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Sunday, July 6th, 2014
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I always tout the perks of protein in the context of a nutritious diet. A satiating and satisfying nutrient, protein is found in a wide variety of animal and plant foods. Children need it because it provides their bodies with energy to support growth, development and maintenance of muscles, bones, organs and all body cells. But despite its many virtues, many children—and their parents—OD on protein.
The popularity of Atkins’ type diets coupled with concern over carbohydrate and added sugar intake have led many of us parents to consume more of our daily calories from protein. That has likely lead many kids to also eat more protein-rich foods. The emergence of more and more foods pumped up with protein—everything from granola bars to pasta, Cheerios with protein, high protein pretzels and even pancake mix made with extra protein as described in a recent segment on Good Morning America—is likely to make even more adults and children consume protein in amounts that can greatly exceed their daily needs.
For infants up to age 6 months, the adequate intake (AI) for protein is 9.1 grams daily. For older children, Recommended Dietary Allowances for protein range from 11 grams daily for 7- to 12-month-olds to 13 to 46 grams daily for 1- to 18-year-olds. To put these protein recommendations in perspective, the following foods and beverages each pack in about 8 grams of protein: 1 ounce roasted turkey, 1 ounce broiled sirloin, 1 cup milk, 1 ounce Swiss cheese, 4 ounces firm tofu; and ~1/2 cup chickpeas.
Although it’s a challenge to know just how much protein infants and older children consume, the most recent What We Eat in America report reveals that boys aged 2- to 5-years-old, 6- to 11-years-old, and 12- to 19-years-old consume an average of 56, 68 and 95 grams of protein, respectively, each day. The survey also shows that girls aged 2- to 5-years-old, 6- to 11-years-old, and 12- to 19-years-old consume an average of 56, 63, and 64 grams of protein, respectively, each day. grams. Essentially, the report suggests that children can easily consume 3 to 4 times the amount of protein recommended for them daily.
Although it’s not yet clear how excess protein affects children’s health over the long term, a recent review in Food & Nutrition Research concludes that a high intake of protein (15 to 20% of total calorie intake) in infancy and young childhood increases the risk of obesity later in life. The researchers recommend an average of 15% of total calorie intake for protein as the upper limit at 12 months of age. (However, current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a range of 10- to 35% of total calories from protein for Americans aged 2 and older.) To reduce protein intake in an infants’ diet, the researchers recommend breastfeeding for the first year of life since breast milk has less protein than formula, and to avoid excessive intakes of protein-rich foods like cow’s milk.
Besides its link to weight gain, too much protein can strain kidneys and cause bones to excrete calcium. It can also lead to excess calorie and saturated fat intake—and increase the risk of unhealthy weight gain, cardiovascular disease, high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure. This is especially true if the protein foods children eat include big portions of fried, skinned chicken, fatty meats and full-fat dairy products.
While it’s much more important to focus on children’s overall diet and the foods they are offered and actually eat rather than specifically how much protein they consume, we parents can help them achieve more dietary balance. When it comes to protein, we need to provide—but not push—protein foods that are in their lowest fat forms and are prepared in healthful ways. Examples include low- and nonfat milk, yogurt and cheese; lean beef; skinless poultry; fish; eggs; beans and peas; and nuts and seeds. We need to offer these foods in amounts based on children’s unique needs (check out the Daily Food Planner based on MyPlate here).
Although few children are deficient in protein, those who for whatever reason consume fewer calories than they need for growth and those who follow vegetarian or vegan diets may fall short on protein. In such cases, it’s important to offer and encourage intake of protein-rich plant foods including soybeans and tofu (like animal proteins, these contain all the essential amino acids the body needs and cannot make itself) to meet calorie and energy needs. Adding such foods to other dishes your child already likes can help. And while foods touted as having extra protein can help some children meet their baseline protein needs, most can afford to bypass such foods and instead rely on foods that are naturally protein-rich.
Image of meat and dairy foods via shutterfly.
Do you pay attention to your child’s protein intake?
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Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014
This is a guest post by Christina Jedra.
Dawes cooks with her boys.
Finding quality time to spend with your kids can be tough while juggling many other priorities, but there is a way to schedule bonding time and get dinner to the table faster: Get your children involved in the kitchen.
By making them a part of an important family task, they’ll learn responsibility, practice math and reading skills, and learn about where their food comes from. Cooking also directly improves kids’ health: One study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition found that kids who cook eat more fruits and veggies. Plus, kids in the kitchen have an opportunity to learn about food groups and nutrition at a time when they are developing their food preferences. Even First Lady Michelle Obama stressed the importance of kids’ cooking skills when she announced earlier this month her desire to reinstate cooking classes in schools.
Nicole Bernard Dawes, Co-Founder and CEO of Late July organic chips (and mother of two), knows a thing or two about cooking with kids. Not surprisingly, she suggests piquing kids’ interest in cooking with a simple but fun summer classic: chips and salsa.
“Salsa is the perfect recipe to give kids a little independence in the kitchen, and it also happens to be my sons’ favorite to make. My seven-year-old uses a Kuhn Rikon kid’s knife so his tomato pieces are more chopped than diced, but he can almost make this whole recipe himself,” says Dawes, who usually dices the onions and jalapeños herself.
Dawes’ salsa recipe is delicious as is, but she encourages parents and children to make it their own.
“I included a list of optional ingredients as inspiration because sometimes we enjoy mixing it up to let their creativity really take over,” she says.
Whatever you make with your kids, know that in exchange for a little mess you’ll be teaching your kids an important life skill and hopefully making something delicious in the process.
The finished product!
Late July’s Homemade Salsa
3 medium-large heirloom tomatoes, chopped/diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small bunch of cilantro, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped (optional)
1-2 limes, juiced
Salt to taste
Optional ingredients: Mango, avocado, tomatillos, sweet corn, black beans, imagination
Combine ingredients, serve, and enjoy!
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Wednesday, June 25th, 2014
Despite its popularity as a staple for many children and parents alike, cereal has gotten a bad rap lately—primarily because of the high levels of added sugar it contains. But as cereal sales continue to fall, companies seem to be doing what they can to generate interest in having consumers eat it not just for breakfast but at other times of the day (see this recent Wall Street Journal clip). Also, Kellogg’s recently announced a partnership with YoCrunch to sell in a yogurt aisle near you YoCrunch Cereal Bowls (a combination of Greek yogurt and popular cereals like Frosted Flakes, Fruit Loops and Special K). Whether such efforts will help overturn the recent slump in cereal sales has yet to be seen, though a new highly publicized report about cereal by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) may very well cause them to fall even more.
In the new report, How Much Is Too Much? Excess Vitamins and Minerals Can Harm Kids’ Health, the EWG concludes that many American children get too much of three nutrients—vitamin A, niacin and zinc—and that cereal is a key contributor to this excess intake. The report claims that “Fortified breakfast cereals are the number one source of excessive intake of vitamin A, niacin and zinc because they’re all added to fortified foods in amounts calculated for adults, not children.” It also points out that Daily Values for vitamin A, niacin and zinc are higher than the “Tolerable Upper Intake Level” (UL) calculated by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) for children 8-years-old and younger. (The UL is “the highest level of daily nutrient intake that is likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects to almost all individuals in the general population.”) When routinely ingested in high doses, these vital nutrients can become toxic.
Before drawing conclusions, the EWG analyzed the Nutrition Facts panels of 1,556 cereals. Of those, 114 contained 30 percent or more of the adult Daily Value (DV) of either vitamin A, zinc or niacin in a single serving. According to the EWG, “A child age 8 or younger eating a single serving of any of them would exceed IOM’s safe level.” The EWG also identified 23 cereals—these include some popular picks like General Mills total Raisin Bran, Kellogg’s Product 19—that had the highest added doses of the three nutrients. The report warns that “Children who eat cereals that are high in one or more of these three nutrients along with other fortified foods and/or supplements could easily be overexposed.”
When consumed in excess, Vitamin A—important for healthy teeth, bones, eyes and skin and immune function—can damage the liver and contribute to symptoms like brittle bones, hair loss and peeling skin. Getting too much zinc—a mineral that supports immune function and plays a key role in many important chemical reactions in the body—can, in fact, impair immunity, cause anemia, and reduce the absorption of copper. Overdoing intake of the niacin—a B vitamin that helps convert food to energy—can cause rashes or other skin reactions, nausea and liver problems.
If you, like many parents (including me), routinely give your kids cereal, the EWG report might make you throw your hands up in despair—and throw all your cereal boxes in the garbage! While this report does raise a red flag and illustrate the idea that too much of a good thing may not, after all, be good, I really don’t think you need to go to extremes to keep your kids healthy. That being said, it’s prudent to add excess intakes of vitamins and minerals from cereal and other fortified foods to your list of concerns when feeding children simply because of potential health perils associated with eating such foods, especially in excess.
The EWG wisely recommends looking for cereals that offer no more than 20 to 25% of the adult Daily Value for vitamin A, zinc and niacin. Encouraging children to stick to small serving sizes of cereal, to choose cereal that is 100% whole grain, high in fiber, and lower in sugar, and topping it with fresh fruit, chopped nuts or seeds (for older children) and low- or nonfat milk can help kids meet—but not exceed—food group and nutrient needs. (To find other tips to help you choose more nutritious cereals, check out my recent Scoop on Food Post, Cereal for Breakfast: A Good or Bad Idea?, here.)
Although it’s great to be mindful of what kinds of cereal and how much and how often your kids consume this traditional breakfast staple, it’s important to also think big picture to help them eat healthfully. Although no one food can make or break a diet, when it comes to nutrients, the EWG report underscores the importance of looking at cereal as part of your child’s overall intake of food, fortified foods, and dietary supplements. If you really want some credible guidance on making food and/or supplement choices for your children to meet (but not exceed) their overall nutrient needs, consulting with a registered dietitian nutritionist and your child’s pediatrician can certainly be a great first step.
Does this EWG report make you want to ban cereal together? Will you think twice when buying cereal or feeding it to your children?
Image of healthy breakfast via shutterstock.
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Tuesday, June 10th, 2014
If your kids, like most, fall short on fish intake, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) want to change that. In an effort to update joint fish* consumption recommendations issued in 2004, the FDA and EPA just released draft updated advice for pregnant women, women who might become pregnant, women who breastfeed and young children.
Fish provides a vital source of nutrients needed by pregnant and breastfeeding women and children. Besides being a source of high quality protein, many types of fish—especially cold-water, oily fish, like salmon—are key food sources of two potent omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (they’re essential because the body can’t make them and they need to be derived from the diet) are integral components of cell membranes and support critical functions in the brain, blood vessels and immune system. EPA creates compounds that help cells divide and grow and also plays a role in blood clotting, muscle activity and digestion, and DHA is critical for brain function. Although our bodies can make a little bit of EPA and DHA from plant foods, fish is a more reliable source of these vital nutrients. Studies also suggest that fish benefits heart health, may protect against depression and may even benefit skin health.
Depending on the type you choose, fish can also be a good or excellent source of nutrients including vitamin B12, niacin, selenium and phosphorus. Some are also excellent sources of vitamin D.
Although the draft recommendations encourage adults to consume 8 to 12 ounces weekly of a variety of fish that are lower in mercury (more on that below), it recommends that children consume amounts consistent with current Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Based on United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Patterns, children ages 2 to 8 years who consume between 1,000 and 1,400 calories should aim for about 3 to 6 ounces of fish weekly. Older children who consume 1,600 or more calories (eg boys aged 10 and older, and girls aged 11 and older) can aim for at least 8 ounces of fish weekly. The draft recommendations also recommend feeding fish to children only after 6 months of age and to monitor for signs of an allergic reaction before feeding a second time since fish—especially shellfish—is recognized as a major allergen.
When it comes to fish options, the draft recommendations encourage low mercury fish options. While mercury, a heavy metal, occurs naturally in the environment, it also collects in the waters in which fish swim. There it becomes methylmercury, a neurotoxin. When fish feed, they absorb varying amounts of methylmercury, and nearly all fish contains at least traces of the heavy metal. Being exposed to too much methylmercury can harm the brain and nervous system, which is why it’s vital for women of childbearing age and children especially to make more mindful fish choices. The draft recommendations suggest avoiding higher mercury fish including tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. They also recommend emphazsizing lower mercury fish options including salmon, shrimp, pollock, tuna (light canned), tilapia, catfish, and cod and limiting intake of white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces a week since it contains an estimated three times the mercury found in light tuna.
If you’re still concerned about methylmercury or other harmful pollutants in fish, you can remove parts of the fish in which such substances tend to accumulate before cooking; these include the skin, belly fat, and internal organs.
To incorporate more fish in kids’ diets, you can serve it in small portions alongside or mixed with rice and vegetables, in fajitas or quesadillas, or bake it with breadcrumbs made from flaky whole grain cereal. Or make mini fish sticks! And if your kids won’t eat fish because they don’t like it, or because they follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, be sure to consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist to make sure they are meeting their basic nutrient needs.
Although it’s unclear when final FDA/EPA fish intake recommendations will be made, it’s prudent to follow the updated draft guidance—especially if your kids don’t eat much or any fish. And if you want to voice your opinion or make a comment about the draft advice, you can do so starting on June 11, 2014.
*includes fish and shellfish.
Image of grilled fish with BBQ vegetables via shutterstock.
Do you and your kids eat fish? If not, what’s stopping you? And if you do, what’s your favorite way to eat/prepare it?
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Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014
For the past few years, you’ve likely heard how vital it is to feed our children and ourselves more so-called “real food.” Adding to—if not starting—the conversation, popular food writer Michael Pollan weighs in on all things food in his bestselling book, Food Rules. In it, he defines “real food” as “plants, animals and fungi people have been eating for generations.” Pollan also refers to most new products offered in supermarkets each year as “edible food-like substances” and describes such foods as “highly processed concoctions designed by food scientists, consisting mostly of ingredients derived from corn and soy that no normal person keeps in the pantry, and that contain chemical additives with which the body has not been long acquainted.”
Although many parents and experts alike may agree with Pollan’s point of view, there’s no formal, universally accepted definition for “real food.” Even if there were, it’s likely parents who want to feed themselves and their growing children better would go about doing so in different ways. Still, I thought it would be fun to take to Facebook and Twitter and ask my registered dietitian colleagues what they think “real food” really is.
According to Marty Yadrick, “real food” is anything edible. Sheryl Lozicki thinks of “real food” as food that is minimally processed and nourishing. Alexandra Lautenschläger concurs, adding that “real foods” have few ingredients.
Janet Bond Brill, PhD thinks of “real food” as food that is eaten the way Mother Nature intended it to be eaten—for example, an apple rather than apple pie. And Maggie Green says, “If “real food” means it’s tangible, then all food is real. If “real food” means it’s not processed, that excludes foods like olive oil and butter.” According to Lauren Slayton, “For many parents, “real food” is food they serve their children—it doesn’t come from a package or from a factory.”
Regan Jones concedes that that term “real food” means different things to different people (something that came across loud and clear when I posted the question on Facebook and on twitter in the first place). According to Jones, “In it’s truest sense, “real food” represents foods that we recognize in their most basic, natural form—how they grew from the ground, what animal produced the milk, or even the tree on which the fruit grew. But busy, modern day lives mean we don’t/can’t eat at that most basic root level—so for my purposes, “real foods” are foods that have been processed in a way to allow for convenience (like peeling or grinding) and safety (like pasteurization).” The co-creator of HealthyAperture.com, an image-based recipe discovery platform—and the only site of its kind moderated by registered dietitians and solely focused on healthy food blogs—Jones says, “While we (at HealthyAperture.com) don’t shun all advances by food manufacturers, we do like to focus on ingredients that are easy to recognize and understand.”
Supermarket dietitian Leah McGrath thinks terms like “real food,” “whole food” and “clean eating” are elitist and simply give certain foods and eaters undeserved status. To McGrath, “real food” is anything we can safely consume. Rebecca Scritchfield also takes issue with the term “real food.” In her opinion, it’s a term that’s full of judgment. That said, Scritchfield thinks of “real food” as food you can make in your kitchen, even if you don’t. “I can make homemade corn tortillas in my kitchen for fish tacos or migas, but I can also buy them. I can also make chocolate chip cookies with real butter and sugar and don’t need to use applesauce or other “replacements” to call it real. Like Scritchfield, Danielle Omar thinks of “real food” as food that she can make or grow myself. She says, “I can make yogurt, but I can’t make Cool Whip or Velveeta cheese.”
Roseanne Rust believes that trendy and simple terms like “real food” that get pitched to and by the media as sound bites never explain the whole picture. She’s also tired of simple “X is bad” statements and “Avoid X challenges.” According to Rust, “Food and eating is personal. “Real” is not what matters. What matters are healthy eating behaviors and patterns.”
However you define “real food,” the bottom line is clear—at least to me. Most of us don’t own and run a farm, or grow most (if any) of our own foods. If we can produce some of our own food via a garden, or rely on a local farmer’s market for fresh, locally grown produce, fantastic! But if that’s not possible—or we haven’t yet made time for it (guilty as charged), following a few simple rules can help us feed and nourish our families without making ourselves crazy.
Eating foods—mostly plants, as suggested by Michael Pollan and so many of us registered dietitians—and choosing mostly foods that are made with minimal amounts of solid fats and added sugars (SoFAs) that provide empty calories can certainly help. Eating a dietary pattern consistent with MyPlate and keeping portion sizes of foods that don’t neatly fit into any recognizable food group can also help. (For example, foods like low fat chocolate milk or Hershey Kisses can be included as part of kids’ daily SoFA calories if that’s how they’d like to spend those extra calories).
For other tips on how we can help our kids eat better, check out How to Help Kids Eat Less and Better and Tips From Experts to Feed Kids Better from The Scoop on Food.
How do you define “real food?”
Image of healthy lifestyle concept via shutterstock.
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