Boost your family's health with nutrition
There's no magic bullet to help ensure kids eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. From soup to nuts to fruits, veggies and everything in between, experts say eating a variety of foods representing a rainbow of colors and in the right portions is key to boosting immunity, protecting against illness and reducing future health risk.
With potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes topping the list of the most-consumed vegetables in America, nutritional experts say the top three aren't all among nutrition's top health performers.
"It's the fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, which are packed with nutrients, low in fat, sodium and calories and high in fiber which have the most punch," says Tricia Ligon, an exercise physiologist, manager of Advocate's Weight Management program and American Heart Association spokeswoman.
"Childhood obesity is a big concern," she says. "Overweight kids tend to become overweight adults, putting them at risk for diabetes and, in the future, for developing many diseases associated with excess weight such as various cancers and heart disease."
The first step to more healthful childhood nutrition, Ligon states, is to eliminate sugary drinks and instead teach kids to rehydrate and boost development with eight glasses of water a day.
There's no one food to reduce risk of inflammation, cancer and heart disease, according to Colleen Doyle, a registered dietitian and managing director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society. "It's likely the synergy between many nutrients -- vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidents -- is responsible for boosting protection across a lifetime."
Eating a diet that includes a rainbow of colorful vegetables, fruits, whole grains and limited red and processed meats is your best bet to help reduce cancer risk for you and your children's future risk, she says.
"Phytochemicals and antioxidants found in gazillions of fruits and vegetables are protective, but we just don't know which are the most protective," cautions the mother of two. "However, in the context of an overall healthy diet and watching weight, some nutrient-packed foods do pack a powerful punch."
"Super foods are those fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans that pack a punch of phytonutrients (natural chemicals that are produced by plants) that protect your body against illnesses," explains Doyle, who says it is important to expose kids to vegetables 10, 20, even 50 times, to help develop a taste for them.
"Broccoli and carrots top many kids' lists of their favorite vegetables, but plenty of other potential favorites can help boost immunity, fight infection and aid in protecting against future diseases."
Eight nutritional ways to help keep children healthy
Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to help boost childhood health through good nutrition.
1) Broccoli, cauliflower, kale and other cruciferous vegetables contain sulforaphane, a phytochemical that may reduce the risk of stomach, breast and skin cancer.
2) Blueberries (and blackberries, raspberries and strawberries) are thought to offer particularly powerful cancer-preventive effects, because they contain antioxidants like polyphenols, including ellagic acid and anthocyanins that counteract, reduce and repair damage to cells.
3) Carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, mangoes. The orange fruits and vegetables are loaded with beta-carotene, an antioxidant thought to protect cell membranes from damage.
4) Tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit contain lycopene is an antioxidant that give them their red color. Lycopene is thought to be associated with reduced risk of prostate cancer.
5) Beans are low in calories and packed with fiber and phytochemicals, they are a great source of protein and are a good alternative to red meat.
6) Garlic. Some studies suggest that garlic reduces the risk of colon cancer (and if adding some sautéed garlic to vegetables helps your family eat more of them -- great!). Garlic contains allyl sulfides which -- at least in the lab -- inhibit colon tumor formation and cell growth.
7) Whole grain bread, cereal, rice, pasta and other grains. Studies linking whole grains to reduce cancer risk are pretty inconsistent, but whole grains tend to be higher in fiber, vitamins and minerals and phytochemicals than refined grains and some studies do suggest they play a role in reducing colon cancer risk. So -- the jury is still out on the relationship to cancer, but it's a good idea for your overall health to eat more whole grains. Shoot for at least half your child's grains each day being whole grains.
8) Salmon and other fish/shellfish: There is not much evidence showing that including more fish in your diet reduces cancer risk; however, eating red meats, such as beef, pork and lamb, and processed meats such as bacon, ham and sausage, increases the lifetime risk of colon cancer. To help reduce your family's cancer risk, substitute fish for red and processed meat. At the same time, you may also help reduce your risk of heart disease.
Source: Colleen Doyle, M.S., R.D., American Cancer Society, 2015