April 30, 2013

Should A Child Fast?

The question of the title concerns many parents who want to fast during these days, but do not know what to do and more so, if a young child can follow the fast. In the scientific article below you will be informed about whether a child could and should (from a medical standpoint) fast, from what age, and if there is any risk. Lastly you will read about the benefits of fasting for the organism of a child.

By Chrysanthis Lathira, pediatrician

We are in the days of Lent and many Greek families are fasting, that is, they are abstaining from meat and anything derived from animals. When asked if children can fast and if this habit can cause health problems, I say yes, children can follow the fast of their parents, especially during school age, that is, after the 5th or 6th year of their life.

Fasting is an excellent opportunity to participate in a vegetarian diet even for a few days, in which they will include among their foods legumes (a rich source of protein of high biological value), vegetables (a source of fiber which helps in the smooth functioning of the intestines), olive oil rather than animal fats, raw nuts and dried fruits, seafood (rich in proteins and minerals), and abundant fruits (a source of vitamins and antioxidants). Besides the nutritional benefits of fasting, a child can also practice restraint and put limits on what they want.

Probably some parents wonder whether their child is getting enough protein and calcium during fasting. Meat (red or white) is the most abundant protein food, but it can be replaced during the days of fasting with legumes (ex. lentils) combined with cereals (rice or quinoa), thereby increasing the absorption of iron. Protein-rich foods are nuts and grains such as oats, rye and soybean products. Calcium can be ingested with seafood, almonds, sesame seeds, tahini and halva.

After fasting comes the celebration of Easter and the kids in the spirit of the holidays consume eggs, plenty of meats and lots of sweets. The sudden change of diet from fasting to the uncontrolled consumption of Easter meals can cause gastrointestinal issues in children as well as adults. The adjustment of foods from fasting must be done with caution. Children and adults do not have to eat everything in one day they were deprived of during fasting. Particular attention should be given to children who suffer from juvenile diabetes and are overweight.

The traditional mageritsa (lamb) soup in the late evening of the Resurrection of Christ helps to prepare the digestive system to feast the next day. On Easter day at the holiday table there should be present a prevalent amount of fresh vegetables to accompany the lamb. For young children it would be better to consume the lean part of the lamb (the leg). The meat of the lamb can be enriched with an abundant amount of oregano which is rich in antioxidants and protects from dangerous nitrosamines which produce in meat. Also, do not forget the lemon which helps in the absorption of iron. It is good for children not to consume animal offal but fresh salads and measured quantities of roasted meat. Easter eggs should be limited to just one a day since their overconsumption increases blood lipids. A child can safely consume three to five eggs a week. Measure is needed regarding the sweets that fill most homes, with the traditional tsoureki having a special honor in the days of Easter.

Let us not forget that most sweets contain hundreds of calories and cause weight gain, because they are rich in sugar and fat. Consuming chocolate eggs of course are a temptation especially for young children, which can cause weight gain and food allergy.

In summary, the transition from fasting to festive diet should be done in moderation and with small quantities. Otherwise it will cause digestive discomfort such as vomiting and diarrhea, as well as food allergies, weight gain and the onset of metabolic disorders such as increased blood sugar and high cholesterol levels, hyperlipidemia. The eating habits of parents are a model for children, teaching their children the extent and quality of a diet so they may be healthy adults.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos