from mild to severe. Environmental factors such as lifestyle (e.g.nutrition, level of physical activity) affect human cognitive function throughout life.

An "unhealthy" dietary pattern in early life is associated with lower cognitive outcomes in later childhood and a "healthy" dietary pattern with better cognitive outcomes. Data show a positive correlation between a healthy diet high in lean protein and fresh fruits and vegetables, and intelligence quotient (IQ) in 8-year-olds. Also, a negative correlation has been found between a diet containing chocolate, biscuits, sweets and soft drinks, and IQ (Smithers et al., 2012; Smithers et al., 2013). In addition, a diet high in processed foods and added sugars is associated with lower school achievement, language and nonverbal reasoning (Feinstein et al., 2008; Nyaradi et al., 2013).

In addition, the pattern of meal consumption probably plays a role. It has been shown that children who ate more "slow meals" (meals consumed by children with the family either at home or in a restaurant and cooked with fresh ingredients) at the age of 3 had better cognitive performance when they were at the age of 5 (von Stumm, 2012). Thus, it is possible that, to some extent, cognitive performance at 3 and 5 years of age may be affected by the frequency of more "slow meals" than "fast food" consumed in one week.

Much emphasis has also been placed on the value of breakfast in improving attention and achieving better learning outcomes at school. It has been shown that when no breakfast is consumed, the concentration is reduced, whereas the best results are obtained by having a breakfast containing low glycemic index foods (foods that do not raise blood glucose rapidly).

Generally, a balanced diet, such as the Mediterranean one, can have positive effects on cognitive function. With regard to specific nutrients, there is insufficient research data to suggest that one is more valuable than another. However, we know that brain development requires adequate supply of certain nutrients, such as iron, iodine, folic acid and B12 vitamin. Lack of these nutrients for a long time during childhood can lead to permanent impairment in brain function. Indeed, the metabolic needs of the brain during development are high, so poor nutrition in childhood is associated with cognitive impairment later in life. Thus, chronic malnutrition, which may result from the adoption of unhealthy eating habits, leads to cognitive abnormalities that are often not apparent until the second or third decade of life, including negative effects on behavior, such as self-control, which is critical to a successful and productive life. For this reason, variety in nutrition (where no food group is excluded and a variety of foods is consumed) can ensure to a certain extent the intake of all nutrients.



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