The Nutrition Gap Every Mom Should Know About
There’s often a gap between nutrient intake and nutrient absorption
As a mother, you’re satisfied when your child eats well. Most of us today know the basic rules: avoid maida and too much sugar, cut back on junk food, limit eating out. So the days your child has eaten three wholesome meals at home, with two snacks of fruits, nuts, and milk, you’re happy.
But are those nutrients that your child is deriving from food enough? Of course, you may say. After all, you pay attention to exactly what’s on the plate: there are wholegrain, cooked vegetables, salad, dal, curd. That’s a complete meal. And you’re right. But that’s just a part of the picture.
Let’s take a few steps back from that plate you’ve placed in front of your child. You’ve obviously bought ingredients and then cooked them. Why do we cook our food? In order to make the nutrients in them better available to the body. These nutrients are of two types: macro and micro. The former are those that we need a lot of: fat, protein, carbohydrates. The latter are basically elements: potassium, calcium, iron, for instance, and are usually needed in what are called trace amounts.
Now let’s take a look at what’s happening inside the body. When we eat food, it’s broken down by the body; the nutrients are released, and then absorbed. Unfortunately, the entire amount is not available for absorption by the body. This is called bio accessibility, and scientists define it as the quantity or fraction which is released from the food matrix in the GI tract and becomes available for absorption. An article titled ‘A review on factors influencing bio accessibility and bio efficacy of carotenoids’ speaks about the reason a vitamin A deficiency is so common despite plants having adequate amounts of carotenoid (needed for vitamin A). A number of reasons, ranging from dietary factors to location of carotenoid in the plant tissue, had an impact on bio accessibility.
Now once the nutrient is released, only a fraction of the compound reaches our systemic circulation. And this is called bioavailability. Again, this is dependent on a number of factors. The digestive enzymes in the body, the state of gut health, the way we eat, all have an impact on how food is absorbed. Junk food, irregular meals, even stress, hampers nutrient absorption. For instance, iron from plant sources is not easily bio available to the body, because the phytates in plant foods make it so. This is why India has such a big problem of anaemia.
What’s the answer then? We need something that is rich in the micronutrients and easily absorbed by the body. And while we trash packaged and processed foods, studies suggest that food processing can sometimes help to make nutrients bio available. One study published in the Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition found that “food processing can induce chemical or physical modifications in food that enhance phenolic compounds bio accessibility and bioavailability.” But this doesn’t mean all processed food is created equal. There are some that focus solely on nutritional supplementation, and these foods are good to consider giving your child, along with regular home-cooked meals.
Another study conducted by the National Institute of Nutrition, found that “supplementation with a micronutrient-fortified beverage improves micronutrient status and physical and mental development in apparently healthy schoolchildren. Bottom line: Since all the micronutrients in food may not be bioavailable, it’s a good idea to consider a health drink that gives instant nutrition.