Grains are one of the best sources of easily and quickly accessible energy. If you remember the pyramid of healthy eating, grains are just the basis of a balanced menu.
When we talk about infant feeding in food our culture, grains, fruit and vegetables are increasingly becoming the first choice when introducing new foods into child diet. The initial period of introduction of solid foods into the diet of infants coincides with a phase of rapid growth and development. On the account of increased energy and nutritional needs, as well as inability of infants to consume large amounts of food, meals have to be of adequate nutritional density meaning, if the baby is more active, grains are just the right choice.
In order to get the clear picture and accurate information, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted the 2006th year multicenter research that included countries around the world, and which, through questionnaires on diet, found ways of supplemental children feeding and nutrition in different ethnic and cultural groups. Test results found that grains are the most common food group included in supplementation.
Since the number of children with celiac disease has been growing in the recent period, it is important to establish the right time for introduction of grains in child diet, as well as the most adequate grain to start with.
Recent studies have given a directive: first choice should be grains that do not contain the protein gluten – mostly rice, corn and millet.
For the sake of preventing the occurrence of celiac disease, previous studies have promoted the later introduction of foods that contain gluten, especially wheat flakes, wheat semolina, followed by oats, barley and rye flakes. However, according to recent studies and Meta-analyzes, it is considered that there is no need for this. The excessive delay – same as the early introduction of supplementary gluten resources – may have serious consequences to the health and influence increased risk for the development of gluten enteropathy – celiac disease, ie.
USA conducted prospective observational research, known as “DAISY”, the conclusions of which indicated that the early introduction of gluten resources (in the first three months) is the same as delay in introducing them (after the seventh month). The risk of the occurrence of celiac disease was significantly increased, as compared to introduction of wheat, wheat, barley, rye and oats in the period between the fourth and sixth month of life. This conclusion was supported by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which was based on the reviewed articles and meta-analysis conducted in the research period (1966-2004). It stated that the continued breastfeeding during and after the introduction of gluten was a key factor in reducing the risk of developing celiac disease and diabetes type I in children. This is precisely the official position of ESPGHAN’s commission which gave directives for complementary feeding of infants, stating that the gradual introduction of small amounts of gluten, along with breastfeeding, not before the fourth and not after the seventh month of life, was best way to reduce the risk of developing celiac disease, type I diabetes and allergies to wheat, barley, rye and oats.
In the adult population and childhood after one year of age, as well, it is recommended to choose a selection of whole grains. This way, the child’s diet is nutritionally enriched: carbohydrates, plant proteins and minerals contained in the grain membrane. Whole grains are generally known as a rich source of nutritional fibers, which are well known to be a key factor in the regulation of digestion and a good source of vitamin B group. It is for this reason that in USDA’s new directives on proper diet, MyPlate, whole grains have been allocated nearly a quarter of the plate – normal meal, and continue to form the basis of a balanced and varied diet.
In addition to crops such as corn, rice, wheat, barley, rye, oats and millet, which are commonly used in nutrition in this area, certain less-known grain types are becoming increasingly popular. Buckwheat, amaranth and quinoa are, in fact, in the group of pseudo grains, whereas their nutritional value is very interesting because of their amino acid composition and rich content of micronutrients.
Originally from Asia, buckwheat is mainly consumed in the northern European countries. These triangular seeds are an excellent source of eight essential amino acids, fibers, minerals – manganese and magnesium. Milled, cooked, in combination with corn grits it is considered an excellent, nutritious and energy-rich porridge. We should, however, be careful. There have been cases of allergic reactions caused by ingestion of buckwheat. It is, therefore, recommended, especially for children with allergies, to be cautious when introducing it into the diet.
Amaranth, a sacred plant of the ancient Greeks, is an easily digestible source of protein in the child diet. Interestingly, as the plant is very rich in calcium and iron, it can be successfully combined with grains such as rice and green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and Swiss chard, in order to obtain a highly nutritious meal.
Fiber content is typical for all the “genuine” grains, and “false” ones, as well. When we talk about quinoa, the focus is on fiber soluble in water, normally found in fruits and vegetables. For that reason the quinoa, in terms of stool regulation, is highly recommended and used in the preparation of baby food, since it “facilitates the emptying”. This meal will regulate children bowel movements and provide the body with exceptional source of protein, vitamin E and B2.
Although grains are the basis of proper nutrition, regardless of whether it refers to grains or pseudo grains, their nutritional value alone is not sufficient for proper growth and development of the child, because it is necessary to combine them with other food groups in order to achieve balance and diversity. Nutrient-rich and energy-sufficient menus with fruits, vegetables and essential sources of protein, instead of often boring and ordinary ingredients, contain an abundance of different types of grains and their products.
Tena Niseteo , B.Sc. in Food Technology.
Nutritionist / Clinical Dietitian /
Pediatric Clinic , Zagreb