Send Your Child to the Head of the Class with the Right Nutrition

Post sponsored by Carlson Labs

 
by Jolie Root, LPN, LNC
 
Feeding our children well, especially as we send them off to school, is one of the most important things we can do for them. But, let’s face it—it can sometimes be a chore. Most parents admit that their kids don’t automatically choose healthy meals or snacks. Kids love to reach for cookies and soda or sugary breakfast cereal instead.

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that diabetes will affect one of every three American children born in 2000. This could be the first generation with a shorter lifespan than their parents. This is serious. We need to be vigilant about feeding our children well—without being vigilantes in the kitchen. We need to make eating healthy easy for kids. One way we can do this is by knowing which nutrients support learning and making sure our kids start the day with foods that are both nutrient dense and delicious.

 

The Basics
 
What are the best foods for our little ones or teens? It is pretty simple. Kids need fresh fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meats, additive-free eggs, fish, and whole grains. Whenever you can, avoid overly processed foods and opt for fresh alternatives. Choose organic whenever possible, as organic 
farming produces a higher nutrient content in foods without the use of unnatural chemicals. This is particularly important for kids’ still-developing organs and bodily systems. Research shows that children may be at a higher risk than adults from pesticides. Pound for pound, kids eat more food compared to their body weight than adults—so exposure to potentially harmful chemicals is greater in proportion to their size. [Organic Trade Assoc.]
 
A Healthy Start
 
Eating breakfast makes a huge difference in a chil
d’s ability to focus during the morning hours. A combination of protein and complex carbohydrates accompanied with a bit of essential fatty acids (EFAs) will give your kids the balanced mental and physical energy they need to focus at school.
 
The majority of cereals targeted for kids are really no better than candy. Refined cereals lose much of their nutrients during processing. Kids are getting excessive amounts of sugar along with dyes, flavorings, and other additives that make cereal look and taste good. These cereals contribute to sugar highs followed by sugar lows. Lack of focus, inability to sit still, and irritability are all linked to consumption of sugars and artificial additives. The last thing you want is for your child to struggle with these mental distractions during a school morning. One healthy exception in the cereal aisle is oatmeal. Oatmeal contains complex carbohydrates that support energy and focus for a longer period of time than ultra-sweet, refined-grain cereals do. A bit of brown sugar sweetens the deal and fresh fruit and nuts boost the nutrient content.
 
When you’re choosing cereal for your family, it’s important to opt for whole-grain varieties. First look for “whole grain” in the ingredients list. If the cereal is also high in fiber (5 grams or more per serving), you’ll know it’s a nutritious choice. In addition to containing more fiber than refined grains, whole grains also contain more vitamins and minerals, including folic acid, magnesium, and vitamin E. [Nutrition Action Healthletter]
 
Filling in Nutritional Gaps
 
Children who eat a varied diet get protective antioxidants from foods. Nuts, seeds, grains, leafy vegetables, soybeans, and cold-pressed oils contain vitamin E. Citrus fruits, papaya, kiwi, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, peas, and strawberries contain vitamin C. And carrots and sweet potatoes are full of beta-carotene. But if your child does not gravitate toward veg
etables and fruits (or if your schedule includes a number of meals on the run because of sports or other family activities), a well-balanced multivitamin becomes particularly important.
 
Nutrition surveys show that many children are deficient in important nutrients like vitamin E, which is needed for nervous system development, and vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones and strong immune systems. Adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals are necessary for proper growth, metabolism, digestion, immune system function, muscle and nerve function, and the ability to learn. A daily multivitamin can help to keep your child’s energy and concentration levels at their best.

 

Add EFAs
 
Children also benefit from a marine omega-3 supplement. Essential fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the components in supplements like cod liver oil, fish oil, and calamari oil, are natural brain and energy nutrients. Their anti-inflammatory action makes them useful in treating and preventing heart disease and they also have beneficial effects on cholesterol, triglycerides, and on the tendency of blood to clot. Kids’ hearts need protection just as their parents’ hearts do!
 
Studies find that symptoms of depression, ADD/ADHD, and memory loss may improve with EFA supplements. Much of the brain is made up of fat, specifically DHA. Children who take fish oils are calmer and have been found to be more productive in school. Reading and language improve when healthy fats are on board. Stir a half-teaspoon of a liquid marine oil formula for kids (there’s no fishy 
taste) into their oatmeal or serve over popcorn or in a smoothie.
 
Pay Attention to Vitamin D

 

About 70 percent of U.S. children have low levels of vitamin D, which puts them at higher risk for bone and heart disease. Researchers analyzed data on more than 6,000 children ages 1 to 21. Results showed that 9 percent were vitamin D deficient and another 61 percent, or 50.8 million, were vitamin D insufficient. In a separate study, children who were deficient in vitamin D had a higher risk of respiratory infections during the course of a year compared to kids with adequate levels.
 
The American Academy of Pediatrics, in recently updated vitamin D guidelines, recommends that infants, children, and teens take 400 IU per day in supplement form. In a recent study of teens, only those given the equivalent of 2,000 IU a day of vitamin D increased their levels to what’s considered optimal for adults. None of the children showed any evidence of vitamin D intoxication.
 
We all want our children to get a healthy start in school and in life. Healthy foods and key supplements are important tools to help you achieve that goal.
 
Association Between Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Level and Upper Respiratory Tract Infection in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey” by Adit A. Ginde et al., Arch Intern Med, 2009
Prevalence and Associations of 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Deficiency in U.S. Children” by J. Kumar et al., Pediatrics, 8/09
Short- and Long-Term Safety of Weekly High-Dose Vitamin D3 Supplementation in School Children” by J. Maalouf et al., J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 7/08