Building Blocks for Good Nutrition
Who’s the health food know-it-all in your house? Perhaps it’s the child who read the latest edition health textbook—or maybe the parent who reads up on recent medical research studies. If nobody in your family does either of these things, don’t fret, we’re here to help.
There are a few basic building blocks for good nutrition and healthy growth. It starts with knowing a little about essential vitamins, but also includes understanding other nutrition recommendations that may not be as obvious.
Learn Your ABCs
Whenever possible, it’s best for kids to get vitamins and other nutrients they need from dietary sources, but if you suspect a deficiency it might be wise to consider a supplement. The American Medical Association recommends multivitamins as daily “insurance” for getting all the recommended nutrients. Kid-friendly options include gummies, chewables and liquids—but take care to choose ones that aren’t loaded with sugar or artificial colors and flavors.
You and your kids can both learn the ABCs of the essential vitamins—the ones your need to make extra sure your body is getting:
Vitamin A is essential for growth, development and a healthy immune system. Preformed A, called retinol, comes from animal products (liver, whole milk). Carotenoid A is found in certain colorful fruits and veggies, and is transformed into retinol in the body.
B Vitamins are needed for energy, brain function and stress management, especially for those who eat a lot of processed foods and refined carbohydrates.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant for healthy inflammation response and is crucial for immune and brain function.
Vitamin D plays a major role in bone development, so deficiencies can impair growth. Exposure to sunlight causes the body to produce D. Some people may need extra D, including people living in northern climates or who do not spend much time outdoors in the sunshine.
Essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3s, are crucial for development and health of the brain, heart, nervous system, tissues, skin and immune system. The omega-3 DHA is especially important for school-age children.
Cold-water fish (salmon, tuna), flaxseed, dark leafy greens and walnuts are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Consider supplementing if these foods are not part of your diet. Child-friendly omega-3 supplements are available.
Eat a Rainbow
A colorful plate full of natural purples, blues, reds, oranges, yellows and greens will nourish young bodies with the positive effects of phytonutrients, such as flavonoids, carotenoids and chlorophyll—all important for proper nutrition. Choose brightly colored fruits and vegetables like mangos, carrots, apricots, citrus fruits, plums, blueberries, eggplant, grapes, watermelon, raspberries, beets, salad greens, green beans, winter squash, pumpkin and dark leafy greens.
Toss Out the Trans Fats
Avoid snacks and desserts with hydrogenated fats, which are added to many conventional processed foods aimed at kids. The hydrogenation process transforms vegetable oils from their natural liquid state into solid fats. The result is a fat with a chemical configuration that is not found in nature—one that is rich in trans fatty acids.
Studies have shown that trans fatty acids raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels while at the same time decreasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels, a net result that has been shown to increase the risk of coronary heart disease. Trans fatty acids have an even worse impact on cholesterol levels than diets high in butter, which contains saturated fat. That’s why we only sell products made without hydrogenated fats.
Make a Sweet Deal
Higher intake of refined sugar has been implicated in many health problems, from obesity to diabetes and dental decay. Eating excessive amounts of nutrient-poor, sugar-rich foods can diminish the appetite for more nutritious foods. But that doesn’t mean you have to cut out all the fun stuff!
Trade refined sweets for delicious, more wholesome options that are high in nutrients but lower in sugar. Provide plenty of fresh, seasonal fruits or dried fruits. Use unsweetened applesauce, apple butter and granola as toppings. For a fruity soft drink alternative, dilute 100% fruit juices with carbonated mineral water. Try alternative sweeteners such as maple syrup, molasses, honey and agave nectar for baking. Many of our bakery and packaged baked goods are also available with these unrefined sweeteners.
Go Low With the Glycemic Index
The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate is digested, enters the bloodstream, and raises blood sugar levels.
High glycemic index foods, such as refined flours and high sugar beverages, are quickly digested, causing a rapid spike in blood sugar and insulin levels. Such effects have been linked to diabetes, overeating and obesity.
Low glycemic index foods, on the other hand, contribute to a steadier blood sugar level and have been shown to lower cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of diabetes.
Replacing high glycemic index foods with low glycemic index foods is an important step for balanced blood sugar levels and healthy eating habits. In general, foods high in fiber and protein have a lower glycemic index and are more satiating. Beans, dairy products, fruits and vegetables and whole grains are foods with the lowest glycemic indices.
Boost Immunity Naturally
We all know kids and germs travel together. Natural immune boosters, many of which are antioxidants, are an easy way to enhance the body’s defenses against illness. Try to incorporate these helpful components into your family’s diet, or look for supplements that offer them. Some examples:
Probiotics aid your body in maintaining healthy levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut and intestines. Your immune system, good digestion and proper absorption depend on these friendly bacteria. Certain yogurts are an excellent food source.
Garlic is a nutritive tonic and an antioxidant. It increases internal body heat, supports digestive function, the cardiovascular system and the immune system.
Ginger is an antioxidant that supports digestive function and is commonly recommended by health professionals for motion sickness and nausea. For ages 2 and up.
Astragalus is an herb that supports and nurtures the immune system as well as stress response and respiratory, heart and liver health.
Medicinal mushrooms, including reishi, maitake, shiitake, cordyceps and others, support the immune system and general health with powerful antioxidant compounds.