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Eating well will help children in later life

5th November 2009

Parents should make an effort to teach their children about the link between a healthy diet and physical performance from a young age, according to Noreen Roche, the nutritionist for the Kilkenny hurling team.

Eating well will help children in later life

She also said that it’s important to get the message across to kids that if they eat well they are more likely to enjoy sporting activities.

"Iron is really important for performance, as it helps transport oxygen to the muscles. So, you can explain to children that eating red meat, for example, will mean they'll be able to play for longer with their friends without getting tired," she explains.

Youngsters also need to eat enough carbohydrates, which are vital for energy levels, Ms Roche added.

However, Dr Mary Flynn, a representative from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, recently warned that many Irish families are finding it very difficult to buy healthy food because of the economic downturn.

Ms Roche adds that although white bread tends to get a bad press, it's better than no bread at all as it provides the same amount of carbohydrate as the best varieties, which would be wholegrain or multigrain.

“Once a child gets fibre from other foods such as fruit and vegetables and breakfast cereals white bread is fine”, says Noreen. “In fact, if children are participating at a high level in sport sometimes it's better to have food like white bread because it releases energy quicker before or after. It's still a low-fat food. If your daughter's doing a dance class, for example, a jam sandwich is a good choice a couple of hours beforehand as it will be absorbed quickly."

One of the main things Ms Roche has observed from her 10 years working with the Kilkenny hurling team is that the players often don't meet their carbohydrate requirements because they come straight to training from work. In the early days dehydration was a big issue too.

"If you're training longer than 60 minutes and you're dehydrated, this will have a major impact in the last 10–15 minutes in terms of speed and accuracy.

Noreen explains "Children should drink at least six cups of fluids a day, preferably water or milk. Other drinks, such as fruit juice or yoghurt drinks should only be taken at meal times."

She goes on to note, "Parents should be very careful about sports drinks. They have a specific role to play for athletes, but they do contain a lot of sugar and sodium and children don't have the same adaptive mechanism as adults for losing sodium. They aren't necessary in the diet of a child, even if they're really into sport. Children are better off having water and a banana before doing something active and milk is good afterwards because it can be absorbed well."

This also comes as a recent report, commissioned by Safefood, revealed that parents don't count drinks as part of their children's daily food consumption.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, director, human health and nutrition, Safefood, says this shows that consumers have somewhat of a blind spot when it comes to the contribution of liquids to our daily intake.

"Many soft drinks on the market contain a lot of added sugars and few nutrients, for example, sweetened fruit-juice drinks as well as fizzy soft drinks. In contrast, water, milk and pure, unsweetened fruit juices are the healthiest options and any other drink should be seen as a treat”, explains Dr Foley-Nolan.

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