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Student Nutrient Needs – an Inside

A nutrition survey conducted by the China Department of Health and Education found that students’ dietary intake is low in protein, iron and calcium – but high in fibre. Though the level of energy intake was adequate, the pattern of meals was considered unhealthy (1).

Chinese students eat little at breakfast and lunch, and dinner is the main energy source of the day. Because our children rush breakfast, energy and calcium rich food sources in their diet are low. Lunch is, also, often simple and small and essential nutrients are not well covered.

Since most of the academic workload, the stress and energy demanding activities take place during the day, without sufficient energy intake immune suppression follows.

Children also turn to snacking on empty calories: packaged food (2). Packaged snacks and beverages in China provide little or no nutrient information and, often, no ingredient list. Excessive food additives are added. Food safety is then a key concern.

At dinnertime, children have an over-nourishing large meal, but limited activity and energy output to balance this energy intake.


Student nutrition tomorrow

Iron and calcium rich natural food sources come from red meat, dark green leafy vegetables and dairy products. These provide sufficient energy, iron and fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin B6, and minerals (e.g. potassium, calcium, magnesium and zinc). These essential nutrients are crucial for growth and immune defence. A balanced protein, carbohydrate and vegetable intake is a must to meet the needs of growth spurts and to cover the loss of menstrual cycle.

Daily requirement for school students are; 1700 – 2200kcal energy, 34-56g of protein, 130g carbohydrate, calcium (800mg – 1300mg), omega-3 (1g), omega-6 (5-10g), iron (8-15g) (3)

Carbohydrate rich sources: bread, pasta, potato, rice, noodle, flour based dishes. 1 standard rice bowl provides 150 – 200kcal. 40-50 grams of carbohydrate. Meat protein source: chicken, lean pork, beef and fish. 100g of roast chicken (142kcal), pan fry/grill 75g lean pork (248kcal), 42g slice of roast beef (65kcal).

Calcium rich sources: dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurt) soya milk, beans, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, orange, prunes. Calcium content in food portion: 1 cup (250ml) milk (288mg), 30g cheese (204mg), 1 carton (150ml) yoghurt (127mg). Sunshine encourage calcium absorption.

Iron rich sources: 100g lean beef (6mg), 1 egg (1mg), 8 pieces of prune (1.67mg), 105g spinach (3.1mg), ½ cup of cooked kidney beans (3mg), 1 cup of raw cauliflower (1.1mg). Vitamin C enhances iron absorption.

Chinese parents are often unsure whether their kids are getting sufficient nutrients, and often they dose their children with calcium and vitamin D, and multivitamins. Most vitamins though sold over the counter contain high dosages of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A,D,E,K). A mega dose intake may induce toxic effect. It is thus not recommended. Students are encouraged to obtain their essential nutrients from a balance of natural food sources.

For individual dietary needs, you should visit your dietitian for an individual assessment and advice.