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NEWS | March 20, 2023

NATIONAL NUTRITION MONTH: Nutrition needs are important at every stage of life

By 2nd Lt. Jessica Minick, U.S. Army-Baylor Master’s Program of Nutrition student U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence

Nutrition needs are important at every stage of life. The American Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 were developed to provide baseline guidance on healthy eating.

The guidelines are published every five years, and although general nutrition guidance has not changed extensively since the original publication in 1980, in 2020 the guidelines changed to reflect requirements by stage of life from birth to older adults and include pregnancy and lactation!

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics designates March as National Nutrition Month with this year’s national nutrition month theme “Fuel for the Future.”

This theme aligns with the newly outlined guidelines. Fuel for the Future promotes the idea that we as Americans eat the various nutrients our bodies require at the different stages of our life to keep us running optimally and age healthfully. It also highlights the importance of fueling our bodies at every age and eating with the environment in mind.

Let’s take a look at some of the guidelines for different stages of life:

Receiving essential nutrients is important for the development and growth of infants and toddlers (birth to 24 months) follow these guidelines:

  • Human milk for the first six months of life or iron-fortified commercial infant formula.
  • Iron and Vitamin D supplements may be needed if exclusively breastfed.
  • Introduce nutrient-dense complementary food at about 6 months of age, even potentially allergenic foods. (Peanuts, egg, cows milk products, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, soy, sesame). Introducing peanuts within the first year of life reduces the risk of the child developing a peanut allergy.
  • Introduce cow’s milk at 12 months.
  • Encourage a variety of nutrient-dense food from all food groups. If the toddler refuses the first attempt, reintroduce the food again at another time.
  • Avoid added sugar. 100% fruit juice is best and no more than 4 ounces/day.
  • Practice “responsive feeding” (allowing the child to recognize hunger and fullness cues and teaching self-regulation).

Growth and development continue in this stage and this is also a great time to establish good habits for children and adolescents (2-18 years):

  • Encourage physical activity! This can take many forms such as going to the park, morning, or evening walks with the family, etc.
  • Focus on nutrient-dense foods and beverages.
  • Encourage foods from all the food groups to include whole fruits and vegetables.
  • Provide nutritious snacks within the household such as fortified cereals and beverages.

Although growth slows down, maintaining becomes important for adults (19-59 years)

  • Remain physically active to avoid diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Mix cardio with strength training to maintain cardiorespiratory strength and lean muscle mass.
  • Focus on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins.
  • Avoid added sugars and sugary beverages.
  • Consume adequate calcium and vitamin D to maintain bone health and integrity.
  • Limit the consumption of alcoholic beverages (women, 1 drink/day; men, 2 drinks/day).

During pregnancy and breastfeeding nutrient needs for women need to be adjusted:

  • Healthy weight gain is about 25 lbs. for pregnancy.
  • Additional calories to support a healthy pregnancy looks like this:
    • No extra calories for the first trimester,
    • 340 extra calories for the second trimester
    • 452 extra calories for the third trimester
  • For Breastfeeding:
    • 330 additional calories for the first 6 months
    • 400 additional calories at 6 months
  • Take prenatal vitamins daily to prevent deficiencies such as neural tube defects.
  • Be physically active throughout your pregnancy (150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week. Consult your doctor if you are not accustomed to physical activity prior to pregnancy).
  • Visit your local Women Infants and Children (WIC) Center

As we age our needs change, so changes are needed as we enter the stage of Older Adults (60 and older)

  • Ensure adequate protein intake to prevent the loss of lean muscle mass.
  • Consume foods rich in vitamin B12.
  • Keep being physically active (150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, muscle-strengthening activities two times per week).
  • Prevent food insecurity. There are many food assistance programs such as:
    • Commodity Supplemental Food Program (packaged USDA meals for low-income elderly)
    • Home Delivered Nutrition Services (for 60 years+ and their spouse of any age)
    • Child and Adult Care Food Programs (reimburse meals for childcare facilities)
    • Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (fruits and veggies)
    • SNAP education (cooking and shopping skills for the elderly).

For more information on fueling for your stage of life, reach out to the Nutrition Services Department at your local Military Medical Treatment Facility and make an appointment to see a registered dietitian.