Antioxidants, phytonutrients -- the time to start stocking up your baby with protective nutrients is now!

By Annabel Karmel

What Are Superfoods?

Superfoods are foods that have roles other than supplying the basic components of our diet -- carbohydrates, protein, and fat. These roles vary from boosting energy and brain power to prevention of illness and even repair of damage. Research shows that one-third of cancer cases are related to what we eat, and the evidence is that fiber and fresh fruit and vegetables are in surprisingly short supply in the Western diet. Researchers estimate that diets filled with fruits and vegetables instead of fats, along with exercise, could reduce cancer incidence by 30 to 40 percent.

The Makeup of Superfoods

So what exactly is it that makes Superfoods so great? The answer is the chemical structures we know as vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, also known collectively as phytonutrients, one of nature's many miracles. Many fruits and vegetables are packed full of these powerful natural chemicals, which have very important functions in healing and preventing illness and diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.

The incidence of cancer is increasing tremendously in Western society, as well as the incidence of obesity among children. Fruit and vegetable consumption among schoolchildren is woefully low. The latest research shows that one in five young people aged 4 to 18 eats no fruit or vegetables, and less than half have the recommended five portions a day. Eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day is vital to good health, and we should be incorporating fruit and vegetables into our children's diet from a very young age so these foods become a completely normal part of life.

Another reason for the health-giving benefits of fruit and vegetables is the presence of antioxidants. These are a group of substances that include:

  • Vitamins C and E
  • Beta-carotene (the orange color found in plants), which the body converts into vitamin A
  • The minerals iron, selenium, zinc, and copper

Antioxidants play a key role in protecting our bodies from the damage that can cause serious illness, particularly heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants effectively disarm certain harmful molecules known as free radicals, which can cause damage and disease. Many fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, and the key to making sure you are getting a good supply of antioxidants is to choose a good variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables to eat each day. The time to start stocking up with these protective nutrients is in childhood -- it can never be too early.

Eating by the Rainbow

It is easy to make sure children get all the Superfoods they need, simply by using the lists of fruit and vegetables below to plan colorful meals.

Red

baked beans

cherries

grapes

guava

papaya

plums

raspberries

red bell pepper

red/pink grapefruit

strawberries

tomatoes

watermelon

Orange/Yellow

apricots

cantaloupes

carrots

lemons

mangoes

oranges

passion fruit

peaches

pumpkins

rutabagas

squash

sweet potatoes

Green

avocados

broccoli

brussels sprouts

cabbage

fava beans

kale

lettuce

peas

spinach

watercress

Dark Blue/Purple

beets

blackberries

black currants

blueberries

eggplant

grapes

plums

prunes

White

apples

cauliflower

mushrooms

onions

potatoes

Age-by-Age Superfoods

Choose the best fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, and more for your child, no matter what his age.

Originally published on AmericanBaby.com, October 2006.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

American Baby
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