The World's Healthiest Foods provide numerous benefits for everyone, especially children.
Because our children's bodies are in a state of growth and development, they need a constant supply of all nutritional building blocks - protein, essential fats, complex carbohydrates, and a full complement of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients -- to support healthy growth. Furthermore, because of their smaller size and still developing immune and detoxification systems, reducing the exposure of our very young children to potentially harmful chemicals may play a significant role in promoting a healthy future for them. Some recent research studies have suggested that the exposure we have to carcinogens and toxins in our youth may predispose us to a higher risk of some types of cancers later in life. Maximizing the health potential of our children means minimizing their exposure to toxins, such as pesticides.
The World's Healthiest Foods include fresh vegetables and fruits (organically grown whenever possible), which contain an array of vitamins, minerals and other health-promoting phytonutrients; as well as whole grains and legumes, which provide healthy fibers, proteins, minerals, and fats. These healthy foods will help your children feel better, think better and live better. By helping your children to develop healthy eating habits, you will be providing them with a great gift ' one that will benefit their health throughout their lives.
Let's explore some of the special benefits that a healthy foods diet can provide your children and discuss the ways in which you can educate and inspire them to enjoy eating healthy. In this way, you can tranform these foods from the ones your children have to eat to the ones they want to eat.
Benefits of Healthy Foods
The World's healthist foods feature numerous benefits that can help nourish your children: these healthy foods provide an abundant supply of essential nutrients; when these healthy foods comprise the bulk of the diet, it's easy to maintain a healthy weight; providing healthy foods minimizes exposure to potentially harmful chemicals and additives.
Healthy foods provide a wealth of important nutrients vital to your child's wellbeing including:
Vitamins and Minerals
Many children in the United States consume a diet that does not meet the RDA for most vitamins and minerals. For example, of children aged nine and under, only 71% meet the daily requirement for vitamin A. Often called the anti-infection vitamin since it is protects the integrity of the skin and all mucosal surfaces, vitamin A is also necessary for a healthy complexion, good eyesight, bone development, growth, and sexual development. The data with vitamin E, the body's primary antioxidant defender in all fat-containing areas such as the membranes of every cell, is even more striking. Only 32% of American children meet the daily requirement for vitamin E. Minerals are also compromised in many children; for example, only 35% of our children receive the daily requirement of zinc, a critical mineral for good immune function, and 47% of children fall below the RDA for daily intake of calcium, a must for growing bones and healthy teeth. These vitamin and mineral deficiencies reflect the fact that most children do not consume the minimum recommendation of five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
Vitamins and minerals serve essential functions in promoting children's health. They help support a child's immune system, growth and development, cognitive function, and energy metabolism. To learn more about the benefits of individual vitamins and minerals, please explore our Nutrients Database.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds are good sources of vitamins and minerals, whereas the majority of vitamins and minerals are removed from processed foods. Even when key vitamins and minerals are added back, and often the vitamins added back are synthetic rather than the natural forms, processed foods still contain a limited number of vitamins and minerals, not the full complement found in the World's healthiest foods.
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are extremely important nutrients we must receive from our diets. These fats are the long-chain, unsaturated fatty acids that make up part of our cell membranes and are necessary for much of our cells' communications. In fact, DHA is a major component of the fats in our brains and is important for support of visual development. Children (and adults) consuming the standard American diet receive a negligible amount of omega-3 essential fatty acids, making omega-3 deficiency the most widespread nutrient deficiency in the U.S. In addition, the typical American diet is quite high in omega-6 fats, which when excessive, further promote functional deficiency of these critical omega-3s.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids provide a variety of important health benefits for children. Since they comprise a significant portion of the lipids in the brain, deficiencies of omega-3s in children are suggested to be linked to cognitive and psycho-social problems such as attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), motor skill dysfunction, depression and, possibly, dyslexia. In addition, since these fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, foods rich in these in these 'good fats' can help to reduce the incidence of allergen-induced asthma and dermatitis.
Concentrated dietary sources of omega-3 fats include wild-caught fish such as sardines and salmon, flaxseeds, walnuts, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, mustard seeds, and tofu.
It is estimated that between 55-90% of all children do not consume the recommended amount of dietary fiber.
Intake of dietary fiber is very important for children's health. Fiber is necessary to keep their digestion regular and reduce the incidence of constipation, maintain the health of their large intestines, and increase the feeling of fullness they experience from eating, thus preventing over-eating and excess weight gain.
Good dietary sources of fiber include whole grains and the skins of organically grown fruits. Other good sources of fiber that support healthy intestinal function include legumes (especially soybeans), Jerusalem artichokes and chicory.
Childhood obesity is becoming a major public health concern in this country. Research estimates that 22% of children in the United States are obese - that's about one in every four of our children!
The impact of this phenomenon extends beyond the social stigma and poor self-image that an overweight child may carry. Overweight and obese children are at higher risk for high cholesterol, skin problems and premature onset of puberty. In addition, the long term odds against a healthy adult life are stacked against these children, who face an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes, as well as being overweight or obese in adulthood - unless they can reverse their eating patterns and weight gain while they're still young. And they can, with your help.
Good nutrition from a diet rich in the World's healthiest foods can help your child drop those excess pounds and maintain a healthy weight. While childhood obesity is certainly also due to too many hours in front of the TV - in a recent study, the incidence of obesity among children who watched more than 2 hours of television a day was 250% higher than among children who watched less - the typical American diet that our children eat is the principal cause of their excess fat. This diet of processed, packaged and fast food, is notoriously high in calories, fat, sugar, salt and refined carbohydrates and deficient in many important nutrients.
In children, soft drinks are a primary offender. Twenty percent of children start drinking soda as toddlers, and by age six, 50% of all kids are drinking these sugar-laden, caffeinated, chemical concoctions. Preteens consume an average of 15 ounces of soda per day, while teenage boys guzzle twice that amount. A recent 2-year study published in the respected British medical journal, The Lancet, found that soft drink consumption during childhood correlated directly with obesity. For each sugar-laden soft drink consumed per day, the children's body mass index (a ratio of weight to height)increased, and those who drank the most soft drinks were the most likely to become obese. This is not surprising since the closest thing to a nutrient that a can of soda contains is 150 empty calories worth of refined sugar. Since soft drinks--including Kool-Aid, Hawaiian Punch, and other sugared fake "fruit" drinks--provide no fiber, protein, or fat, neither do they provide a feeling fullness, so your child does not compensate for these extra calories by eating less later. If your child drinks a can of soda per day, simply eliminating that one drink will cut 150 calories per day, which over the course of a year, could translate into a 15-pound weight loss. Switch to pure fruit juice, which, in the Lancet study, had no effect on weight. Better yet, dilute pure fruit juices with sparkling water for a drink that promotes your child's health, not obesity.
A diet that features unprocessed, plant-based, whole foods can easily be relatively low in calories and saturated fat while being rich in the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber and 'good fats' such as omega-3 essential fatty acids, that your child needs for a lean, healthy body. These nutrients help to maintain a child's healthy weight for a variety of reasons. The vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals are necessary for optimal energy production and metabolic function. Dietary fiber provides "bulk" that translates into a feeling of satisfied fullness, reducing the amount of calories consumed. In addition, whole foods contain complex carbohydrates, which, unlike the simple carbohydrates found in refined foods, help maintain your child's blood sugar level, reducing cravings for the candy, chips and other snacks typically eaten when we experience that "running on empty" feeling caused by low blood sugar.
Food Allergies and Hypersensitivity Reactions
Food allergies and hypersensitivity reactions are common in children. A whole foods diet that emphasizes a variety of healthy foods, instead of just the few that are most common in processed foods, may help to reduce allergies and sensitivities for a variety of reasons. It can also help reduce the incidence of hypersensitivity reactions in children (and adults as well) is by minimizing exposure to the chemical additives that are common in packaged foods. For more on adverse food reactions, please see our article on this subject.
The Benefits of Organically Grown Foods
One of the most important benefits organically grown foods provide for the health of our children lies in what they do not contain -- the array of agricultural chemicals used in conventional methods of growing foods. Many of the foods that comprise a substantial portion of the diets of children, especially our youngest ones, are those that have been found to have the highest levels of pesticide residues. According to a study by Consumer Reports, the foods that have been found to have the greatest level of residues include apples, grapes, green peppers, peaches, pears, spinach and winter squash. Reports by the government and some non-profit associations indicate that many children may be exposed to pesticides through their food at levels that surpass safe limits.
Pesticides in foods are of special concern for children for a variety of reasons. Since children have lower body weights than adults, even a smaller amount of these toxic chemicals can have a detrimental effect in their systems. Some of these pesticides have neurotoxic properties and are thought to cause damage to the developing brain and central nervous system. In addition, some researchers caution that the ill effects of pesticides may be more pronounced during times of growth and development.
Helping Your Children Discover the Joys of Eating Healthy Foods
Understanding that by a healthy foods diet you can provide your children with good nutrition that will benefit their health is one thing. Getting them to eat and enjoy those foods is another. Here are some tips to help you inspire your children to eat healthy foods.
Educate your children about the world's healthiest foods!
Teach your children why certain foods are good for them. We can probably all remember our parents telling us that eating healthy would help us to grow up big and strong, yet many did not tell us of the benefits we would experience while still being a child. And we know a great deal more about these benefits today. Since kids are very "now-focused," explaining how eating healthy foods will help them feel good, look great, give them the kind of long-lasting energy that will make them stars in their school's sports program, and help them to learn and think clearly, so they can excell in the classroom as well, will motivate them. Depending upon their age, explain to them the specific benefits they will notice and appreciate. For example, you could tell them how foods that contain fiber and complex carbohydrates will give them more energy for playing longer than those made from refined carbohydrates and sugars, which, like firecrackers, quickly fizzle out after a brief burst of energy. Tell them how a complete spectrum of vitamins and minerals will increase their concentration and ability to learn and do well in their schoolwork. Talk to them about how omega-3 fatty acids not only support brain development, but are essential for beautiful clear skin, and shiny hair, and also help prevent or reduce itchy eyes, runny noses, and other allergic reactions.
Introduce a New Fruit, Vegetable or Grain Every Week
Most young children are fascinated by new things, and the colors, shapes, textures and tastes of different foods are no exception. And since foods have a rich history of tradition and heritage that kids can enjoy, learning about and eating new foods can be a lot of fun -- and it's easy to do. Just use our Foods/Spices Database for anecdotes about the food to share with your children.
Make Grocery-Shopping Fun for Your Little Ones
Take your kids with you to the market and make it an educational and participative experience for them. Explore the colorful produce department together. If you purchase food items from bulk bins, let your children help you scoop them into the bags. If they are old enough to read, play the "food label game" with them by having them read the labels, trying to determine by looking at the ingredients which foods are the most healthy.
Visit a Local Farm, Explore a Farmer's Market, or Talk to Your Greengrocer
Nature, living things and the process of how things work captivate children. By seeing where food comes from, how it is grown, and meeting the people, such as local farmers who grow the food or the produce manager at your local grocery who knows the farms in your area, your children will develop a real appreciation and more intimate relationship with the food they eat.
Involve Your Children With Growing Foods Themselves
Children love to be productive and creative, and accomplish something on their own. You can help them create thier own mini-"farm" right at home by simply growing a pot or two of herbs or sprouting some seeds or grains. Once your child has experienced the miracle of a tender green shoot emerging from the soil you have watered together, he or she will understand through personal experience that food is a miraculous gift from the earth--not from a factory.
Let Your Children "Help" You Cook
All children can participate in cooking (even toddlers can "help" with your assistance). Design their involvement depending upon their age. Small children can help measure and mix ingredients. Older children can cut and cook food and choose new recipes to try. Involving your children in the cooking process will award them with a sense of achievement, pride in eating what they helped to prepare, and cooking skills that they can rely on as adults. Make your kitchen the heart of your home, a warm and friendly place where healthy food prepared with love makes memories that will nourish your children throughout their lives.Remember, the more colorful the meal, the greater the range of phytonutrients it contains, so let your children be creative with the colorful vegetables and fruits and help to choose a vivid palette for your meals.
Buy or Make Special Decorative Containers for School Meals and Snacks
Packing the foods your children take to school in bright and decorative containers can help them feel special and loved. Let them select containers they like at the store or decorate any of the new, inexpensive reusable containers with favorite stickers. A healthy meal is a present for your child's body; a gift wrapping adds to the fun.
A healthy foods diet can confer wonderful benefits to your children. They will be happier, healthier, even more beautiful, and filled with energy and good spirits. With simple games and educational activities, you can have fun sharing with your children the delights of foods that taste good and are good for them.