Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pumpkin Seeds

Are you going to be carving a pumpkin or two for Halloween?  If so, don't forget to save the seeds and toast them up for a healthy snack!  Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of magnesium, zinc, copper, protein, and fiber! 

Here is a recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds:
Spread 2 cups of rinsed pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.  Cook for about 30 minutes in a 300 degree oven, stirring once during the cooking time.  Take out and salt lightly, or toss with 1 Tablespoon of melted butter and seasonings (try 1 1/2 T. brown sugar and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, or grated Parmesan and black pepper).  Turn the oven up to 375 degrees and return the seeds to the oven for 7-10 minutes or until they are toasty.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Food and Your Immune System

This time of year, when the cold and flu season starts up, many people start thinking about their immune system (and that of their children).  I don't know about you, but I would love to breeze right through winter without a single bout of cold or flu.  I also remember that it was about this time last year that Kellogg's got in trouble for touting Cocoa Krispies as helping to boost immunity in children.  While spraying sugary cereal with a bunch of anti-oxidant vitamins, and claiming it will help children fight off germs is ludicrous in my opinion, it does bring up a good point.  Can what we eat affect our immune system? 

There are several nutrients that have been shown to have potential in helping immune function.  These include vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and vitamin D.  There is also some evidence that even probiotics can help our immune system by increasing the beneficial bacteria in the gut.  However, that is not to say that taking large supplements of any or all of these nutrients will help keep us healthy.  In fact, you may remember the study they did on smokers where supplements of anti-oxidant vitamins actually increased the rate of lung cancers in the group.  Taking supplements of certain vitamins by themselves may do more harm than good in some instance and for some people.  We also know that being deficient in certain nutrients can have a detrimental effect on our immune function.

So, you may be wondering what dietary measures we can take to help our immune system?  Once again, the answer seems to be to eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods.  Take a look at your diet and make sure you are consuming foods that contain vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and vitamin D naturally.   Foods trump supplements because they contain many nutrients that work together in a beneficial synergistic manner (which supplements of one or more nutrients by themselves cannot match).  

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It's Apple Time!

We are so fortunate to be able to find good apples year-round in most places in this country.  But in the fall we are even luckier because apples at their flavor-peak start showing up at the grocery store.  One of my favorite apples, the Honeycrisp variety, are starting to make an appearance at my local grocery store and I couldn't be happier!   I  look forward to their appearance every fall because I just love how they burst with a sweet yet slightly tart taste.  (If you haven't tried a Honeycrisp apple yet, go find one, you are in for a treat!)  Even though I relish my daily apple for its wonderful flavor, sometimes I also like to remind myself of all the nutrients found in an apple.

Apples are a good source of vitamin C and fiber.  Apples also contain flavonoids, a type of phytochemical.  The most prevalent flavonoid in apples is quercetin.  Quercetin has shown promise in some studies as being an inhibitor of cancer, and other studies have shown that people who eat a lot of apples have lower rates of lung cancer.

How about serving apples for snack today?  They are a quick, easy, yummy and nutritious!

Tip: Make sure you eat the skin, the quercetin is concentrated there.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

American Youth Eating a Lot of Empty Calories

Most people are aware that we have a problem in this country with the growing number of children and adolescents who are overweight or obese.  We know that this is a result of many different factors in our world today, but our eating habits seem to be a big part of this epidemic.  A recent article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association took a look at at what American youth are eating and what the major sources of "empty" calories are (that is, nutrient-poor foods that supply calories and very few nutrients to a person's diet).  Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the researchers found that the top sources of energy (calories) for 2-18 year olds included grain desserts, pizza and soda.  Sugar-sweetened beverages (this included soda and fruit drinks) provided almost 10% of total calories for the day!  Also disturbing is that 40% of the total calories taken in daily by these kids were from empty calories!  Half of these empty calories came from soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza and whole milk. 

This article is not surprising but it does remind us that we must continue to work on improving the diets of our kids!  I have talked about how our society today is "overfed but undernourished" and this article helps to point out why.  If our kids are getting 40% of their calories from empty calorie foods, how can they possibly get all of the nutrients they need in a day?

Those of you on our food program can use this information to show parents and guardians of the children in your care why it is important to choose a home child care provider who participates in the CACFP.  The CACFP meal pattern encourages eating foods from all of the food groups and limiting added sweets and fats.  As a provider, you can also use this information as a reminder about what children are eating when they are not with you.  That makes it even more important for you to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem, by limiting empty calorie foods and offering your children nutrient-rich foods!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sports Beverages

"Sports" beverages (such as Gatorade) are often marketed as being a necessary part of sports and physical activity.  Having sports heroes hawking the stuff just adds to its appeal for young children and teenagers.  I have seen this first-hand at my son's baseball games.  Kids bring and drink LARGE bottles of these sports drinks, even though they are mostly standing around in a baseball game, and only occasionally running or putting forth much physical effort.  So what should kids be drinking?  The general rule is: for moderate physical activity less than one hour in length, that is not taking place in extreme weather conditions, WATER is the best beverage.  Of course, this does not apply to very vigorous exercise lasting longer than one hour (such as running a marathon).

We know that many children consume too many sugar-sweetened beverages (such as soda) daily leading to many empty calories coming from beverages.  However,  people do not realize that sports beverages fall into this same category.  These drinks have come to been associated with a healthy lifestyle despite the fact that they are essentially sugar water.

Remember, the current recommendation on the CACFP is that juice should be limited to only two servings per week.  I would like to add that sports drinks should be reserved for extreme exercise and water should be the beverage of choice in most instances.  And if your kids need a healthy snack after their game, reach for whole fruit such as oranges instead of the juice!