Every human being needs energy for normal functioning. Energy is derived from the foods we eat, in the form of calories. It gets depleted through various functions and activities of the body in the same form. The word ‘Calorie’ is no more jargon – most of us are aware of its role in the well-being of a person. A calorie, by its simplest definition, is a unit of energy, equivalent to 4.184 Joule. The commonly used measure of a food calorie actually refers to a kilocalorie (Kcal) or 1000 cal. However, recently the International Union of Sciences and International Union of Nutritional Sciences (IUNS) have adopted Joule as the unit of energy in the place of Kcal.
Factors affecting calorie requirement of children
The calorie requirement of an individual depends upon the following factors – age, sex, height, weight, basal metabolic rate and level of physical activity. Age and gender affect metabolic rate and therefore, influence one’s caloric allowance. Energy requirements of adolescents are higher to support pubertal growth and development. When they reach puberty, girls need more calories than before but they tend to need fewer calories than boys. Boys experience greater increases in height, weight and lean body mass than girls and hence require more energy. Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the total energy utilized for basic functions of the body, exclusive of physical activity and exercise. BMR is responsible for digestion, circulation, respiration, temperature regulation, cell construction and all other functions of the body. BMR varies from person to person based on various factors. Next to BMR, physical activity determines your child’s daily caloric allowance. This includes exercise and all the other activities that she exerts throughout the day. Lower the physical activity level, lesser the calorie allowance and vice-a-versa. In addition, height and weight of your child also determines her calorie allowance.
Insufficient energy intake may occur in your child because of skipping breakfast, restrictive dieting, imbalance in including all food groups and not ensuring a balanced diet. Growth spurt in your child is sensitive to energy and nutrient deprivation. Very low energy intakes can lead to delayed puberty or growth retardation, anemia and other nutritional deficiencies.
Importance of consuming the right calories
Though the word ‘Calorie’ has been looked upon negatively, in the context of weight gain, it is essential for your child to achieve her developmental milestones. Consuming the right amount of calories is the key to strike the energy balance. Energy Balance – can be defined as the ratio between energy intake (calories consumed) vs. energy expenditure (calories spent). An imbalance in your child’s energy status leads to malnutrition. When the intake is lower than the expenditure it is termed as negative energy balance, which denotes a state of energy compromise, leading to under-nutrition and nutritional deficiencies.
When the intake is higher than the expenditure it is termed as positive energy balance, which denotes excess of energy supply to the body, leading to obesity and related comorbidities. Hence, it is important to understand that consuming right amount of calories, is crucial to supply the energy required to compensate the losses through BMR (energy for body functions) and physical activity. Eating a balanced diet and being active every day keeps your child’s body strong and helps her maintain a healthy weight.
Calorie requirement per day for girls
National Institute of Nutrition, under the Indian Council of Medical Research proposes the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for Indians (2010). RDA can be defined as the average daily dietary intake level that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirement of healthy individuals in an age and gender-specific group. The energy requirement of each individual differs, based on one’s state of energy balance and other factors affecting food consumption and health.
How can parents meet the requirements?
If your child’s energy requirement per day is close to 2000 Kcal, a balanced diet should provide around 50-60% of her total calories from carbohydrates, preferably from complex carbohydrates (whole grains and fiber-rich cereals), about 10-15% from proteins (pulses, egg, milk, meat and fish) and 20-30% from both visible (oils, ghee, margarine) and invisible fat (naturally present in foods). As stated by the National Institute of Nutrition, unfortunately, in India, 70-80% of total dietary calories are derived from carbohydrates present in plant foods such as cereals, millets and pulses.
Understanding the amount of calories present in each food group will help you plan out a balanced diet for your child. One gram of carbohydrate yields 4 Kcal; a gram of protein yields 4 Kcal; and a gram of fat yields 9 Kcal. This implies that if you know how many grams of each food group your child consumes in her food every day, you can approximately calculate her total calories consumed. You would multiply the number of grams by the number of calories in a gram of that particular food component. For example, if a serving of biscuit has 10 grams of fat, it yields 90 calories (10 grams x 9 calories per gram).
Therefore, it is wise to include all the food groups in right proportions to avoid deficiency or excess of energy and other nutrients as well. Also, it is necessary to instill the fact in yourself and your child that energy is not a matter of consumption alone; the amount of calories consumed will have to be burnt in the form of physical activity. Scientifically it has been proven that excess of calories consumed will be converted and stored as fat in the body leading to non-communicable diseases. Prepare and encourage your child to eat a balanced diet; reduce sedentary behavior (watching TV, playing in mobiles, computers and PlayStations); and expose her to a set physical activity pattern. Inculcate the habit of reading food labels while purchasing foods and try to understand and explain the amount of nutrients mentioned on it.
Based on your child’s food choices and your cooking time you can cook interesting and innovative recipes including the different groups, balancing the calorie load.