By Dr. Carina Venter, PhD, RD, Associate Professor, Pediatrics-Allergy/Immunology, University of Colorado School of Medicine
Early life nutrition plays an important role in modulating the microbiome, training the immune system and helping to prevent diseases later in life. This article introduces the important concept of Diet Diversity early in life, discusses its lifelong benefits, and provides talking points for clinicians to use with families to help support them on their infant feeding journey.
Diet Diversity - What It Is and Why It Is Important
Diet diversity is gaining traction as a critical, but often overlooked component of infant and early life nutrition. It is defined as the number of different foods, food groups or food allergens eaten over the first year of life.
Given the importance of dietary diversity, it is unfortunate that most commercially available infant foods lack in dietary diversity, and most notably, do not contain allergenic foods that should be introduced early in life . Parents must actively take care to ensure their children benefit from a diverse diet early in life.
The Many Benefits of Dietary Diversity
It is important for children to consume a diverse diet because it may indicate a better quality diet. Diet diversity early in life has been shown to positively affect the microbiome and nutrient intake [3-12]. Studies have also shown some association between diet diversity and positive growth outcomes [4, 12-19], for example height for age scores. Importantly, a more diverse diet may also reduce the likelihood the child will become obese. [21-23]
Dietary Diversity and Food Allergies
Research supports that regularly eating a diversity of food allergens may help a baby safely eat these foods for life.
One study in particular showed that increased food allergen diversity (number of food allergens eaten; milk, egg, wheat, fish, soy, peanut, tree nuts, sesame) during the first year of life is associated with reduced food allergy outcomes in later childhood. In fact, for each additional food introduced by 6 months, the odds of developing food allergy over the first 10 years of life were reduced by 10.8%. Similarly, for each additional allergenic food consumed by 1 year, there was a significant reduction of 33.2% in the likelihood of food allergy over the first 10 years of life.
Clinician Talking Points to Help Families with Dietary Diversity
About the author: Dr. Carina Venter is a PhD Registered Dietician and Associate Professor of Pediatrics in Allergy and Immunology at University of Colorado School of Medicine. She has focused her research and clinical practice over the past 20 years on the prevention, diagnosis and management of food allergies and other allergic diseases.
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