Thursday, October 29, 2009

Helping kids build stronger bones

You probably know that the calcium in milk is vital for helping kids build strong bones; but did you know that a child's vitamin D, salt, and soda intake can make a difference too?

Building healthy bones is very important for young children! Up until the age of about 30, the human body builds healthy bone (if a "bone-building" diet is followed). After this age, it is not possible to increase one's bone density. It is therefore key for children to build a healthy skeleton while they are young. Building very dense bones when you are young ensures a greater reserve of bone so that as age-associated degradation occurs, the chances of developing osteoporosis are decreased. In addition, strong and healthy bones are less likely to break.

Just what is included in a "bone-building" diet?

Calcium- our bodies need calcium to build healthy teeth and bones. Calcium can be found in milk and dairy products as well as in foods such as fortified orange juice, tofu and leafy greens.

Potassium- potassium-rich fruits and vegetables can help make bones stronger. Serve bananas, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, oranges, potatoes, leafy greens and other potassium-rich foods every day.

Vitamin D- vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium and is therefore vital for building bone. Unfortunately, most kids do not get enough vitamin D. Our bodies can make vitamin D from the sun shining on our skin. However, in the winter here in Colorado we are too far north to get enough direct sunlight for this to happen. Make sure to include food sources of vitamin D such as fortified milk, eggs, fish, and mushrooms. If you are relying on yogurt to get your vitamin D, be sure and check the label. Many brands of yogurt are not made with fortified milk and do not contain vitamin D.

Sodium- too much sodium in the diet can cause calcium to be leached out of our bones and excreted in the urine. Most kids eat way too much salt in a day so this can be a big problem. Remember, most of the sodium in an average child's diet comes from processed foods. Cut down on processed foods by serving more fresh, whole foods and take the salt shaker off of the table.

Soda- not only does soda hurt a child's diet by replacing milk at mealtime, it also contains phosphoric acid. It is thought that phosphoric acid can cause calcium to be leached out of bones.

And finally, not a diet recommendation but still very important:

Exercise- children need "weight-bearing" exercise to build healthy bone. Weight-bearing exercise is any exercise that involves making your body work against gravity. Examples include walking, hiking, running, and all activities that involve these skills such as playing tag.

Don't forget your own diet! It is important for adults to follow these dietary and exercise tips too. Did you know that approximately 10 million Americans older than 50 years old have osteoporosis and an additional 34 million are at risk? You can keep your bones healthy and strong for a longer period of time by taking these tips to heart.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cranberry time

It's cranberry season! I always look forward to seeing the bags of fresh cranberries show up in the supermarket produce section this time of year because I love making cranberry-nut bread! Cranberries are not only delicious, but they are nutritious too. Cranberries are probably best known for their role in the prevention of urinary tract infections (due to their antibacterial properties), but they are bursting with other nutrients as well. They are a good source of vitamin C, fiber, manganese, and vitamin K. Cranberries are also full of antioxidant phytochemicals which are thought to help with the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease.

Cranberries are usually only available in the store from October through December, so be sure to buy some soon. Fortunately, they do freeze well and can be stored in the freezer for use later on in the year.

Here is one of my kid's favorite cranberry recipes, the creamy yogurt adds a nice sweetness to downplay the tartness of the berries.

Cranberry Waldorf Salad

Makes 16 servings. Each serving is creditable for 1/4 cup of the fruit/vegetable component at lunch or supper for 3-5 year old children.

You will need:
1 1/2 cups chopped cranberries
1 cup chopped red apple (leave the peel on)
1 cup seedless green grapes, halved
1/2 cup raisins*
1/4 cup chopped walnuts*
1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
8 ounces lowfat vanilla yogurt

1. Combine all ingredients, toss to coat.
2. Cover and chill 2 hours. Stir before serving.

*can be a choking hazard.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Whole fruit vs juice

You may be aware that the CACFP (and the American Academy of Pediatrics) encourages limiting juice to one serving per day for children. I get many people asking me why this is the case. The main reason is that fruit contains healthy fiber that is not found in juice. This healthy fiber is one reason why fruit is more filling and keeps a child fuller longer. Also, calories from liquids don't curb your appetite like calories from solid foods, so it is easy to eat more calories than you need by "drinking" them. In addition, most children (and adults) do not get enough fiber every day and serving fruit instead of juice is a great way to get more.

Need more convincing? Plants put a lot of potent natural compounds into the outer layer of their fruit. This is meant to protect the plant's seeds from predators and from the environment. The bonus for us is that these natural compounds are good for our bodies. The phytochemicals and antioxidants found in fruits are thought to decrease our risk of certain chronic diseases. When fruit is processed into juice, many of these antioxidants are destroyed. There is also further loss when the juice is stored for long periods of time.

1 cup orange juice - 110 calories, 0 g fiber, 137% vitamin C req. for the day
1 large orange- 85 calories, 4 g fiber, 163% vitamin C req. for the day

It all adds up, fruit is the wiser choice for better nutrition!

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Healthy Diet Can Help Play An Important Role In Controlling Asthma Symptoms

Several studies over the last couple of years have shown that following a "Mediterranean" diet may protect against respiratory allergies and asthma in children. You may be aware that over the past 20 years, childhood allergy and asthma rates have greatly increased in many countries, including the U.S. In Crete, however, children continue to have low rates of both of these conditions. Researchers believe that the food these children eat is the reason. Children in Crete eat many more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables than typical children in the U.S. In particular, researchers found that apples, oranges, fresh tomatoes and grapes had a protective effect against wheezing and allergic rhinitis.

Individual foods or food groups that contributed to the protective effect of the Mediterranean diet included fish, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and cereals. Foods that had a detrimental effect on asthma symptoms included red meat, margarine, and junk food.

Bottom line: Feeding all children a Mediterranean diet is a great idea even if they don't suffer from asthma or respiratory allergies. The Mediterranean diet (see picture above) focuses on a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, healthy fats such as olive oil, and small amounts of fish. Moderate amounts of milk, yogurt and cheese are also included on the Mediterranean diet (obviously you would leave out the wine recommendation when feeding children). Eating a Mediterranean diet has been shown to be protective and decrease risk for many other conditions such as hypertension, heart disease and Alzheimer's disease.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mother (nature) knows best!

The benefits of breastmilk are well known, but it never ceases to amaze me the new advantages to breastfeeding that are being discovered every day! A new study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience 1 shows that breastmilk changes quite markedly throughout the course of a day to meet a baby's needs (something that formula cannot do). This study found that the levels of certain nucleotides (adenosine, guanosine, and uridine) varied throughout a 24 hour period and peaked in the breastmilk that was produced during the evening (8 pm to 8 am). These nucleotides are thought to promote restfulness and to help induce sleep in babies. Therefore, the increased levels of these nucleotides in the evening milk could play a role in helping babies relax and sleep. The researchers noted that this would mean that expressed breast milk should be fed to the baby at around the same time of day that it was expressed because "it has day-specific ingredients that stimulate activity in the infant, and other night-time components that help the baby to rest". Fascinating!

1 Sánchez et al. The possible role of human milk nucleotides as sleep inducers. Nutritional Neuroscience, 2009; 12 (1): 2 DOI: 10.1179/147683009X388922

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Are you getting enough grains?

Maybe not. A new survey* shows that only 4% of Americans eat the recommended six daily servings of grains. This poll found that the average daily grain intake among adults is 3.2 servings, a far cry from the six recommended servings. In addition, this survey found that Americans are also not making "half of their grains whole" as advised by MyPyramid. According to the poll, only 11% of total grain consumption consists of whole grains. What are we missing out on when we don't eat enough grains? Grains (especially whole grains) are a great source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, B vitamins, and minerals such as iron and magnesium.

Are you wondering just how to get six servings of grains in your daily diet? The Grain Foods Council recently launched a "Daily 6" campaign to encourage healthy grain consumption. The group states that eating enough grains is "as easy as having cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and a cup of pasta with dinner." This is a great way to look at it, and if you make your sandwich on whole wheat bread, and choose either a whole grain cereal or whole grain pasta, you have even succeeded in making half of your grains whole! One serving of grain is one slice of bread, 1 cup of ready to eat cereal, or 1/2 cup of cooked pasta, rice or hot cereal.

Looking for whole grain recipes? Here are a few resources:

*The Harris Interactive poll of 2,106 US adults.