Hygiene and Nutrition Go Hand in Hand

Handwashing with children in the Philippines

Text by Jaana Harris  (Bachelor in Nutrition & Food, Masters in Pharmacy)

How Poor Hygiene Can Affect our Health

Practicing good hygiene is pivotal when it comes to food preparation. It ensures that the food being eaten is safe for consumption. Poor hygiene when handling, or eating food can lead to the harmful spread of germs, which can cause food-born diseases.

Food-born diseases are a major cause of illness and death world wide. WHO estimates that “Diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years of age, and is responsible for killing around 525,000 children every year”. Diarrhoea is a primary cause of malnutrition, that potentiates acute and longterm health issues. It is a worldwide concern, affecting poor and developed countries. Food-born diseases are preventable with simple steps for good hygiene practice. These steps help susceptible groups, like children five years and under, attain proper nutrition for their growth and development.

What is Malnutrition & How it Effects Children in Early Childhood

During each stage of life it is important to have complete, balanced and age-appropriate nutrition. This is especially important during the first 5 years of life, in early childhood, where the body undergoes rapid growth and development. Adequate intake of nutrients can also have a profound influence on long term health status. Malnutrition occurs when there is a lack of proper nutrition. It happens with imbalances, deficiencies, or excesses in a persons dietary intake. In early childhood, malnutrition may result from two immediate causes. The first is inadequate dietary intake and the second is diarrhoea. Poor nutrition results in a greater risk for obesity, or being underweight, mental and emotional health problems, and failure to thrive physically and academically.

Promoting Healthy Nutrition with Good Hygiene Practices

Giving young children the best start to life, with positive longterm health outcomes is essential. The key is in providing them optimal nutrition, along with implementation of safe food handling.This is done with a balanced diet and good hygiene practices. Prevention is always better then cure. 

Providing Optimal Nutrition. Food is Medicine

What children consume in their diet during the early years may affect their health for many years to come. It is also the time where general eating habits are formed. It is important to nourish young bodies and minds with wholesome nutrient rich foods. Encouraging physical exercise, and staying hydrated are also important for childhood health.

Energy that is used to fuel young children, comes from the right balance of carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein. Food rich in dietary fibre, vitamin and minerals are also essential for growth and development. A healthy eating pattern encouraging kids to eat a broad range of foods is ideal. This means;

*Eating lots of different vegetables, and fruits
*Consuming calcium rich foods like milk, yogurt, cheese (note: reduced fat foods are not suitable for children under 2 years)
*Eating healthy carbohydrates like cereals (preferably wholegrain), pasta, bread, rice, noodles
*Eating protein foods like lean meats, fish, chicken, eggs
*Drinking water for hydration. Water is essential to life. Try and limit sugary drinks, including fresh fruit juices. These can lead to obesity and dental caries.

Foods that are high in sugar and saturated fats should be limited. Consuming these can minimise the intake of nutritious foods, leading to poor nutrition. Longterm this can increase the risk of adverse health issues like obesity, poor dental health, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Additional Nutritional Needs. Eating during pregnancy

Eating well for early life, during pregnancy is essential. It assists proper development, and growth for the baby. With the added benefit of keeping the mother healthy during gestation.

Expecting mothers are encouraged to eat a wide variety of nutritious foods. A balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, protein, healthy fats and wholgrains. Additional nutritional needs during pregnancy include folic acid (recommended daily intake is at least 400 micrograms every day. Starting one month before, and three months after conception). Iodine and Calcium are also important during pregnancy for positive foetal development. Folic acid, iodine and calcium sources can be found in food. Certain individuals may require additional supplementation under the guidance of a doctor, or obstetrician. Particular foods should be limited during pregnancy. Foods that are highly processed, high in sugars, salts and saturated fats, should be limited. These have minimal, to no nutritional benefit and may lead to excess weight gain, or gestational diabetes. 

Practising good hygiene is important during pregnancy. It helps prevent the mother ingesting, or being exposed to pathogens, which may harm the growing foetus. Mothers are more susceptible to infection during pregnancy. After gestation it is essential to continue healthy hygiene practices. According to WHO, “breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival”. Breastmilk is considered a “whole food”, and a key factor an infants health and well being. Nutrients in breastmilk are bioavailable and readily absorbed. It is recommended that babies are exclusively breastfed to approximately 6 months of age. Although breastfeeding is promoted as first choice. Some mothers can’t breastfeed, or for their own personal reasons may choose to formula feed. Good hygiene should be practised with both breast and bottle feeding. It is important that hands are always washed. When bottle feeding; bottles, teats and caps should be prepared in a clean area. They should be sterilised in boiling water for five minutes, and allowed to cool before use. Water used to make up with formula, should be boiled and allowed to cool for 30 minutes. Formula kept at room temperature for less then 1 hour, can be stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours. After 24 hours it should be thrown away.

Prevention of Food born Diseases that Lead to Malnutrition

Steps for promoting good hygiene to prevent spread of disease and food contamination;

* wash hands thoroughly prior to food handling and eating
*always wash hands after going to the bathroom
*Ensure all kitchen benches and utensils for food preparation are clean
*Do not sneeze or cough into food
*Avoid cross contamination of foods. Separate raw from cooked ingredients. Always was and sanitise any utensils, food areas, or hands after coming in contact with raw ingredients like meats
*Cook ingredients to appropriate temperatures to eliminate bacteria
*Store foods in the correct temperature to prevent bacterial growth
*Store foods for the correct length of time to prevent bacterial growth
*If in doubt, throw it out. Any food that looks or smells unlike it should could be contaminated
*Always check food items are “in date”. Don’t consume any out of date products
*Serve foods at appropriate temperature
*Always wash and sanitise kitchen and utensils after food contact
*leftovers: discard foods left out at room temperature for more then 2 hours. refrigerate or freeze foods immediately in sealed containers after eating. Use refrigerated foods in 4 days or less. Reheat leftovers to appropriate temperature.
*Always use clean water for drinking. In areas where water may be contaminated with pathogens. Reduce with boiling method Boil water to rolling for 1 minute and then allow to cool before drinking.

Photo credit: International Medical Corps & Children International Philippines