Whether you’re pregnant, a toddler, a teenager or over 50, your body needs a healthy diet to work properly. But different people have different specific needs, so the ‘life stages’ listed here give more detail on the different requirements our bodies have, and how to eat right to meet them.
When you’re pregnant, knowing a bit more about your body’s nutritional needs – including which foods to avoid and not to avoid – can help you and your baby.
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For more information on how you can feed your baby, see Health Scotland's publication, 'Off to a good start: All you need to know about breastfeeding'.
Babies are very vulnerable to infection. So, if you prepare a feed, make sure the work surfaces and your hands are clean first. Then sterilise bottles and teats before you use them. Your bottles will come with instructions on how to do this.
Your formula will have instructions on how much powder and water to use.
- Use fresh tap water (not water that has been boiled before).
- Fill the kettle with at least 1 litre of water, and boil it.
- Leave the water to cool for no more than 30 minutes, so it’s at least 70ºC.
- Always put the water in the bottle first, before the powder.
- Cool down the milk by holding the bottom half of the bottle under cold running water, with the cap covering the teat. (This is to avoid scalding your baby.)
- Test the temperature of the formula milk on the inside of your wrist before giving it to your baby. It should be body temperature, which means it should feel warm but not hot.
- Throw away any made-up formula that’s left over after a feed. You should also throw away any milk that has been at room temperature for more than two hours.
Ideally, you should make up formula milk freshly for each feed just before feeding. This is because using formula milk that has been stored may increase the chance of your baby becoming ill. If you need to make up bottles in advance, keep them in the fridge and never store them for more than 24 hours.
You could also use a ready-to-feed liquid formula, which doesn’t need to be mixed. But it is more expensive than formula powder.
Food allergies in babies
Try to introduce the foods that are most likely to cause food allergies one at a time, starting with just a small amount, and not before your baby is six months old. These foods are: peanuts, nuts, seeds, egg, milk, soya, wheat (and other cereals that contain gluten such as rye, barley and oats), fish and shellfish.
If your baby has already been diagnosed with an allergy, such as a food allergy or eczema, or if there’s a history of any kind of allergy in your baby’s immediate family, then your baby has a higher risk of developing peanut allergy. So talk to your doctor, health visitor or medical allergy specialist before you give peanuts or foods containing peanuts to your baby for the first time.
If your baby hasn't been diagnosed with any allergies and there isn't a history of allergy in their immediate family, you can give them peanuts or foods containing peanuts after they are six months old. But remember to crush them up – children under five risk choking on whole peanuts.
Signs of an allergic reaction include difficulty breathing, blotchy skin, a runny nose or an upset tummy. Look out for these the first time you give your child peanuts. If you think they are having an allergic reaction, call 999.
Cows’ milk allergy
If your baby has an allergy to cows’ milk, your doctor might prescribe hydrolysed protein infant formula. Babies who are allergic to cows’ milk may also be allergic to soya. So only use soya-based infant formula if your doctor advises you to.
Milk based on goats’ milk protein hasn’t been approved for use by the European Food Safety Authority for babies under a year old, so don’t choose these for your baby.
Most babies with cows’ milk allergy are also likely to react to goats’ milk and sheep’s milk too – some of the proteins are similar to those in cows’ milk. The levels of lactose are also similar, so infant formula made from goats’ milk is also unsuitable for babies that are lactose-intolerant. Lactose intolerance is rare in babies though.
For more about feeding your baby, visit www.readysteadybaby.org.uk
Just like you, your toddler’s body needs the right foods to give them energy and help their body work properly. You can find out more at readysteadybaby.
Nutrition in early years
Nutrition in early years is very important. If you provide food for children in any setting, you will find 'Nutritional guidance and food standards for early years childcare providers' useful.
Feeding growing children
When your child starts school, you’ll find they suddenly start growing fast, and they’ll become more active. So their energy and nutrient needs are higher.
- Children need a healthy diet, which is rich in fruit, vegetables and starchy foods.
- Encourage your child to choose a variety of foods to help ensure that they obtain the wide range of nutrients they need to stay healthy.
- Sweet drinks can damage your child’s teeth. Try and get into a pattern of encouraging milk or water instead.
- Keep sweets and snacks as occasional treats.
- Don’t add salt to your child’s food. And if you’re buying processed food, check the salt content. The maximum levels for children are:
- 4 to 6 years - 3 g a day
- 7 to 10 years - 5 g a day
- 11 year upwards - 6 g a day
- Make sure your child stays active, and maintains a healthy weight. If you’re concerned about their weight, tell your doctor.
Teenagers need to get more from their food than any other age group. They can have big appetites, so it’s important for them to eat the right foods, not the wrong ones. That means fewer snacks and fast food, and a healthy diet.
As you get older, maintaining a healthy weight, drinking enough fluids and eating a varied diet are the keys to staying healthy and active.
Being overweight can make it harder to get around, and increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Equally, any sudden loss of weight could indicate a health problem too. If you’re worried about your weight, ask your doctor.
Drink enough water
Even if you don’t feel thirsty, your body still needs water. Signs you’re dehydrated include:
- your urine has a dark colour, and you don’t pass much
- you lack energy
- you feel light-headed.
If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor
Eat starch and fibre
Starchy foods are full of fibre, which helps prevent constipation. In turn, this reduces the risk of some common disorders in the intestine. Don’t sprinkle raw bran on your food, as it can stop your body absorbing some important minerals. Instead, choose bread, rice, pasta, cereals, potatoes, oats, beans, peas, lentils, fruit and vegetables – they’re all sources of fibre.
Vitamins and minerals
Eating foods such as red meat, peas, beans and lentils can keep up your body’s store of iron. Oily fish are good too, as are eggs, bread green vegetables and breakfast cereals with added vitamins. Try not to drink coffee or tea with iron-rich food though, as they can affect the way your body absorbs food’s iron.
Fruit – especially citrus fruit – green vegetables, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes are all good sources of vitamin C. And eating these can help you absorb iron too.
Folic acid helps you maintain good health. You can get it from green vegetables, brown rice, bread and breakfast cereals with added vitamins.
Calcium can help prevent osteoporosis, which becomes a greater problem with age, particularly in women. Dairy products such as cheese milk and yoghurt are good sources, but choose lower-vat versions. You’ll also find calcium in canned fish with bones (sardines, for instance), green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, soya beans and tofu.
Look out for salt
Your salt intake should be less than 6 grammes a day. The best way to do this is to not add salt to your food, and check the labels on packaging in ready-prepared food.
Having too much vitamin A (more than 1.5mg of vitamin A a day, from food and/or supplements) might increase the risk of bone fracture. So avoid eating liver (or pate) more than once a week, and don’t take and fish liver oil or vitamin a supplements. <H3> Vitamin D is good for your bones Like calcium, vitamin D is important for good bone health. We get most of it from the sun, and it’s also in oily fish, eggs and breakfast cereals with added vitamins.