HEALTHY EATING

ODILE NTAKIYIMANA MBABAZI

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A healthy diet is important for everyone. That’s why Ni Nyampinga talked with Devotha, a nutritionist at the Rwampara Health Centre. She told us that a person’s optimal diet depends on their age and shared some of the consequences of an imbalanced diet. Let’s find out more.

Ages 1-3

When a baby is born, its diet should ideally consist exclusively of breastmilk for at least the first six months as it contains all the nutrients the baby needs, says Devotha. Indeed, babies should be breastfed right after being born so that they can feed on colostrum, the protein- rich breast milk that plays an important role in building our immune system. If the mother has difficulty breastfeeding, then baby powdered milk or baby formula is a suitable alternative.

After six months, a baby can be fed other kinds of food to complement breast milk, such as fruit, vegetables and porridge. At nine months of age, parents are encouraged to prepare meals for the baby that provide carbohydrates such as rice and potato, proteins like egg and vitamins. It’s worth noting that these foods can be mashed together to make it easier for the baby to swallow and to ensure they don’t pick out anything they don’t like.

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Devotha told us that babies require frequent feeding but in small quantities, and that they also need to drink enough water throughout the day: “This age is a critical period when a baby’s brain grows significantly. A balanced diet facilitates this growth,” she said.

Ages 4-8

From the age of four to eight years, most children spend their time at school. Devotha says that it is even more necessary for children at this age to have a healthy diet: “They play a lot at this age and use a lot of energy and brainpower. They need a balanced diet to fuel their activity and restore the energy used. If children don’t eat enough food or have a poor diet, they may suffer from stunting or anaemia. Being shy and isolating oneself are signs of malnutrition because the brain doesn’t get the calories it needs to power up.”

Puberty

When a child reaches puberty, Devotha reiterated that a balanced and complete diet is also important: “Eating healthy meals is necessary because the body is producing hormones which cause a lot of bodily changes. The body is very active during this period, so a balanced diet is needed - even more so for girls who need to eat foods rich in iron.”

Devotha highlighted some of the possible consequences if girls don’t eat well: “A girl who doesn’t get food rich in iron, such as green vegetables or meat and dairy products, can suffer from anaemia.”

Devotha told us that both girls and boys will experience stunting if they don’t eat enough of the right kinds of foods: “A balanced diet gives you the energy to play, pursue your goals, do well at school, feel energised and sleep well.”

She also explained that some girls at this age are harassed and body-shamed. This is not right, and sadly girls are told that they must look a certain way to be considered beautiful while boys do not go through this. This can, unfortunately, result in eating disorders as girls limit the food they eat and fail to get the nutrition they need.

In conclusion, know that forcing your body to lose weight is harmful to your health. It causes you to become malnourished, can result in self-esteem issues and is unnecessary because your body is perfect just the way it is.

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