December 2nd, 2013 by Digestive Detective
While nutrition is important in establishing health in adults, there is no time more critical than during infancy/early childhood. The rapid growth and development in children necessitates key nutrients to support optimal health. This period of time sets the stage for health not only during childhood, but throughout the course of life.
When parents make the switch from breastfeeding or formula to whole foods, certain essential nutrients often get lost in transition. Common solid foods eaten include rice cereal, crackers, applesauce, carrots and other fruits. While generally healthy, these foods lack specific nutrients that serve as building blocks for brain development, neurological enhancement, and overall growth. By choosing a variety of nutrient-dense foods that possess specific nutrients, parents can ensure that their children have all the brain-boosting, body-building (think growth not baby Schwarzenegger’s), vital elements in their diets to promote lifelong health.
One of the most critical nutrients for the developing brain is fat. Children use fats to supply energy to the liver, brain, and muscles including the heart. Fats in foods provide the two essential fatty acids, linoleic and alpha-linoleic. Essential fatty acids are the substrates for hormones, steroids, endocrine, and neuroactive compounds in the developing brain. The long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids DHA and EPA are derived from an essential fatty acid. DHA and EPA have been studied in eye and brain development and function. High levels of these long-chain fatty acids are found in breast milk and are supplemented in formulas; however, once transitioned to solids, the intake of these crucial fats drops significantly in young children. To continue supplying the essential fatty acids to your growing child, incorporate the following food:
- Wild-caught/sockeye salmon: Just because you're not keen on fish doesn't mean your child won't be. If baked salmon doesn't do the trick consider "salmon sausages" from Vital Choice - tasty and delicious for the kiddies. Also, you can whip up salmon salad just as you would tuna fish salad by opting for canned sockeye salmon. Both Vital Choice and Wild Planet (can be found in most major grocers such as Wegman's) are great brands.
Increasing amounts of research focused on the GI tract is illustrating the wide-reaching effects and importance of proper gut function on overall health. Again this facet of health is not limited purely to adults but to children as well. Imbalances in gut microbiota can lead to issues with constipation, diarrhea and proper absorption of nutrients. Even more amazing are the studies that are beginning to demonstrate the link between infant gut microbiota and later health risks including asthma, obesity, and type 1 diabetes ¹. When babies are born, their guts are sterile and are populated by a host of microbes, firstly from the birth canal if born vaginally. Additional immune-regulating factors are also passed to the infants during breastfeeding. If babies are born c-section and/or formula-fed exclusively, then there intestinal tracts are populated by less or often a different composition of bacteria that can influence development ¹ . Poor gut microbiota can serve to negatively impact growth ². Whether born naturally or via c-section, breast- or bottle-fed, children benefit from foods that supply and promote healthy gut bacteria. Here are a few foods to include:
- Organic yogurt and kefir. If the child tolerates cow's milk well, then cultured dairy is an option to incorporate. Organic, high-quality yogurts and kefirs provide some beneficial probiotics. Goat milk/kefir is also a great option. The amino acid profile and nutrient composition of goat's milk is very robust (contains high levels of zinc, selenium, calcium, phosphorus and short-chain fatty acids) and actually more closely resembles that of human breast milk than does cow's milk so it may be better tolerated and hypoallergenic ³.
- Sauerkraut. Just as with the fish, don't shy away from some health fermented veggies for the kiddo even if you're not a huge fan. Sauerkraut, pickled beets and cultured carrots are all great options. You can typically find these in local natural foods markets or order online. Vital Choice has an entire line of fermented vegetables to enjoy.
- Asparagus, artichokes, leeks. These foods provide pre-biotics - the foods that actually feed the healthy gut bacteria.
- If you're struggling to get your kids to eat the foods above, or are suffering from digestive issues, you can always opt for a children's chewable probiotic like the ones made by reputable, professional brand Klaire Labs.
Knowing Their A, B, C's...and D!
Vitamin D is required for bone mineralization with calcium. In addition, recent research has discovered that we possess vitamin D receptors on the nucleus of all cells! This provides a clear indication of the importance of vitamin D on cell function and health in the body. While it is not supplied in breast milk in sufficient amounts, it is added to formulas. Again, when the transition is made away from formula to solid foods, the amount of dietary vitamin D often decreases. Direct exposure to sunlight is one way to foster vitamin D in the body, so short periods of sun exposure on bare skin is one non-dietary option. In terms of food sources, the following make for great options:
- Salmon over milk - Although the "go-to" vitamin D option is milk, several foods supply a better option. Milk may be immunogenic to many, causing issues with intolerance. If you opt to go the milk route, ensure it is organic and full-fat. Skim versions of milk lack the fats that help increase absorption of vitamin D and other fat soluble vitamins, and are largely lactose (milk sugars). Along with the healthy levels of essential fatty acids, wild-caught salmon offers 3 times the amount of vitamin D as milk!
- Eggs - Eggs are high in vitamin D as well as being one of the few dietary sources of choline; an important nutrient in neurological development and health. Make sure the eggs you are serving are pastured, antibiotic- and hormone-free. Organic is good, but pastured ensures that the chickens laying those eggs have foraged on their natural diet of grasses and bugs which results in a higher amount of nutrients and a better omega-3 to omega-6 fat ratio. Eggs from hens that eat corn and "vegetarian feed" (chickens are omnivores not vegetarians by nature) will have pale yellow yolks compared to pastured eggs whose yolks are a deep gold/orange color from higher levels of carotenoids.
Want to deliver a nutritional knockout punch that encompasses all of the above? Consider adding fermented cod liver oil to your child's daily diet. While the name itself may gross out even parents, fermented cod liver oil blends now come in a variety of naturally-flavored (cinnamon, peppermint, orange) versions in liquid form that can be taken by the spoonful or added to a healthy smoothie (check out my kid-friendly super smoothie here). Fermented cod liver oil delivers on all fronts: super high in vitamins A and D, rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids DHA & EPA, and fermented to provide quality probiotics. Green Pastures is a fantastic brand that has a wide variety of cod liver oil blends.
Make these foods a priority for your little ones and your entire family to ensure health and vitality - you may even be surprised by how much they enjoy them!