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Confused by the contrasting opinions about the goodness of nuts and dry fruits for babies? Fret not. We analyse the benefits and myths associated with giving dried fruits to babies.
While some nutritionists advocate nuts and dry fruits for babies, calling them a powerhouse of nutrition, there are others who present a different shade. This leaves most parents hassled and confused. So, at ParentCircle, we decided to debunk the myths and present the facts. Here's all you need to know about dried fruits and nuts for babies.
Dried fruits (usually called dry fruits) are fruits that are dried naturally or under the sun or using special dryers. They include raisins, dates, figs, apricots, prunes, sweet lime and kiwis.
Nuts or tree-nuts are fruits with a hard shell and seeds that are edible. They include almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, Brazil nuts and pecans.
Yes, they are. Here are some benefits of dry fruits for babies:
Some children are allergic to nuts. Hence, it is recommended that nuts should be introduced in the child's diet only after he completes one year of age. It is further recommended that if a child has a family history of allergy to nuts, they should be introduced in the diet only after the child completes three years. As dried fruit allergies are not very common, they can be introduced in a child's diet when he is around 10 - 11 months old.
Children between the ages of one and five may not have a very co-ordinated chewing and swallowing action. Therefore, to prevent choking, nuts should be powdered and dried fruits should be chopped very finely or made into a paste before giving them to children.
After five years of age, children may be given whole dried fruits and nuts. But, it is always better to keep an eye on children below the age of ten, to make sure they chew the nuts well and do not swallow them whole so as to prevent choking.
Traditionally, nuts are known to be warm in nature. Hence, it has always been recommended to soak nuts in water for some time before consuming them. It is believed that this tends to reduce the heat. But, there are no scientific studies supporting this belief. However, it is still recommended that nuts such as almonds and walnuts be soaked for four to five hours, peeled and then given to the child. This would improve the absorption of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. It is also beneficial to soak dried fruits such as raisins, figs and apricots overnight as it facilitates better digestion.
The maximum amount of dried fruits and nuts that can be included in a child's diet varies for each age group.
Most dry fruits and nuts are absolutely safe for children. However, they should be given only in moderation, without exceeding the daily dietary requirement level. When eaten excessively, dried fruits and nuts can cause diarrhoea. Therefore, they should be consumed in limited portions.
Being rich in fibre, dried fruits and nuts have a high satiety value and give a feeling of fullness. Therefore, the ideal time to give them to children is mid-morning or mid-evening. This will also tackle their hunger pangs between meals.
It is beneficial to include 2-3 soaked almonds or walnuts in children's diet, once a day, from the age of two years. These aid in the development of memory and concentration, and improve overall health.
Once children reach puberty and enter adolescence, it is beneficial to include dried fruits and nuts in the diet on a daily basis, as they are storehouses of nutrients. Including dried fruits such as raisins, dates, figs and apricots in young girls' diet is also known to help them cope with menstrual pain.
Dried fruits and nuts are concentrated sources of calories. So, only if a child consumes dried fruits and nuts beyond the recommended intake, would his total calorie intake go beyond his daily requirements. And, that excess consumption may result in weight gain.
Similarly, even though nuts have fats in them, consumption in right quantities do not increase blood cholesterol. In fact, as dried fruits and nuts are rich in fibre, minerals and vitamins, their inclusion in children's daily diet help keep blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure under control and prevent obesity. Only when consumption is very high would there be a fluctuation in cholesterol levels, leading to fattening.
Dried fruits are not known to cause allergies. However, a child can be allergic to nuts, including groundnuts, which are actually pulses. Studies have shown that 20-40% of those who are allergic to groundnuts are also allergic to other nuts. Hence, parents of children who have groundnut allergy should be careful when including other nuts in their child's diet.
MYTH 1: Dried fruits and nuts only contribute calories and fats to the diet.
MYTH 2: Dried fruits and nuts help only to increase body weight.
MYTH 3: Dried fruits and nuts should not be given to children who are below the age of five.
MYTH 4: If a child has groundnut allergy, it means he is allergic to all nuts.
Dried fruits and nuts can be introduced to your child when she is around 7-9 months of age. But they should be given in the form of paste or powder to avoid any choking hazards. Dried fruits like dates, prunes and apricots can be cut into smaller pieces before being given as snacks to toddlers. Children can be given whole dried fruits and nuts after the age of five. However, it is still advisable to keep an eye on them to make sure they chew them well.
For children older than five, dried fruits and nuts make a quick and healthy snack option. Raw, dry-roasted and unsalted nuts are the healthiest. However, it is best to avoid nuts and dried fruits with added salt or sugar.
Also, when you introduce nuts in your child's diet, you should consider the possibilities of allergens that your child may react to. So, watch out for that and consult your doctor should you have any concerns.
Getting your child to eat healthy is extremely important for his overall growth and development. Dried fruits and nuts are rich in nutrients and come with a host of health benefits for your child. Let's now look at the top 10 dried fruits and nuts and their respective health benefits.
1. Almonds: Rich in phosphorus, almonds help strengthen both bones and teeth. Almonds contain riboflavin and L-carnitine, two key nutrients that can support healthy brain function. Furthermore, they are rich in dietary fibre that curbs overeating and unhealthy snacking.
Nutritive value of almonds (1 serving):
2. Walnuts: These are a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids which play a crucial role in your child's brain development. They are also high in minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and zinc.
Nutritive value of walnuts (1 serving):
3. Pistachios or pistas: They are a good source of essential vitamins such as vitamin A, C, E, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine and folate. Each of these vitamins is essential in maintaining the health of your child.
Nutritive value of pistas (1 serving):
4. Cashew nuts: These buttery nuts contain high levels of antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, which protect the eyes. They also contain high levels of magnesium that contribute to bone growth.
Nutritive value of cashew nut (1 serving):
5. Pecans: These fibre-packed nuts aid in digestion and facilitate regular bowel movements. For children who suffer from constipation, pecans can help relieve the condition. As a good source of vitamin B3, pecans help reduce fatigue in children.
Nutritive value of pecans (1 serving):
6. Dried apricots: These are high in dietary fibre, potassium, copper, niacin, iron and vitamin E (?-tocopherol) that are essential for a child's development. They are particularly beneficial to eye health because they contain the highest amount of vitamin A (3604 IU/100 g).
Nutritive value of dried apricots (1 serving):
7. Dried prunes: They contain high levels of antioxidants called phenols, which protect the cell membranes from damage caused by free radicals. They are also a good source of vitamin C which helps boost the child's immune system.
Nutritive value of prunes (1 serving):
8. Dates: These are packed with energy and are a good source of minerals like calcium, sodium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and zinc. They contain the highest amounts of iron. This helps prevent anaemia, a condition caused due to iron deficiency. They also contain vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin A, vitamin B6 and vitamin K.
Nutritive value of dates (1 serving):
9. Raisins: A great alternative to sugary treats, children love to eat raisins. Studies have shown that raisins contain antibacterial properties that can reduce oral bacteria that contribute to dental cavities. Raisins are natural laxatives that help improve digestion and bowel movements.
Nutritive value of raisins (1 serving):
10. Figs: These are a good source of calcium and phosphorus, which foster the formation of the bones. They are also rich in fibre, and hence help in easy digestion. Studies have shown that figs possess certain liver-protecting properties and help prevent jaundice, which is common among infants and children.
Nutritive value of fig (1 serving):
Dried fruits and nuts are a must in every diet, as they are rich in nutrients, and come loaded with proteins, fibres, antioxidants and healthy fats. But, what if your child doesn't like them? Worry not. Here are some super-quick delights that can be made with nuts and dried fruits to treat your little one. These simple bites are bursting with crunch and goodness that both you and your child will relish!
1. Dates and nuts roll
If your child cringes at the sight of dates, these exciting dates and nuts rolls are bound to spike his interest. They are also rich in vitamins, iron, calcium and minerals.
2. Nourishing nuts and raisins burfi
Raisins are a wonderfully juicy source of energy and carbohydrates. This burfi made from raisins and nuts is full of nutrients and energy. Colourful, healthy and tasty, your little one won't find it easy to resist this delicious sweet!
3. Colourful cashew flowers
Cashews are a powerhouse of proteins and vitamins. Health and fun come together, packing a punch into this colourful, flowery, cashew delicacy.
Make it a habit to include dried fruits and nuts regularly in your child's everyday diet. From improving haemoglobin levels and preventing anaemia, to maintaining cholesterol levels and keeping heart disease at bay, dried fruits and nuts are a great source of healthy living. Let your child enjoy their taste and gain their benefits too.
About the author:
Written by Dr Neha Sanwalka on 25 November 2016; updated on 10 September 2019
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