Nutrition: A Healthy Start (Article for Children…

After he got a scolding from the Math teacher for making careless mistakes in a class test, Junaid asked his friend Raheel with admiration and a bit of envy. “How are you so attentive in the first period at school? Although I have a good night’s sleep, I still feel lazy and am unable to concentrate on the lesson! I was so well prepared for the test, but my mind just doesn’t seem to work in the mornings. It sounds strange but I feel better after the lunch break.”

“What do you have for breakfast?” Raheel asked.

“Who has time to eat so early in the morning? I would rather sleep 10 more minutes instead of wasting them on the dining table! My mother packs the breakfast for me and I have it during the lunch recess.”

“Now I know what your problem is! After a gap of eight to 10 hours since your last meal, your body is starved for energy and so you cannot concentrate on your lessons. Just make it your routine to wake up earlier and have a healthy breakfast before you come to school. In a few days you will know the difference!” Raheel tried to convince his friend.

Like Junaid, most of you school-going children want to skip breakfast, not realising that a healthy morning meal plays a vital role in your physical and mental development as well as your ability to learn. In the morning, there is roughly an interval of 10 to 12 hours since the last meal and the body craves for food. But because you are still feeling sleepy, or are in a haste to reach school in time, some of you overlook your body’s requirements and convince mum that taking a snack for the school recess is a good alternative to breakfast.

Usually mothers are very particular about their school-going children’s sleeping hours. They realise the importance of a good night’s sleep for better performance at school. But sometimes they can overlook the importance of a good and balanced diet, especially breakfast. Making sleepy and grumpy children eat their morning meal may be tiresome and time consuming, but if this healthy habit is developed from an early stage of life, children actually learn to enjoy their breakfast.

Friends, you are going through a stage of life when both your mind and body are growing. Doctors and nutritionists strongly recommend a wholesome meal in the morning. A few more minutes of sleep is not worth skipping your breakfast for, as you must realise that the time spent having breakfast is much more beneficial than the extra sleep.

Your energy level is low in the morning and your brain and body need to be recharged so that you are efficient at whatever you do during the day. You need a nutritious meal after you get up, so that you are more active and attentive at school. You must understand that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and what you eat in the morning greatly influences your performance the whole day ahead. According to the American Dietetic Association, children who eat breakfast perform better in the classroom and on the playground, with better concentration, problem-solving skills and eye-hand coordination.

Many other studies have proven without doubt that children who have a wholesome meal in the morning perform better in their studies than their peers who skip breakfast. They are more attentive in class and can concentrate on the lessons in a better way. A cheerful disposition and good social behaviour is also linked to a healthy start of the day!

On the contrary children who come to school without eating a proper morning meal complain of laziness, lack of concentration and usually have an irritable disposition.

Some overweight adults and children have the wrong notion that they will lose their extra weight if they do not have breakfast. But they do not know that when our body is famished, we often tend to overeat when we take our next meal, or in between meals we munch on snacks like chips and cookies, which are high in calories (but of little nutritional value), and in this manner put on pounds instead of losing them.

The correct rule is to have a morning meal which will keep you healthy and not add to your obesity. Fresh fruits, cereals, boiled egg, bran bread and a glass of skimmed milk can be a perfect morning meal for a person who wants to lose weight. On the contrary, those of you who are underweight can have fried egg, whole wheat bread, butter, full cream milk, cheese and fruits.

Friends, ask your mother to suggest a breakfast menu which is rich in whole grains, fibre, carbohydrates, vitamins and proteins. Before you go to bed, decide what you want for breakfast in the morning so that your mother can prepare it without any hassle. For her convenience, you can also make a weekly menu and put it up on the refrigerator or any other prominent place in the kitchen. You have a vast choice of healthy foods ranging from seasonal fruits, cereals, whole wheat bread, eggs, honey and milk or milk products i.e. cheese, yoghurt, butter, etc. The nutrients your body gets from these will keep you alert, attentive and agile in school.

Avoid rich foods like cakes, pastries or paratha, halwa puri, etc., as these foods are high in calories but of little nutrient value and will only make you feel lazy, sleepy and dull, instead of giving your body the nutrients it requires to grow. Canned fruits or juices are not healthy as they have added preservatives and food colours, so avoid these too.

Give yourself a healthy start every morning! Not only will you get all the nutrients required for your growing body, developing brain and a normal and balanced weight, you will find a remarkable improvement in your performance at studies and sports and it will also make you a cheerful person who is popular among all!





          The doctor at the annual medical checkup at school was visibly displeased with Sohail. “Didn’t I tell you last time that you need to shed some weight? And here you come with three more kilos! What have you been eating all these months?” he peered over his glasses to give the obese thirteen year old a grim look. Sohail smiled nervously, “I try to be careful but somehow I can’t resist burgers, French fries, chips and carbonated drinks. I feel I have become hooked to junk food”, he admitted in a wistful tone. “If you want to maintain your health and avoid a number of ailments, you will have to bunk the junk”, the doctor replied in a firm tone. “I am giving you a list of foods which you must include in your diet and of those also which you will have to avoid. Hope to see you in a better shape next year”. He said sternly as he turned towards the next student.

          School and college going youngsters just love to eat junk food.  Turning up their noses to home cooked food which they regard old fashioned, they prefer to opt for this unhealthy trend in their diet. With fast food jaunts opening in every nook and corner of the city, junk food marketing campaigns attract the youngsters. We often note that the most commonly advertised commodities during the children’s hours on the television are for sweetened cereals, soft drinks, candy processed snacks and fast foods. Moreover, free home deliveries are adding to this fast food culture. Pizzas, burgers, rolls and carbonated drinks are just a telephone call away and the children make the most of this convenience. These are some of the reasons why they are getting addicted more and more to these unhealthy foods.

          Before using the term children should understand what really is junk food? It is a word first used in 1972 by Michael Jacobson, (director of Center for Science in the Public Interest, USA), for foods with little or no nutritional value. These foods are usually high in salt, sugar, saturated fats and loaded with empty calories. They offer little in terms of proteins, vitamins or minerals as they lack fruits, vegetables and dietary fiber. Having little or no health benefits, junk foods rob the children of the essential nutrients they need for growth and good health. Eating excessive amounts often leads to obesity and malnutrition. Common junk foods include salted snack foods (chips, crisps), candies and sweet desserts, fried fast foods and carbonated beverages. chocolates, chewing gum, most



Generally speaking, children have only a vague idea that the foods they love to eat are not very healthy and they should avoid deep fried foods, burgers, chips pizzas etc. Apart from the taste that most children love, they find them convenient and time saving too, i.e. you can eat a burger or chips when you are on the go or hanging about with friends, but not the traditional salan- roti or daal chawal, which are the base of home cooked foods. But next time when you go out with friends to grab a burger, or make a call for home- delivery of a pizza or rolls, keep these facts in mind. They will surely help you to improve your eating habits.

One teaspoon of sugar is extracted from a stalk of sugarcane one metre in length and a bottle of carbonated drink consists of ten teaspoons. A king sized Burger topped with cheese and eaten with French fries and an upsized drink provide the body with 1,800 calories! To burn these calories, you need to cycle for six hours at a speed of twenty miles per hour. Artificial ingredients contain an alarming variety of chemicals, for instance artificial strawberry flavor can contain about fifty chemicals and no strawberries at all!

To make your concept clear about the harmful effects of junk foods, some disadvantages are listed below.

Lack of energy: Junk foods do not provide us with the essential nutrients we need for growth and to carry on our day to day activities. This results in lack of energy, lethargy and general weakness and often children have to take nutrient supplements to take care of the deficiency being created in their body.

Poor concentration: After eating a junk meal rich in oil you feel drowsy and fail to concentrate on anything. Having such meals regularly makes fats accumulate in our circulatory system affecting the blood circulation. This in term results in depriving the brain of vital Oxygen and lack of nutrients and proteins can stale your grey (brain) cells temporarily.

Heart Diseases: Regular junk food intake is a major cause of heart diseases. Due to the extra intake of Fats, they are deposited in the arteries, which make the heart work harder to pump blood to the body. In the long run, the heart is fatigued by the extra work and also a deficit of Oxygen which leads to various heart diseases which are mostly not reversible.

High Cholesterol: Apart from forming plaque in arteries, which affects the blood flow, cholesterol also affects the liver where it is broken down. In the long term, junk foods diets can permanently damage the liver.

As we all crave for a change in our diet, occasional intake of junk food is permissible. Our body has enough stamina to take care of these undesirable ingredients. But be sure that you are not lured into addiction to these unhealthy foods. The meal cooked at home by Mummy is much more nutritious (and tasty as well). It is your own choice……Junk Food or Health!



It is sweet. It is tasty. It is inexpensive. And it is also highly addictive! Easily available in attractive looking packets, sweet supari (betel nut) and gutka (a mixture of betel nut, katha, lime or chuna, tobacco and food fragrances), are favourite mouth fresheners for a lot of children and adults.


School children often offer the packets to each other in lieu of candy, but most of them do not know that these harmless looking sachets are very harmful for them and can play havoc with their oral and general health. Gutka is a more dangerous form, because to get its consumers hooked, it often contains traces of tobacco. The betel nut used is usually of very poor quality, sometimes infested with fungus and microscopic insects and unfit for human consumption. The greedy manufacturers add sweeteners and food colours to make this substandard supari attractive and palatable, totally disregarding the fact that these are additional health hazards for the consumers.

Although sweet supari and gutka are popular among all age groups and consumed by members of all social classes, the habit to use them as a perfect end to a snack or a meal, is usually cultivated during the school days. The intake usually begins with munching a pack or two a day. Gradually the quantity increases as children find themselves habituated to it. And then the craving sets in!

Some people find themselves totally helpless, as they cannot concentrate or feel comfortable until a pocketful of this sweet poison is buried in their cheeks or tucked under their tongue.

Smoking is still considered a complete no-no for children and as long as they can, parents take great care to make sure that their kids do not take up this habit. Cigarette manufacturers are bound by the government to print warning notes on their packs. But sadly, there is no such rule for sweet supari and gutka. Usually we see that parents are not so particular about restricting their children’s intake of these harmful substances, because neither the parents nor the children realise that these can be as dangerous as smoking. As there is a total lack of awareness of their harmful impact on health, the usage is ever increasing.

Dr Sadaf Ahmed says, “Sweetened supari contains a chemical substance called arecoline which causes inflammation of the gums. Initially, ulcers are formed in the mouth progressing to a disease called ‘oral submucous fibrosis’ or OSF (in easier terms ‘the inability to open the mouth fully’). This in turn leads to nutritional deficiencies because impaired jaw movement affects the diet intake of children, making them physically weak and more prone to infections. The teeth become more sensitive to spicy foods and the tongue and gums often give a burning sensation.”

Dr Ayesha Khan, also warns by painting a gloomy picture, “Direct and repeated contacts of the gums with supari cause them to recede which in turn loosen the teeth. Increase in mouth ulcers and rotting of the gums is also caused by betel nut chewing. In addition to oral submucous fibrosis (OSF), in extreme cases long-term usage can cause cancer of the mouth (including the lip, tongue and cheek) and throat, because betel nut or supari is a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing agent).”


According to the WHO, chewing supari leads to cancer of the mouth even if tobacco is not added to it. In countries where betel nut is consumed extensively, there is a much higher level of oral cancer.There is a dire need to initiate a drive against this sweet poison. To save our oral and general health, children you need to be aware of the harmful effects of these easily available packets of sweet supari and gutka. Newspapers and the electronic media can play a significant role by signalling out appropriate health messages, teaching the public what harm can be caused by sweet supari and gutka, and working for a ban on their sale to children.

Sadly, at present the situation is totally otherwise. Instead of discouraging the sale of these harmful sachets, we often see unrealistic ads of sweet supari on the television. Attractively arranged on a silver platter, a glamorous hostess is seen serving them with a flourish to her guests, or a macho man seems to drive his strength from them, fighting his opponents and making them flee after munching a packet. Children, who are easily influenced by these ads, are hoodwinked and attracted into buying them.

Dr Sadaf says, “During my internship, I have observed many school going children coming to the OPD with problems related to supari and gutka intake. Unfortunately, visits to the dentists in our country are not too frequent, so the initial symptoms of OSF are not so obvious. Usually, patients come in the third stage of the disease and then the treatment option is usually only surgical. These patients are advised not to continue chewing of supari (areca nut) and warned that the next stage is of oral cancer which has more severe treatment modalities. So the first step towards saving our children from this dangerous junk is to create awareness of the consequences of having sweet supari and gutka. They must also be taught the importance of regular dental checkups, a healthy diet and also to maintain a good oral hygiene.”

Dr Khan adds, “Apart from health problems, sweet supari and gutka have bad cosmetic effects as the food colours added to them cause discolouration of teeth. Being as addictive as nicotine and caffeine, they cause dependence and on discontinuation of usage uncomfortable withdrawal effects.”

Dr Anwar Alam of Internal Medicine at AbbasiShaheedHospital corroborates this. “The reason behind the surge in oral diseases in the past decade in the younger people is the rampant use of gutka and gutka became this popular because it was easily available everywhere and it was convenient to use.

Similarly, there is social stigma attached to tobacco smoking of women so they may not take up smoking that readily or even if they do take it up, they do not do it as openly as men do. However, gutka consumption is free of all the prejudices and inconveniences. It is as easy to carry as a small candy, it is not messy, it is fragrant, one does not need to go to a paanwala exclusively to buy it, it has no social stigma attached to it and hence can be consumed by teenage girls and adolescent boys. What most people do not know is that its health risks are just as injurious, if not more, as that of chewing or smoking tobacco.

According to a research, apart from the urban centers, gutka usage is as popular, if not more, in rural attachments to the city. The newly built 48 kilometers long road that connects Karachi to Mubarak Village is dotted with various small villages, inhabited by fishermen and their families. Every village has its own small shop and they may or may not stock basics such as milk or onions but almost every shop sell packaged and unpackaged gutka which is the perhaps the most popular item. Tahira Kaukab, program officer of a local NGO Indus Earth that works in the area stated that people in this area may go without food but will not forego their gutka addiction. She further added that the gutka sold in the coastal belts is often expired and they have found small insects and parasites in the gutka packets. 

So friends, Beware of this killer! And the greedy manufacturers who are marketing it at the cost of your health. A few moments of a sweet sensation in your mouth could cost you and your loved ones a life time trauma!