Friday, March 14, 2008

Olive Oil and Infant Health

When my daughter first started eating solid foods, she immediately was drawn to dipping pieces of bread in extra virgin olive oil. Not only did she think it was fun, but she loved the taste as well. She’s three now and still asks for “dip it” or “the oil.” In fact, since she was introduced to olive oil in our house early on, she now equates maple syrup on pancakes as “oil,” so we call it the “sweet oil.”

Knowing how healthy olive oil is generally, I began to wonder whether there were any special benefits for infants and children. I did a bit of searching and discovered olive oil, and in particular organic olive oil, is great from a nutritional perspective, and it’s also useful for body care.

Children Need More Fat (the good kind, of course): Children under three require more fat intake as at least forty percent of the energy they consume comes from fat. Extra virgin olive oil is a favorable means to providing some of these essential fatty acids as its ratio of linoleic acid to linolenic acid is similar to that of breast milk, and it’s low in polyunsaturated fats.

Pregnant and Breastfeeding Moms too!: It is also advisable that pregnant and breastfeeding mothers consume more fat, primarily monounsaturated fat as in olive oil, to pass on essential fatty acids and vitamins to their newborn children during postnatal development. Of course, this doesn’t mean eat more sweets — general dietary guidelines should be followed as usual.

Helps Bones Grow Strong: Bones need a large amount of oleates. The oleic acid contained in extra virgin olive oil appears to have a positive influence on growth and bone mineralization during infancy and childhood.

Body Care: Olive oil can be used to moisturize the body, and it’s especially great for infant care. I know of some mothers who look for organic olive oil products to moisturize their children’s sensitive skin. As a solution for cradle cap, apply olive oil to the scalp and leave for 1 to 2 hours before bath time. Then gently brush with a soft brush and/or comb the hair with a very fine comb and finally wash the hair. Do 2-3 times within 10 days.

Symbolic Rituals: In some cultures, olive oil is a symbolic means of welcoming children into the world by rubbing them from head to toe in olive oil and giving them a light massage. As part of the baptism process in the Greek Orthodox Church, children are anointed with hallowed olive oil throughout their body.

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