Category Archives: childhood

Back to School: Immune-boosting tips for kids

The start of the new school year is upon us, and this can cause worry for some parents whose children seem particularly vulnerable to illness. Coughs, colds, ear and chest infections are commonplace in schools, with the average child catching between 8 and 12 colds or flu viruses each year. This is not surprising when we consider that the school environment is the perfect breeding ground for infection – up to 90% of children with a cold are carrying the virus on their hands, and germs can survive up to three days on surfaces.

Fortunately there are some simple measures that can help support your child’s immune system, helping to lessen the duration of an infection or even avoid illness altogether.

A good night’s sleep
Children need more sleep than adults, with primary school children needing at least 9 hours each night. Any less than this can compromise the immune system. Sleep deprived children have lower levels of germ-fighting T-cells, leaving them vulnerable to infection (1). Tips to improve sleep include keeping a regular bedtime routine, ensuring that televisions are kept out of the bedroom and reducing sources of caffeine such as chocolate and sodas.

Immune-boosting antioxidants
Another way to help support your child’s health is to ensure that his or her diet provides plenty of immune-boosting antioxidants. Antioxidants such as Vitamin C boost production of interferon, helping to prevent infection from taking hold (2). Vitamin E and carotenoids help to increase production of natural killer cells, B cells and T cells, increasing antibodies against specific germs (3).

Fruit-Bowl
Kiwi fruit and strawberries can provide a welcome vitamin C boost.

Finally, nutrients called bioflavonoids actually work to block cell receptors so that germs cannot get access to cells. Present in whole foods such as fruit, vegetables and grains, flavonoids have been shown to exert both anti-inflammatory and anti-viral activity (4). Flavonoids are not easily absorbed from foods we eat. For the best sources of well-absorbed flavonoids, make sure your child eats plenty of blue and purple fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries and red grapes.

If infection has already taken hold, then steps to reduce the length of an infection can be helpful. During an active infection, the body’s requirement for Vitamin C is increased dramatically. A fruit salad made with oranges, kiwi fruit and strawberries can provide a welcome vitamin C boost. During an active infection, taking a vitamin C supplement 3-4 times daily can also be a helpful measure to speed up recovery.

Protective probiotics
Probiotic supplementation offers a further protective measure for children who suffer with repeated infections. Probiotics reduce the risk of allergies, tummy upsets and diarrhoea, and have recently been found to prevent the common cold (5). They give the immune system a boost by increasing natural killer cell activity and phagocytosis, both important mechanisms for protecting against infection. In children in particular, probiotics work to ramp up levels of mucosal immunoglobulin A, the first line of defence against harmful pathogens that enter the body (6).

Probiotic supplements designed especially for children offer a safe way to support your child’s immune system. Adding some probiotic yoghurt to fruit salad or breakfast muesli can help keep your child’s levels of immune-boosting bacteria topped up.

While children can’t be shielded from every bug in the classroom, these simple measures can help ensure that your child building blocks of a strong immune system and feels fit for the new school year.

References

1. Diwakar Balachandran, MD,  director, Sleep Center, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.

2. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold (Review) Hemilä H, Chalker E, Douglas B. Cochrane Review. 2010. Issue 3.

3. Hughes DA: Antioxidant vitamins and immune function; in Calder PC, Field CJ, Gill HS (eds): Nutrition and Immune Function. Wallingford, CAB International, 2002, pp 171–191.

4. Middleton E (1998) Effect of Plant Flavonoids on Immune and Inflammatory Cell Function. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology Volume 439, pp 175-182.

5. En-Jin Kang et al (2013) The Effect of Probiotics on Prevention of Common Cold: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trial Studies. Korean J Fam Med. 2013 January; 34(1): 2–10.

6. Lomax & Calder (2009) Probiotics, immune function, infection and inflammation: a review of the evidence from studies conducted in humans. Curr Pharm Des. 15(13):1428-518.

7. Image courtesy of vanillaechoes.

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Natural Immune Support for Children

Children frequently pick up and pass on common bacterial and viral infections, often through interaction with others at school which can manifest into sore throats, colds, flu, sinusitis and more. Unfortunately large numbers of these children are prescribed antibiotics repeatedly. With the current concern over antibiotic resistance, it is natural to want to avoid having your child take antibiotics if possible.

There are a number of natural ways to reduce the risk of your children picking up illnesses. The very best insurance to help prevent you and your children getting ill is to support the immune system through diet, nutrients and lifestyle.

Here are 5 ways to boost children’s immunity naturally:

1. Wash hands but don’t be a germaphobe: Good hygiene at school and at home is important to help reduce the spread of germs. Washing hands is particularly easy and effective. However, extreme hygiene practices may have a negative effect on your child’s maturing immunity.

Strawberry's, melons and berries are all high in Vitamin C
Strawberries, melons and berries are all high in Vitamin C

2. Eat foods packed with immune-boosting nutrients: Serve nutrient-dense foods to help boost your children’s immunity. A few nutrients can be essential to supporting a balanced immune system. Vitamin C can be found not only in citrus fruits, but also in broccoli, kale, green beans, berries, cantaloupe, strawberries, melons and zinc, which supports immune cell function. Foods such as pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and seafood are all rich in zinc. Probiotic foods such as natural organic yogurt balance gut flora and are essential to a well functioning immune system.

3. Reduce refined carbohydrates and sugary foods: Refined carbohydrates like pasta, bread, biscuits and cakes and sugary foods like soda and candy can seriously tax the immune system. They feed bacterial growth and contribute to inflammation, which depletes and exhausts immune function.

4. Exercise: Research has shown that moderate exercise improves immune function for all ages. Turning off the TV, limiting the video games and getting the kids outdoors are great ways to boost children’s immunity naturally.

5. Try natural immune support nutrients and supplements: Bee Propolis is an immune boosting plant-based nutrient that is safe and effective for children. This resin is collected by bees, from tree and plant buds and has natural antibiotic, antiviral and antibacterial properties. Olive leaf extract and black elderberry are also full of antimicrobial nutrients and are also safe for all ages. Bee Prepared Immune Support Daily Defence combines these ingredients and other equally beneficial nutrients which support immune health. Capsules may be swallowed or broken open and put into juices, smoothies or yogurt.

A practical, delicious and child-friendly way to include a few of these recommendations into your daily routine is with an immune boosting smoothie.

Immunity Smoothie Ingredients:

  • 1 apple, cored, peeled and sliced
  • 1 orange, peeled and seeded
  • 1/2 cup filtered water or organic apple juice
  • 1/2 cup natural yogurt
  • 2 tsp manuka honey
  • 1 tbsp pumpkin seed butter *optional
  • 1 (2-inch) piece of fresh ginger root, peeled
  • 1 capsule Bee Prepared Daily Defence (open capsule and use the powder)

Combine all of these ingredients in a blender, serve and enjoy!

References:
1. Image courtesy of Roger Kirby.

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Omega-3 supplements in early infancy may protect against allergies

A recent Australian study provides the first human data showing the benefits of very early postnatal fish oil supplementation in children (1).

The randomised controlled trial, led by Susan Prescott, investigated the effects of fish oil supplements on 420 infants from birth to six months of age. It found that supplementation significantly lowered the allergic response in infants.

Fish Oil for Infants
Products like Igennus Vegepa can be taken by the mother and provided to their infant via breast milk.

Allergies in children are on the rise. In 2004, 39 percent of children were diagnosed with one or more of the allergic conditions asthma, eczema or hayfever. Nobody really knows why allergies are on the increase although factors such as pollution and higher levels of environmental toxins may be partly to blame. Diet may also play a role. Essential fatty acids are important regulators of inflammation and immune response, and so imbalances of these types of fat in the western diet may be partly responsible.

The effects of fish oil supplements during the third trimester of pregnancy have been studied, and benefits include reduced risk of asthma in children. A more recent study has now investigated the effects of fish oil on children’s immune systems during the first 6 months after birth.

In this new study, published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy, each infant was given either a fish oil supplement providing 280 mg of DHA and 100 mg of EPA, or a placebo supplement each day. Signs of allergic response in each infant were then measured at both 6 and 12 months of age.

Blood tests taken at six months of age confirmed that the fish oil group of children had significantly higher levels of EPA and DHA that the control group. Levels of arachidonic acid, an inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid, were also lower in the fish oil group.

The infants who had received the fish oil had significantly lower allergic responses to both dust mites and milk protein. Substances such as interleukin-13, a type of protein involved in allergic responses, were much lower in the fish oil group. Significantly fewer infants in the fish oil group were diagnosed with eczema at 12 months old.

Harry Rice, PhD, Vice President of scientific and regulatory affairs for GOED, the omega-3 trade association, felt positive about the findings. “The present results demonstrating the immunomodulatory properties of EPA and DHA translating into allergy protection suggest that the simple step of supplementation with EPA and DHA in infancy may result in increased quality of life, not to mention decreased health costs, for those afflicted with allergic conditions.”

While there are several pleasant-tasting fish oil supplements formulated for children, few are explicitly recommended for young infants. In fact, the researchers noted that maternal supplementation may be a more efficient way of supplementing breastfed infants who might sometimes reject the capsules through spitting or vomiting. Until further studies have been carried out, the long-term impact of this type of supplementation is not certain. In the meantime, breastfeeding mothers may want to try a good quality fish oil supplement as a nutritional safeguard for their child’s immune health.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References
1. D’Vaz N, Meldrum SJ, Dunstan JA, Lee-Pullen TF, Metcalfe J, Holt BJ, Serralha M, Tulic MK, Mori TA, Prescott SL (2012) Fish oil supplementation in early infancy modulates developing infant immune responses. Clin & Exp Allergy 42:8 pp1206-1216

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Back to School: Children’s Nutrition Tips

The month of September means Back to School for children, and is a good time to think about your children’s nutritional needs to see them through the academic year in good health. After all healthy children are not only more likely to grow into healthy adults, but are more likely do better in school too (1). We all know that children need a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg, but putting this into practice can be a struggle for many parents. Fortunately there are a few lunchbox ideas that can encourage even the fussiest of eaters.

Healthy packed lunches for kids
Healthy packed lunches for kids don’t have to be “obvious”. Trying hiding grated carrots with grated Red Leicester cheese in a sandwich for example!

Suzannah Olivier, author of “Healthy Food for Happy Kids” suggests that making food fun and offering variety is key to encouraging your child to eat healthily (2). “The best way to avoid faddiness is to give your child a variety of foods, tastes and flavours from a young age”. Here are some quick and easy alternatives to the traditional sandwich:

• Use leftover pasta, couscous or rice for a salad in a box with chopped sausages, tomatoes or black-eyed beans and red peppers.
• Try oatcakes with hummus and cherry tomatoes
• Make some Bircher Muesli: in a container mix 2 tablespoons of oat flakes, chopped nuts (if your school allows these), half a grated apple and some milk or soya milk and seal. By lunchtime the mixture will be soft and sweet and utterly delicious.
• As most kids love finger foods, this can be great way of boosting their veg intake. Try baby carrots or carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber wedges, baby sweetcorn, cooked green beans, red and yellow pepper strips, cooked asparagus spears, raw sugar snap peas. Provide a dip to dunk them into, such as hummus or a yoghurt dip.

Even ‘anti-veg’ children can be persuaded to eat their greens with a few inventive lunch options. Suzannah suggests small cubes of vegetable omelette, onion bahjis, mini vegetable pizzas or quiches, vegetable samosas or spring rolls and mushroom pate.

Karen Bali, author of “The Art of Hiding Vegetables” agrees that when dealing with fussy kids, a little stealth can go a long way (3). “All you need to do is disguise or conceal healthy food and your children’s won’t notice – or even know – they’re eating it.” Karen offers the following ideas for packed lunches:

• Include smoothies made with yoghurt and fresh fruit (and no added sugar)
• Warm some vegetable baby food and add to tomato soup, for veggies with ‘no lumpy bits’. Keep it warm until lunch in a flask.
• Disguise carrots by grating them finely and mixing them with finely grated red cheese (such as Leicester) in sandwich fillings
• Choose vegetables with mild flavours – watercress, thinly sliced cucumber and finely shredded lettuce can work well.

For parents interested in nutritional supplements for their children, there are a number of ranges now specifically designed with children’s nutritional needs in mind. While supplements are not intended as a replacement for healthy food, they can help to ensure that your child is meeting his or her nutritional requirements. Parents often ask me which supplements I recommend for children. There are in fact three types of supplements that I have come to refer to as the Children’s Healthy Trinity: probiotics, essential fatty acids and a broad spectrum multi-vitamin and mineral formula. Alongside a healthy diet, these basic supplements can go a long way towards supporting your child’s digestion and immune system, and safeguarding against any nutritional deficiencies in his or her diet.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References

1. Kleinman et al (2002) Diet, Breakfast, and Academic Performance in Children. Ann Nutr Metab. 2002; 46(Suppl 1): 24–30
2. Suzannah Olivier. Healthy Foods for Happy Kids. Simon & Schuster 2004.
3. Karen Bali & Sally Child. The Art of Hiding Vegetables: Sneaky Ways to Feed Your Children Healthy Food. White Ladder Press 2005.

 

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Vitamin D in pregnancy linked to children’s body fat

Vitamin D and Pregnancy

New research has linked levels of body fat in children to the Vitamin D intake of their mothers. Children are more likely to be fatter if their mother had low levels of Vitamin D during pregnancy.

The research was conducted by scientists at the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC LEU), University of Southampton. This study looked at the vitamin D status of 977 pregnant women, and then investigated the body composition of their children at three weeks old, and at the ages of 4 and 6.

The analysis took factors such as maternal height, age, number of children, education, and smoking into consideration, as well as vitamin D intake from food and supplements. The study also took into account other factors such as the amount of weight gain in pregnancy, or the amount of physical activity of the children.

Vitamin D in Pregnancy
Good Vitamin D in Pregnancy is very important. Recent research suggests it could support healthy weight levels childhood.

After controlling these variables, the findings from this study showed that the children who were born to mothers who had low vitamin D status in pregnancy had more body fat when they were six years old.

The researchers suggest that Vitamin D deficiency in the womb might ‘pre-programme’ the baby to gain excess body fat later in childhood.

Professor Cyrus Cooper, Director of the unit that conducted the research said that the study underlined life-long effects of maternal nutrition: “The observations that maternal vitamin D insufficiency might be associated with reduced size at birth, but accelerated gain in body fat during early childhood, add to the considerable amount of evidence suggesting that vitamin D status during pregnancy may have critical effects on the later health of offspring.”

Study leader Dr Siân Robinson maintained that further research is needed, but emphasised the importance of understanding the consequences of nutrition in pregnancy. “In the context of current concerns about low vitamin D status in young women, and increasing rates of childhood obesity in the UK, we need to understand more about the long-term health consequences for children who are born to mothers who have low vitamin D status.”

Indeed there are growing concerns about levels of Vitamin D in young women. An estimated 50% of those in the UK are believed to have insufficient levels of this essential nutrient. It is currently recommended that pregnant women should supplement 10 micrograms of Vitamin D each day. Unfortunately many women are unaware of this recommendation and supplementation is not routine.

If you are currently pregnant, or trying to conceive, a suitable multi-vitamin is one of the best steps you can take to safeguard the health of your future children. Vitamin D levels are listed in either micrograms (mcg) or International Units (IU). 10 micrograms is equivalent to 400 International Units.

Alongside supplements, safe sun exposure is the best way to ensure that you’re getting the Vitamin D you need. While protecting the more sensitive skin on your face with a good sun block or a hat, you can expose your arms or legs to give yourself a Vitamin D boost. During the hot summer months, fair skinned women should start with just a few minutes exposure each day, while their skin builds up its natural protection. Foods such as oily fish, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals can also help you to boost your Vitamin D status.

Under the NHS Healthy Start scheme, pregnant women are entitled to free Vitamin D supplements. Alternatively you can take a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral formula that provides 10mcg of Vitamin D alongside the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals to support a healthy pregnancy.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References

1. UniversityofSouthampton. “Children’s body fat linked to Vitamin D insufficiency in mothers” ScienceDaily, 23 May 2012. Web. 27 May 2012.

 

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Probiotics may prevent childhood eczema

Eczema is a dry, itchy skin condition, and childhood eczema can be distressing for both children and their parents. Unfortunately, childhood eczema is becoming increasingly common.

A new study looking at the effects of a probiotic called Lactobacillus Rhamnosus offers a promising new approach to dealing with this troublesome condition (1).

Research published last month in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy found that children who take probiotics in the first two years of life had a decreased incidence of eczema, and were protected against the condition until at least 4 years of age.

The researchers followed 425 infants for 4 years after daily supplementation with the probiotics L. Rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium animalis or placebo.

Probiotics in pregnancy and childhood can prevent eczema
Taking probiotics, specifically Lactobacillus Rhamnosus, during pregnancy and in childhood can prevent childhood eczema (2,3)

The mothers were given a probiotic supplement or a placebo pill at the gestational age of 35 weeks. Each mother continued to take the supplement for 6 months following the birth, while her baby was breastfeeding. After this time, all of the infants were given a probiotic or placebo supplement from birth until the age of 2.

The results showed that the protective effect of the probiotic lasted until the children were at least 4 years of age.

The research team published the initial results of their double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, back in 2008 (2). Here they tested the effects of the probiotic during the first two years of life. They found that the supplement L. Rhamnosus (strain HN001) resulted in a 49% reduction in eczema prevalence – essentially it halved the risk of eczema in the children studied.

The more recent study demonstrates that the benefits of L. Rhamnosus HN001 persisted to age 4 years, despite the fact that probiotic supplementation stopped two years earlier. This suggests that this particular probiotic might work as a protective measure against eczema for high-risk infants.

There is no way of knowing for sure if you baby will have eczema. However, the risk of your baby developing eczema is much greater if someone in your family has already had eczema, asthma and hayfever. If these conditions are present in your family, then probiotic supplementation may offer some degree of protection for your children.

The authors of the study concede that “the precise pathways for effects [of probiotics] on allergic disease remain elusive and require more work”. In light of the distress that this skin condition can cause to both children and parents, I certainly hope that this study paves the way for future research in this area.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References
1. Wickens, K. et al (2012) A protective effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 against eczema in the first 2 years of life persists to age 4 years. Clinical & Experimental Allergy. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2012.03975

2. Wicken et al (2008) A differential effect of 2 probiotics in the prevention of eczema and atopy: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Allergy & Clin Immunol 122:4, pp. 788-794

3. Image courtesy of Rocknroli.

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How can probiotics support your immune system?

It is generally accepted nowadays that probiotic microorganisms are helpful for digestion, but people are just beginning to understand that these ‘friendly microorganisms’ can support the immune system as well.  For example, one great way to maintain your children’s health in the back to school period is by supporting their gut with a high quality kid’s probiotic.

The gut can be seen as the gateway to a healthy body.  When we have good numbers of friendly bacteria in the gut, we perform our digestion with ease, effectively absorbing vitamins and minerals into the bloodstream.  But that is not all probiotics help with!

OptiBac Probiotics - For Daily Immunity
Probiotics in the gut provide a ‘Barrier Effect’ against pathogens.

Probiotics in the gut provide a ‘Barrier Effect’ against pathogens.(1) When the body has a healthy balance of ‘friendly bacteria’ or probiotics, these can help to protect the body from ‘bad bacteria’ or pathogens, by coating the gut wall lining and competing with pathogens for space.  When probiotics limit the ability of pathogens to adhere to the gut wall lining, this automatically limits the bad bacteria’s ability to grow, as bacteria need to bind before they can multiply and proliferate.

Probiotics also stimulate both the body’s innate immune response & acquired immune response.  Statistically over 70% of the body’s immunity is based in the gut, and our friendly bacteria play a significant role in the gut and in working with the body’s immune system.  Specific strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52 have been shown in-vitro to stimulate the growth of white blood cells such as macrophages and in turn lymphocytes, which attack foreign microbes and cancer cells.  Probiotics have also demonstrated abilities to stimulate the production of useful antibodies such as Immunoglobulin M (IgM) and Immunoglobulin A (IgA);(2) which plays a critical role in the mucosal immunity.

Prebiotics (the food source for probiotics) such as fructooligosaccharides (FOS) enhance the production of short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate, which has been shown to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria as well as to significantly inhibit the growth of cancerous colon cells.

So in a nutshell, probiotics & prebiotics help to support your immunity by fortifying the body’s natural defences, out-populating harmful bacteria, and by promoting the production of immune cells in the body.

OptiBac Probiotics For your child’s health (For children from 6 months to 12 years) is a probiotic & prebiotic made especially for children, and has been clinically trialled for its benefits in immunity.   This supplement was found in a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to decrease the risk of common childhood infections by 25%.(3) The study was conducted only on children who had suffered recurring digestive and immune infections throughout the previous winter; hence showing even greater potential for supporting immunity in children.   Three month daily supplementation with For your child’s health was found to significantly lessen the risk of infections, and reduce days missed from school.  It is also worth noting that the types of infections reduced were not only gastrointestinal, but also ear-nose-throat (ENT).

It’s also important to support your own gut health as well as your children’s.  OptiBac Probiotics For daily immunity is a blend of both super antioxidants and probiotics.   Vitamin C, Grape Seed, Green Tea and Pine Bark Extract are all natural & organic ingredients which help support your immunity by inhibiting the production of free radicals which can harm body cells & compromise immunity. Additionally, the probiotics help the body to absorb the antioxidants into the bloodstream.

Alternatively For daily wellbeing EXTRA Strength provides a high strength daily probiotic dose, containing 20 billion micro-organisms per capsule. The daily wellbeing EXTRA Strength and the daily immunity can be safely taken together throughout the winter months for added immune support.

Looking after your gut means looking after your immunity too –  Easy!

Written by Lou Bowler, BHSc (Naturopathy)

References

1.  Isolauri, E., et al. (2001) Probiotics: Effects on immunity. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vol.73, No. 2, 445-450s, February 2011.

2.  Perdigon, G., Alvarez, S., Rachid, M., Aguero, G & Gobbato, N., (1995) Immune System Stimulation by Probiotics. Journal of Dairy Science. Vol 78, Issue 7. Pp 1597 – 1606.

3.  Cazzola, M. et al. (2010) Efficacy of synbiotic supplementation in the prevention of common diseases in children: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study;  Therapeutic Advances in Respiratory Disease 0ctober 2010 Vol. 4 no. 5 pp.271- 8.

 

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Back To School – Part 2- Healthy Lunch Boxes & Nutritious Snacks

Following on from our last blog on ‘Back to School Children’s Nutrition‘, this time we are looking at some healthy ideas for lunch boxes which can often be somewhat of a headache for busy mums and dads.

Take a look at some of our ideas and try them out this term.

Healthy Sandwich
Add some salad to a sandwich and go for different types of bread such as pitta bread, wraps and baguettes, and always go for wholemeal seeded rather than white bread. (2)

Adding a piece of fruit or two such as an apple, banana, orange, or a handful of grapes to your child’s lunch box is just as easy as adding a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar and no more time consuming.  Try testing out different fruits with your kids especially if yours are particularly fussy to see which ones are for them.  Vary the fruits so that your kids don’t get bored and you can even experiment with trying some unusual fruits such as dragon fruit, passion fruit, star fruit, lychee or any other exotic fruits you can get your hands on.  Kids love these as they are so unusual and intriguing to look at. Also give a thought to growing your own fruit and vegetables as your kids will be dying to try the fruits of their labour.  Getting your kids to squeeze the juice out of fruit to make lollies or blending them to make a smoothie is also a very enjoyable way for your kids to get more of their 5 a day.

According to the School Foods Trust (1) packed lunches should include:

  • Fruit and vegetables (at least one portion of each every day).
  • Meat, fish or other non dairy protein (e.g. lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, hummus, peanut butter) every day.
  • Oily fish at least once every three weeks.
  • A starchy food such as bread, pasta, rice, couscous, noodles, potatoes or other types of cereal every day.
  • Dairy such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, fromage frais, or custard every day.
  • Drinks: non flavoured water, fruit juice, yoghurt or milk drinks, smoothies.
  • No snacks such as crisps. Instead nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit (with no added salt, sugar or fat.) are acceptable.  Cakes and biscuits are to be limited and preferred only as part of a balanced meal.
  • No processed items such as dippers and cheese strings etc.

Using this method will help you to come up with ideas for your child’s lunch boxes.  For example you could try different salads such as pasta salad or potato salads with fish (especially oily fish like salmon or mackerel to provide fatty acids which are great for brain function, concentration and learning) or chicken or tinned fish for those wishing for the quick and easy.  Alternatively, beans such as pinto or kidney beans make a great addition to salads and provide both protein and fibre.  Mixing with a little light salad cream or olive oil and balsamic vinegar, makes for a really tasty and easy lunch.  You could even just use some of the left over pasta (especially wholemeal for balanced blood sugar levels) or potatoes from dinner the day before to make the lunches, and even make enough for your lunch too. Add an apple (for fibre, vitamin C and the antioxidant quercetin known to benefit hayfever and lower health risks) and a yoghurt (for dairy to help build strong bones and teeth) to the box and your good to go.

Also, if it has to be a sandwich, then mix it up a bit, add some salad, and go for different types of bread such as pitta, wraps and baguettes, and always go for wholemeal seeded rather than white bread to ensure blood sugar levels are balanced and kids are fuller for longer. The fibre content will also ensure that our kid’s digestive systems are functioning correctly and they are warding off risks of illnesses and diseases.

Pieces Of Apple
Adding a piece of fruit or two to your child’s lunch box is just as easy as adding a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar and no more time consuming. (3)

As kids love to use their hands when they are eating, including dips such as hummus or cottage cheese are fun additions and also a healthy option as they contains lots of vitamins, minerals and amino acids.  Include some vegetables such as chopped carrots (for vitamin A, providing benefits to eyes and skin) and peppers (for vitamin C and beta carotene), or even breadsticks or crackers for dipping and they will have a great time at lunch.

Food enjoyment is an important part of eating especially for children therefore it is worth experimenting with different methods.  Making the foods look appealing or adding a sauce or a dip to the dish are great ways to introduce a new food to their diet.  Once they’ve eaten the particular food a few times, they generally start to enjoy it and you never know you may find them asking for it in their packed lunches rather than you suggesting it to them.

Processed foods such as packaged ready meats, chocolate, crisps, biscuits and cakes should be kept to a minimum throughout the whole family for consistency.  Also, remember that you as a parent are a role model, so try to eat healthy foods in front of them so they can see how much you enjoy them (even if you may not).

It may be a time consuming process getting your child to try and enjoy eating healthy foods but it is definitely worth it for the wide range of health benefits provided.

Written by Lauren Foster

References

1. School Foods Trust (2008) Oldfield Park Infants’ School Packed Lunch Policy and Guidelines (Online):

2. Image courtesy of healingdream.

3. Image courtesy of Ambro.

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Back To School – Part 1 – Children’s Nutrition

With your children rested and rejuvenated from the summer holidays and poised and ready to return to school in September, now is the perfect time to make changes to their diet to improve their health and academic performance alike.

Children's Nutrition
Now is the perfect time to make the changes to your children's diet to improve their health and academic performance alike. (5)

Childhood is a very demanding time for the body.  Both physical and mental growth and development are operating at top speed which means that the food and ‘fuel’ children receive at this stage of life is crucial for their present and future development as adults.  As their provider of food, parents and guardians are ultimately responsible for the majority of what their child consumes, however this is often more easily said than done in an age where long hours at work are the norm and time is of the essence.

The easy option would be to give your kids quick processed foods, however these foods are often laden with saturated fats, sugars, and salt and their consumption in childhood has been linked to the formulation of atherosclerosis (where fat deposits stick to the arterial walls) which can increase risks to health and disease in later life. These foods are also heavily associated with childhood obesity which is now an epidemic (1). Therefore it is vitally important to give your kids healthy foods and limit the junk to help them to get the best possible nutrition.

Natural, fresh and nutrient dense foods should form the majority of a child’s daily food consumption.  These foods can include a variety of fruit such as Oranges which contain vitamin C to keep our children’s cells, tissues and organs healthy as well as to strengthen the immune system.  Cherries are full of antioxidants and bioflavonoids to reduce inflammation which can help headaches.  Strawberries contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals especially vitamin C.

Vegetables are also essential such as broccoli for vitamin C and fibre as well as antioxidants.  Peas are an excellent source of fibre and many vitamins especially vitamin K which is good for bones.  Carrots contain vitamin A providing benefits to eyes and skin and sweetcorn provides fibre and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which are especially good for the eyes.

Wholegrains such as wholemeal bread, pasta and brown rice as well as legumes are also great for keeping our kids blood sugar levels balanced and to prevent snacking.  Low fat dairy is also needed to build strong bones and teeth as well as lean meats such as poultry for protein.  Fish is very important for the ‘good fats’ omega 3’s which are great for brain function, concentration and also for skin, hair and nails.  These foods are packed full of great health boosting nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids to help keep kids healthy with strong immune systems, great learning capacity, full of energy and to reduce their risk of disease (3).  They also contain complex carbohydrates (fibre) to balance blood sugar, reducing those dreaded sugar rushes as well as limiting hunger pangs and keeping your child’s digestion on track.  With all of these benefits it’s easy to see why it’s so important to try to include these foods in your child’s diet.

As well as improving your child’s diet, you may wish to consider supplements specifically designed for children to ensure you give them the vital nutrients their developing body needs as the nutrients mentioned previously (e.g. multivitamins, vitamins C and K, omegas, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin) can all be found in a supplement form.  There are a good number of supplements appropriate for children and you may which to get some advice from a registered nutritionist for any more complex requirements. However, here are a few that can make life easier for parent and child alike.

Essential Fatty Acids – Known to aid in behavioural issue, to boost academic performance and to ease skin problems including eczema.

Pycnogenol – More than 200 studies show this patented pine bark extract to be safe and effective in numerous health conditions including respiratory health in adults and children.

Echinacea - Offers an immune boosting alternative to antibiotics for minor day to day ailments.

Probiotics – Immune supporting and digestion boosting.  Look for formulations specifically designed for children.

Multivitamins – A daily insurance policy to ensure your child has the nutrients required for optimum nutrition.  They have also been shown to aid in behavioural problems.

Don’t miss part 2 of our back to school blogs where we share our top tips for healthy lunch boxes and snack ideas.

Written by Lauren Foster

References

1. Foresight Group (2007). Government Office for Science. Tackling Obesities: Future Choices – Project Report 2nd Edition. London: HM Government.

2. Melanson, K.J. (2008) Nutrition Review: Lifestyle Approaches to Promoting Healthy Eating for Children. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 2: 26.

3. Abdel-Salam, A.M. (2010) Functional Foods: Hopefulness to Good Health. American Journal of Food Technology, 5: 86-99.

4. Singh, P. & Goyal, G.K. (2008) Dietary Lycopene: Its Properties and Anticarcinogenic Effects. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Science and Food Safety, Vol. 7, Issue 3, 255-270.

5.  Image courtesy of Ambro.

 

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Omega 3 fats during pregnancy are important for memory function of children

Long chain omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines are essential for the efficient function of the brain and body.  It is well known that having good intakes of the long chain omega 3 fats during pregnancy and in early infancy is important for brain function and cognitive development in infancy.  A new study (1) has now found that having good intakes of the long chain fats during pregnancy has long term positive effects on memory function in school-aged children.
 

Children with higher cord plasma concentrations of DHA performed better in the tests than those children who had lower DHA levels at birth. (2.)
Children with higher cord plasma concentrations of DHA performed better in the tests than those children who had lower DHA levels at birth. (2.)

The study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, aimed to examine the relationship of the long chain omega 3 fats and memory function in school-aged children who were from a fish-eating community.  The study assessed over 150 children with an average age of 11 years.  The birth records of the umbilical cord plasma concentrations of the long chain omega 3 fat DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) were used as a measure of omega 3 levels at birth.  The children were asked to perform various tests such as visual recognition tasks and memory tasks.
 
The researchers (1) found that the children with higher cord plasma concentrations of DHA performed better in the tests than those children who had lower DHA levels at birth.  Analysis of the results showed positive associations between cord DHA concentrations and performance on neurobehavioral assessments of memory.  The authors of the study conclude that “To our knowledge, this study provides the first neurophysiologic and neurobehavioral evidence of long-term beneficial effects of n−3 PUFA intake in utero on memory function in school-age children”.
 
The study only shows an association between prenatal intake of omega 3 fats and long term memory function in children and further studies would be needed to confirm the links.  However, the omega 3 fats are vital for optimal health.  As my previous blog posts on the topic have shown omega 3 fats are important for the health of the heart, prevention and treatment of inflammatory conditions, the health of bones, brain and nerves.  Including these fats in the diet from a young age (and during pregnancy) is important for health.  As I have previously written there is also evidence to suggest that these fats can help to prevent/treat ADHD  (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in children.  Many people in the UK do not eat oily fish regularly (at least twice a week) and may not be getting enough of the long chain omega 3 fats in their diets.  If you do not regularly eat fish you may wish to consider talking to your doctor about the possibility of taking a daily fish oil supplement.  There are also vegetarian and vegan supplements which provide the long chain omega 3 fats, EPA and DHA, from algal sources. 
 
 
(1) Olivier Boucher O et al.  2011.  Neurophysiologic and neurobehavioral evidence of beneficial effects of prenatal omega-3 fatty acid intake on memory function at school age. Am J Clin Nutr.  93:5 1025-1037
(2) Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane

Written by Ani Richardson

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