Diet and early puberty
Nutrition is one of the most important factors affecting pubertal development. Puberty is the process from the first signs of adolescence to full adult development. Consuming an adequate and balanced diet during all phases of growth (infancy, childhood and puberty) is necessary for proper pubertal development. Girls have started entering puberty at an earlier age compared to past decades.
The 4 biggest contributors for early puberty are:
- Obesity: This is one of the prime concern and reason for hormonal changes that can lead to early puberty. Excess fat or adipose tissue in the body alters the levels of estrogen, insulin and leptin and this prepones puberty.
- Increased junk food intake: The high amount of animal fat elevates insulin-like growth factor or IGF-1, which leads to pubertal development. This is more common in children whose intake of animal fat is higher between three and seven years of age. On the other hand, high intake of vegetarian protein delays the onset of puberty and also keeps the child in good health. However, avoiding processed meat and red meat and keeping the intake of non vegetarian food to minimal (twice or thrice a week) is fine.
- Malnourishment: Some children don’t eat much and could turn to be fussy eaters. This is when parents offer them comfort foods that are usually high in sugar and fats. The child being nutrient deficit still suffers from chances of entering early puberty due to wrong eating habits that disrupts the hormonal cycles.
- Stress: Inadequate sleep, excess screen exposure, school pressures, stress at home and bullying are just a few of the major stressors to which our girls are regularly exposed. Stress can also make us fatter more fat means more estrogen and this can lead to earlier puberty.
What can parents do to prevent early puberty?
- Children’s diets should focus on the whole plant food rather than animal foods. This will keep protein intake in a safe range and reduce their consumption of bad fats.
- Minimize dairy products and processed foods in children’s diets and use almond or hemp milk instead of cows’ milk if possible.
- Children’s diets should include a wide variety of natural plant foods including green vegetables, squashes, corn, carrots, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, avocados, beans, fresh fruits and whole grains.
- Buy organic produce when possible to avoid synthetic pesticides and minimize children’s exposure to phthalates.
- Avoid junk food, soda and soft drinks completely and concentrate on portion sizes.
- Limit the intake or avoid bread, pasta, potatoes and white rice from the diet.
- Encourage children to exercise regularly and keep them busy in outdoor games.
- Discourage and minimize screen time. Avoid screen completely during meals.
- Make sure you follow all these things yourself! Kids follow what they see more than what they hear!
The bottom line is to keep your child healthy and help her grow as per her age; give her enough sunshine, hugs, nutritious food and smiles!