From the moment a child comes into their world, parents are in a constant state of concern. Are their little ones safe, happy and healthy, both mentally and physically? Ensuring growing bodies are getting the nutrition they need can be a hugely stressful part of day-to-day life, especially with busy lives and finicky eaters. But, there’s a lot parents can do to lay good nutritional groundwork with supplementation and stocking up on some of the most interesting and innovative kids foods that the natural products industry has to offer.
I’m Going to Count to…
Many parents are already popping supplements into their shopping baskets for themselves. But there are several nutrients for children that are not on parents’ radars, but should be.
“Although vitamin-deficiency diseases, like scurvy from lack of vitamin C or rickets from lack of vitamin D, are rare in today’s modern world, many American diets are still lacking in several nutrients according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans…The deficiencies mentioned can all be attributed to low intakes of vegetables, fruits, dairy and whole grains, so shifts to increase all of these would be very helpful in increasing under-consumed nutrients,” states Marci Clow, M.S., registered dietician and certified nutritionist (RDN) at Rainbow Light, Santa Cruz, CA.
Chris D. Meletis, N.D., naturopathic physician, director of science and research at Trace Minerals Research, Ogden, UT, is totally on board with this sentiment, but he adds another wrinkle. Yes, fruit and vegetable consumption is down among children, but so are the nutritional loads of the foods they are taking in. “We are NO LONGER in Kansas anymore, so to speak. Veggies and produce are harvested in their unripened/immature state and then sent hundreds if not thousands of miles, losing nutrients as they travel to the dinner table,” states Meletis. “And even if parents successfully convince their kids to eat veggies, GMO and heavily processed foods that are canned, boiled and augmented with artificial cream sauces and flavorings rob the end consumer of the nutrients that were originally harvested.”
Clearly, supplementation can help. Here are 10 often overlooked nutrients that experts want to put on your radar for parents to learn more about.
1. Multivitamins. No, you can’t take for granted that all children take a multi. There is a growing sentiment among parents and physicians that kids can skip a daily multivitamin. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics believes that “healthy children receiving a normal, well-balanced diet do not need vitamin supplementation over and above the recommended dietary allowances.” The group even believes that “megadoses” of certain vitamins can be harmful (1).
But many nutrition experts, for all the reasons mentioned by Clow and Meletis, feel it’s a good idea to use a daily multivitamin as a solid nutritional base in everyone—even children.
Lisa Lent, founder and CEO of Vitalah (creator of Oxylent), Watsonville, CA, comments on this issue, taking inspiration from the published responses of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and the statement published in the June issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine: “The undeniable fact is that large majorities of Americans do not meet recommended intakes of vitamins and minerals and in light of this, it is irresponsible not to recognize that multivitamins and supplements can correct these nutritional inadequacies safely, effectively and at low cost.”
She firmly sides with CRN, which states, “Americans are not getting enough of the key nutrients they need, and multivitamin and multimineral supplements can help bring them closer to the levels they need for optimal health.”
Lent says the case for children to use multis is even stronger, given the potentially life-long health consequences of nutritional inadequacies suffered early in life. This could include everything from allergies to brittle bones to respiratory health problems to concentration issues to blood sugar problems. She states, “One study from a few years ago showed that more than one-third of the daily calories consumed by an average child came from solid fats and added sugar!”
Adds Lent, “For these reasons, a multivitamin is a smart and safe choice for most children, and more and more parents are embracing multivitamins to ensure adequate nutrition for their children and driving growth in the category.”
2. Vitamin C. There’s a tendency for consumers to think about vitamin C mainly during cold and flu season. But, Dorie Greenblatt, director of sales and marketing at American Health/Ester-C, Ronkonkoma, NY, wants parents to know that there’s more to it than that. “Vitamin C is an essential vitamin for children,” she states. “No matter what the season, children need vitamin C every day throughout the year because ‘immune health doesn’t go on vacation.’”
She reminds readers that the body cannot produce vitamin C, so kids need to get it from diet—especially fruits like citrus and veggies. “However, since kids may not always eat a complete and balanced diet, taking vitamin C in the form of a nutritional supplement is an ideal healthy alternative,” she points out.
Her firm feels so strongly about the value of vitamin C that it incorporated 250 mg of its patented Ester C Vitamin C into its multivitamin and mineral supplement drink mix for children (Ester-C Kidstiks). This format, she believes, is appealing to parents who want to avoid gummies and sugar.
Greenblatt says parents often use Ester-C for themselves, so the transition to the kids’ section is logical. She states, “It leverages the recognition of Ester-C in a new category, helping to drive sales in the children’s wellness set.”
3. Calcium. Parents of young children often feel that calcium consumption is a home run, thanks to children often being okay with drinking milk and eating cheese. But what happens with older children who have greater nutritional needs? Or kids that don’t consume animal products or who cannot digest milk products well?
Clow says calcium cannot be overlooked for proper bone development, since 90% of our adult bones are made before the age of 20. “Calcium is critical throughout childhood for bone mineralization. It gets deposited and drawn daily much like money in a bank and if kids don’t consume enough calcium, it could impact bone growth and strength,” she states.
She believes that calcium supplementation is extremely important for many children, with the approval of a healthcare provider.
4. Vitamin K2. But parents also need to know that there is much more to bone health than simply calcium. One key ingredient getting a lot of attention these days is vitamin K2. Says Andrew W. Campbell, M.D., on behalf of Just Thrive Probiotic, Park Ridge, IL, “It is critical for bone development, muscle function, cognitive health and vascular development. Kids have seven times the bone turnover that adults do and get virtually no vitamin K2-7 in their diet.” Supplementation, therefore, is key for children.
Vitamin K2 (as MK-7) is said to activate osteocalcin, which is needed for healthy bone remodeling. Without adequate supplies of MK-7, children can develop high levels of inactive
“As bone tissue grows and develops most intensely during childhood and adolescence, children have the greatest requirement for active osteocalcin and K vitamins,” states Eric Anderson, senior vice president of global sales and marketing, NattoPharma USA, Inc., Metuchen, NJ.
He points to one study in which the response to vitamin K supplements was measured in 42 children and 68 adults (with a total of 896 samples analyzed). “Children had high undercarboxylated osteocalcin levels, reflecting low vitamin K status,” he states, adding that individuals with the highest levels of vitamin K deficiency had the best response to vitamin K2 (MK-7) supplementation (2).
Another key study involving 223 healthy 11–12-year-old girls showed that better vitamin K status was linked to increased bone mineral density throughout the body and lumbar spine (3). Meanwhile, a study of 245 three to 16-year-old girls found “better vitamin K status (high plasma vitamin K and low undercarboxylated osteocalcin) was associated with lower bone resorption. In short, better vitamin K status” (4).
And the benefits don’t end with the bones. Says Campbell, “In the most recent discoveries on vitamin K2, it has been shown to be critical for prevention of type-2 diabetes (which is becoming a major issue in young kids) as well as neuromuscular development.”
5. Magnesium. Kids that don’t regularly eat a heap of dark green leafy vegetables or seaweed and whole grains are likely not getting all the magnesium they need to support optimal health and wellness, according to Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., medical advisory board member at the Nutritional Magnesium Association.
Dean states that magnesium is essential for 700–800 enzyme processes in the body to function at their best. “It catalyzes most of the chemical reactions in the body,” she explains. “It makes ATP energy molecules; synthesizes protein; stabilizes RNA and DNA; transmits nerve signals; relaxes muscles whereas calcium contracts muscles and it produces and transports energy called ATP, yet most medical doctors consider it to be only useful as a laxative!”
6. Vitamin D. Also critical for bone health and more, Jolie Root, senior nutritionist and educator at Carlson Laboratories, Arlington Heights, IL, wants to draw parents’ attention to vitamin D. Many parents are aware that vitamin D is critical for the body, but how many realize everything this vitamin can do for growing bodies, beyond strong bones?
“We have new evidence (5) of the negative impact of children not meeting adequacy for vitamin D,” says Root. “A recent study has found that low vitamin D status was significantly associated with increased frequency of recurrent respiratory infections and chronic cough among children.”
One reason why may be because vitamin D is a strong supporter of immune health by regulating the activity of immune cells. “It reduces levels of inflammatory proteins while also increasing production of antimicrobial defensins such as cathelicidin,” says Root.
Vitamin D may also play a critical role in the regulation of serotonin, which may be of interest to those that want to hear about support for autism (6). “Vitamin D activates the transcription of the serotonin-synthesizing gene tryptophan hydroxylase 2. The disruption of the serotonergic system is one of the most consistent observations associated with autism,” Root explains.
Meletis adds that though vitamin D can be synthesized from sunlight exposure, kids are lacking there, too. “So many kids are spending their time indoors playing video games rather than playing outside,” he states.
7. Omega-3s. Omega-3s—especially DHA—are super important for growing bodies and mothers. According to Murray Clarke, N.D., D-Hom., LaC, founder and formulator of ChildLife Essentials, Culver City, CA, and holistic pediatrician, “DHA supports brain, eye, neuropathway and other development…Some studies find, DHA makes up approximately 25% of the brain, 45% of the eyes and 75% of the neuropathways.”
Despite all the positive research on omega-3, Herb Joiner-Bey, N.D., medical science consultant at Barlean’s Organic Oils, Ferndale, WA, fears that too few parents are getting the message.
“We in the natural products industry take for granted our exposure to the latest research on the benefits of omega-3s for brain development, cognition, mood, and learning ability in children,” Joiner-Bey states. “However, we serve only 10% of the American population. The vast majority of American mothers and fathers have yet to realize to value of omega-3s for children and do what is necessary to incorporate potent food and supplemental sources of omega-3s into their children’s daily routine.”
In addition to not fully understanding the value of omega-3s for children, many women don’t know how important it is to supplement early on—even before conception. Joiner-Bey points out that in the first six weeks after conception—even before a pregnancy is confirmed—the fetus is developing its major systems, including the nervous system. Tissue foundations are being created from which major organs like the brain will develop. “This fact is critical to understanding the need for any woman or man involved in conceiving a child to be well nourished with respect to omega-3s and many other nutrients to ensure that baby has the best tissue and organ foundation possible,” he believes.
Not enough parents understand the importance of probiotics in
Natural Organics, Inc.
8. Iron. When working with a pediatric dietician to develop her line of baby foods made with high-pressure processing, Alyson Eberle, founder of Pure Spoon, Austin, TX, says she learned that a big void in traditional shelf-stable products is iron and healthy fats. “There’s an iron deficiency epidemic among young children,” she states. For this reason, her line includes iron-packed ingredients like spinach, broccoli, gluten-free rolled oats and more.
Clarke believes parents should be cautious before supplementing a child with iron. He states,“If a mother is contemplating an iron supplement—don’t—until you discuss it with your doctor to find out if your child is deficient…If your doctor informs you your child is deficient in iron, then proceed with caution and you must follow strictly the prescribed dosage. Too much, or the wrong type of iron could cause constipation, and other serious complications.”
If a pediatrician says a child needs supplemental iron, parents should use a standalone formula taken separately from other supplements, based on its oxidative effects, Clarke advises.
Parents should also know that some forms of iron are more easily absorbed than others. For instance, Campbell says meat, seafood and poultry contain both heme and nonheme forms, which are easily absorbed by the body without side effects.
Clow agrees, noting “When considering absorption and GI tolerance of supplemental iron, ferrous salts (sulfate, fumarate, gluconate, lactate, glycine, succinate, citrate and sulfate) are more bioavailable than ferric salts (ferric ammonium citrate). Carbonyl iron, iron amino acid chelates and polysaccharide-iron complexes may have fewer GI side effects.”
Michael Mooney, director of science and education at SuperNutrition, also likes iron carbonyl, which he says is “well-absorbed, easy on the gastro-intestinal system and two studies showed that iron carbonyl does not have the potential for lethal toxicity that other forms of iron have.”
Mooney cites a study in which researchers found iron carbonyl “may have an advantage over other types of iron by substantially reducing or eliminating the risk of iron poisoning in children” (7).
Stacey Gillespie, director of product marketing at MegaFood, Manchester, NH, says her company prefers to bind iron to yeast, “which means it is an organic form that is gentle on the stomach and does not result in constipation.”
Rafael Avila, director of research and development at Natural Organics, Inc., Melville, NY, gives us a rundown of why certain forms are more absorbable than others. He says that when an iron molecule is bound to an organic molecule (like naturally occurring gluconate or amino acids), it mimics the way iron naturally exists in our food. “The relatively large organic molecules protect or prevent the iron from interacting with a range of bodily chemicals and systems,” says Avila. Such chemical interactions could cause nausea or gastric distress.
In contrast, “the non-ionic nature of the organic molecules reduces ionic activities such as constipation,” Avila states. Organically bound iron, he believes, is better absorbed than other formats. “That’s because the human gastrointestinal tract actively seeks and absorbs organic molecules (for example the body needs amino acids to build and repair muscles), and in so doing it absorbs any mineral (iron) that may be attached. Thus iron gets actively absorbed, piggybacked on other essential nutrients,” Avila explains.
Meanwhile, Lent believes chelated iron is a great option for increasing absorption and avoiding gastrointestinal distress. But, the right kind of iron must be used. She says, “Iron is the one mineral in particular where the superior quality of Albion Minerals’ true mineral chelates makes a huge difference.”
Lent says that the “superior quality molecular structure” for this chelated iron is safe, helps improve iron status, produces less gastrointestinal issues, has no taste and does not block the absorption of other nutrients like calcium, vitamin E and vitamin C.
Root says bisglycinate chelate is her chelated iron of choice, and her company offers a grape-flavored chewable option.
Meletis believes liquid forms are advantageous in the kids’ health category. He states, “A liquid iron is one of the easiest ways for young children to get iron (if they need it…Liquid allows for variable dosing, makes it easy to mix into food, and gives the prescribing healthcare provider the ability to give a specific dose for a child based on how much liquid is given versus a fixed dosage.”
9. Probiotics. Experts say it is high time to raise the visibility of probiotics for children. There is a lot to learn in this area. Avila says, “Most parents view the traditional intestinal probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus as beneficial for children. But relatively few know that research studies show that young children have somewhat different probiotic needs.”
He says for this reason, his company formulated its children’s probiotic with strains he believes give children the most benefit like Bifidobacterium bifidus, infantis and longum, as well as Lactobacillus rhamnosus. “These are the strains associated with childhood intestinal health, as opposed to adult intestinal health,” says Avila.
Experts say that parents should know that probiotics are beneficial for more than simply digestive health. “Probiotics tend to get missed (for kids and adults alike) unless there’s a digestive problem,” Aimée Shunney, N.D., Nordic Naturals Advisory Board. “Research continues to provide mounting support for a myriad of health benefits from optimizing quantity and diversity of beneficial gut bacteria—including immune function, metabolic health, positive mood, and of course, good digestion.”
Select Kids’ Nutrition Offerings
American Health/Ester-C: Ester-C Kidstiks in Groovy Grape and Tropical Punch.
Barlean’s: Barlean’s Omega Swirl Flaxseed Oil, Barlean’s Omega Swirl Fish Oil, Barlean’s Lemonade Kid’s Swirl.
Bluebonnet Nutrition Corp.: Bluebonnet Super Earth Rainforest Animalz Product Line, Super Earth Rainforest Animalz Whole Food Based Multiple, Super Earth Rainforest Animalz Calcium Magnesium Plus Vitamin D3, Super Earth Rainforest Animalz Vitamin D3 400 IU, Super Earth Rainforest Animalz Vitamin C 250 mg, Super Earth Rainforest Animalz DHA 100 mg and Super Earth Rainforest Animalz Probiotic.
Carlson Labs: Carlson for Kids Chewable Vitamins and Minerals, Carlson for Kids Chewable DHA, Carlson for Kids Very Finest Fish Oil (Orange and Lemon), Carlson for Kids Chewable Calcium, Carlson Super Daily D3 for Baby, Carlson for Kids Cod Liver Oil (Lemon), Carlson for Kids Chewable Vitamin C, Carlson Super Daily D3 for Kids, Carlson for Kids Cod Liver Oil (Bubble Gum), Carlson for Kids DHA, Carlson for Kids DHA, Carlson Baby’s DHA.
ChildLife Essentials: Liquid Calcium/Magnesium, Multi Vitamin & Mineral (Liquid), Vitamin C (Liquid), Pure DHA (Chewable Soft Gels), First Defense (Liquid), Echinacea (Liquid Drops), Organic Vitamin D3 (Liquid), Vitamin D3 Drops (Liquid), Cod Liver Oil (Liquid), Aller-Care (Liquid), Probiotics plus Colostrum (Powder), Probiotics Plus, Colostrum (Chewable Tablets), Prenatal DHA (Soft Gels), Formula 3 Cough Syrup (Liquid), Essential Fatty Acids (Liquid), Gripe Water and Toothpaste Tablets.
Earth’s Best: A variety of products for infants, toddlers and kids including Infant Formulas, Cereal, Stage 1–3 Foods, Infant Puree Pouches, Sesame Street Snacks and Meals, Apple Sauce and Frozen Meals.
Happy Family: Line of foods and snacks for babies, toddlers and children, including Happy Baby probiotic cereal, Happy Squeeze, Super Nutrition Shakes, Fruit & Veggie Crisps, Grow & Shine Toddler Mix, Happy Tot, Coconut Creamies, Yummy Yogis, Clearly Crafted (transparent pouches that fully disclose the product’s recipe) and more.
Just Thrive Probiotic & Antioxidant: Just Thrive K2, Just Thrive Probiotic & Antioxidant for kids (launching Summer 2016); MegaSporeBiotic.
Little Duck Organics, Inc.: Tiny Yogurts, Mighty Oats Cereal, Tiny Fruits, Tiny Fruits & Veggies, Tiny Gummies and more.
MegaFood: Kid’s One Daily, Kid’s B Complex, Kid’s Daily Multi Nutrient Booster Powder, Kid’s Daily Immune Nutrient Booster Powder, Kid’s Daily B-Centered Nutrient Booster Powder and MegaFlora for Kid’s N’Us.
Natural Organics, Inc.: Line of Animal Parade multivitamins, Animal Parade Children’s Chewable Inner Ear Support, Animal Parade Tooth Fairy Children’s Chewable, MagKidz Chewables, MagKidz Drink Mix Powder, Nature’s Plus Animal Parade MagKidz, Animal Parade Multivitamins and more.
Natural Vitality: Natural Calm, Natural Calm Plus Calcium.
Nordic Naturals: Complete line for children in various delivery systems and includes DHA, omega-3s, multivitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, and probiotics. Newest children’s products include Probiotic Gummies KIDS and Vitamin D3 Gummies KIDS.
Once Upon a Farm: Single Pouches of Magic Velvet Mango, The Fairest of Pears, Green Kale & Apples, Mama Bear Blueberry, OhMyMega Veggie!, Wild Rumpus Avocado, Carroty-Coconut-y Quinoa, Just Right Porridge, Sun Shiny Strawberry Patch, Chocolate Ever After.
Pure Spoon: Organic HPP Purees in flavors like Apples & Broccoli, Carrots & Zucchini, Sweet Potato * Apple, Spinach, Pears & Bananas, Creamy Avocado & Peas and more.
Rainbow Light: A variety of kid-friendly, nutritional children’s products including NutriStart Multivitamin Powder, Active Health Teen Multivitamin, Probiolicious Probiotic Gummies, Teen Energy Multivitamin, and new Calcium Citrate Berry Wellness.
Rich Vitamins: Line of alternaVites Kids line of stick powders includes Kids Multi Strawberry Bubble Gum, Kids Multi Raspberry Cotton Candy, Kids Vitamin D (500 IU) Tutti Fruiti Smoothie, Kids Vitamin C (250 mg) Orange Berry Blast, and Kids Calcium Carnival Swirl.
Stonyfield Organic: Stonyfield Organic YoBaby, YoTot and YoKids yogurts.
SuperNutrition: PreNatal Blend, SimplyOne CalNatal and SimplyOne PreNatal.
Trace Minerals Research: Greens Pak, Complete Children’s Chewable, Children’s Chewable Probiotic, ConcenTrace Kid’s Trace Mineral Drops, Liquid Kid’s Multi, Liquid Vitamin D, Liquid Ionic Iron and Liquid Ionic Iodine.
Vitalah: Children’s Oxylent, multivitamin drink.
Avila adds to this list: “Some strains, for example protect the ear, nose and throat, while other beneficial bacteria protect the teeth and gums.”
One strain, BLIS K12l, supports ear, nose and throat health, he states. Meanwhile, BLIS M18 thermophilus strains have been found to support dental health. Both strains are distributed by Stratum Nutrition.
While retailers are talking to shoppers about the diverse health benefits that probiotics offer, it would be a good time to bring up the advantages of probiotic spores. “Most probiotics contain bacteria that do not make it through the natural barriers such as gastric acids and bile salts in the small intestines,” says Campbell. “However, spores do, which is why Just Thrive is much more useful and valuable for children and adults.”
Clow also believes that spore-producing probiotics like Bacillus coagulans are important because of their stability both on-shelf and throughout the gut environment. “Many studies show this to be an effective probiotic species, especially for digestive complaints associated with diarrhea,” Clow states.
Clarke believes probiotics–colostrum combination products can be especially helpful for children, and explains how babies born via C-section and those who don’t breastfeed may be especially good candidates for supplementation. “The birth canal is where babies pick up the positive bacteria and with a C-section, this does not happen,” he explains.
Clarke adds that colostrum is present in breast milk before it matures (usually two weeks after birth), and is highly nutritious.
It supports a baby’s immune health, digestive tract and more. He states, ”So, our ChildLife Probiotics with Colostrum really supports the mom and the baby.”
Food companies are definitely not missing out on the opportunity to deliver probiotics. With strain survivability in mind, Little Duck Organics, New York, NY, recently told WholeFoods Magazine that it chose to use GanedenBC30 in its line (HPP Puree and Tiny Yogurts).
Meanwhile, Anne Laraway, senior vice president of business development for Happy Family, New York, NY, says that her company has used probiotics (Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, L. salvarius, L. plantarum, fructooligosaccharides) in its HappyBaby Cereal for years and also has a meltaway yogurt snack with S. thermophilus and L. bulgaricus (Happy Yogis).
“As information continues to come out about the importance of a healthy microbiome for lifeline health, it’s important to consider that parents are thinking about healthy foods to feed their children,” Laraway states. “We want to change the trajectory of children’s health through nutrition, and using probiotics is part of that.”
Gillespie makes the point that having a healthy microbiome throughout life starts even before a child is born, since a mother can pass on her healthy microflora during vaginal delivery and in early development during breastfeeding. She says her company offers a product to support mothers during this critical time. Says Gillespie, “[MegaFlora for Baby & Me] is specifically designed to support the health of a pregnant or nursing mother and her developing child. MegaFood felt it was important to offer such a niche probiotic formula because of the unique and life-long benefits shown when a pregnant woman ingests L. rhamnosus (HNI001), a probiotic strain delivered in the MegaFlora Baby & Me formula. Studies have shown that mothers who increase their intake of L. rhamnosus (HNI001) during pregnancy, reduce their child’s risk of developing allergies by as much as 50%.”
New Trend in Baby Food: HPP
From jars to plastics to pouches, baby food production and packaging has been evolving in the past few decades. And now there’s a new technique that retailers should have on their radars: high pressure pasteurization (HPP).
Sound familiar? Chances are you already sell juices prepared with this process. But, why is it making an entrance on the baby food scene?
According to Anne Laraway, senior vice president of business development for Happy Family, many of today’s new moms are Millennials, who are sold on juicing. “They’re already used to HPP and the cold-press process,” she states.
Alyson Eberle, founder of Pure Spoon, says at her company, the process starts with high-quality fruits and vegetables that are raw or lightly steamed. “Then, we puree them and copack them so that they never hit the packaging warm. This way, we won’t have an infusion of chemicals from the packaging into the foods,” she explains. Then, the product is sent to an HPP facility where it is pressurized to 87,000 lb/in2 to kill any mold, yeast or bacteria.
At the same time, using very high pressure allows the nutrients, colors, textures and aromas of the original food to remain intact. “If you compare the nutritionals of a shelf-stable mango versus an HPP mango, the HPP mango maintains higher levels of vitamins and nutrients that are critical for babies’ healthy growth and development,” explains Cassandra Curtis, co-founder and chief operations officer at Once Upon a Farm. “The result of HPP is that babies are getting better nutrition and tasting what fresh food actually tastes like from a very young age.”
For all these reasons, Eberle says “HPP appeals to parents because they want something better…I think parents want to offer their children what they can make at home but have it conveniently available at the grocery store,” says Eberle.
A lot of variety is popping up in the HPP baby puree market. For instance, Curtis’s firm not only incorporates numerous fruits and vegetables into products, but also healthy fats such as coconut milk, chia seed, avocado, flax seed and hemp seed. “Healthy fats are critical for optimal brain development and nutrition absorption,” she states.
This is key for helping build a child’s palate early in life. “Feed them food that tastes sugary? Research has shown they are more likely to prefer these types of foods in adulthood,” Curtis says. “Feed them food that actually tastes like it was freshly picked? You’re more likely to see them eating this later on!”
Mind Your Supplements
Many parents have “balanced mood” and “focused attention” on their wish list for their children. Lots of children struggle in these areas, which is a normal part of development. But, some children—with a pediatrician’s okay—may benefit from a little extra support.
In addition to eating a nutritious, balanced diet, researchers have, in fact, connected several nutrients to mood, memory and behavioral support, and it’s important for parents and caretakers to know their options.
“There is nothing better researched in this area than fish oil,” states Shunney. “EPA and DHA, the long-chain omega-3 fats found in algae, fish and algae–fish oil supplements, have been shown to support brain development, mood, attention, focus and behavior from birth through adolescence.”
Trisha Sugarek MacDonald, B.S., M.S., senior director of research and development and national educator for Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation, Sugar Land, TX, reminds retailers that DHA is the most abundant polyunsaturated fatty acid in the brain (totaling 40%) and retina (totaling 60%). She states, “Among many other functions, DHA modulates the transport of choline for brain health as well as glycine (amino acid) and taurine (amino acid derivative) and the response of rhodopsin (pigment that allows for night vision), which is contained in the rod cells of the eye.”
She adds that omega-3s also support cell membrane fluidity, benefit cellular communication in the brain and, in the case of DHA, is a precursor for hormone-like eicosanoids and docosanoids, which affect cognitive function.
Some research suggests the benefits of prenatal omega-3s supplementation can be seen throughout a child’s life. “The brain in children is not only rapidly developing, but it is also learning at a fast rate,” says Campbell. “Essential fats are necessary for the brain and nervous system to develop.”
One recent study connected prenatal supplementation of DHA/EPA with a 58% reduced risk of early-preterm and preterm delivery by 17%. Babies born to supplemented women had nearly two-week longer gestational age and they were born heavier (about 4 ounces) than the others (8). In a separate study involving 60 preterm babies (24–32 weeks gestation), a 1% increase in postnatal DHA was associated with improved development and a 4.3-fold decreased chance of intraventricular hemorrhage (9).
Adding to this, Shunney says children of moms who took fish oil during pregnancy also have a decreased risk of allergies.
Omega-3s may also support behavior later in life. A recent review of 10 studies involving 699 children found “significant benefits from long-chain omega-3 in reducing ADHD symptoms in such children,” says Root. Results were best at higher doses.
“Children with ADHD have measurable reduction in tissue levels of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA compared with age-matched controls,” says Joiner-Bey, who says that EPA/DHA supplementation is commonly recommended by even mainstream physicians for children with ADHD.
He adds that omega-3s may support certain aspects of ADHD that are not typically helped by pharmaceuticals. “The role of DHA in brain development, intelligence and possible protection against ADHD finally led to its inclusion in many infant formulas and other foods,” he states.
Later in life, mood support is another benefit of omega-3 supplementation. Joiner-Bey believes that when EFAs are lacking and saturated fats are in excess, cell membranes become less fluid making the passage of molecules in and out of the cell less than optimal. He says that this could impair proper nerve cell function and affect behavior, mood, and mental function. “Biophysical properties, including fluidity of brain cell membranes, influence neurotransmitter synthesis, signal transmission, neurotransmitter binding and uptake, and activity of monoamine oxidase—factors implicated in depression,” Joiner-Bey says.
Another critical nutrient for brain support during childhood is choline, which Clow says is a precursor for acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter promotes mental alertness and is essential for the transmission of healthy nerve impulses. “Adequate choline levels may have long-lasting positive effects on cognitive function, including memory,” she states.
Gillespie agrees. She says this important nutrient also plays a significant role in the development of the brain’s learning and memory capacity. “Scientific research shows that exposure to choline during early development of a child can increase working memory capabilities,” says Gillespie, adding that timing is key.
She believes that women planning on becoming mothers, or who are already pregnant, along with all children under the age of three can benefit from consuming adequate amounts of choline. “It is during these early periods of development up until three years of age when there is a period of critical brain structure being built,” says Gillespie. “In fact, at around the age of three, a child’s brain is 90% fully developed.”
Dean believes that mood and magnesium go hand in hand. The reason? Stress. She states, “Children under stress and depleted of magnesium may experience diminished alertness, focus and concentration issues. They may act up and have behavior problems, friction and misunderstandings at school with other children or family members.”
Avila adds that children feel things differently than adults do. Children may have difficulty achieving calm, relaxed muscles due to a lack of magnesium, which he believes is fairly common. “Adult coping skills allow us to tune them out and make it through our workdays. But to the distractible child, such problems can easily consume all attention and focus. So, it is critical for parents to do as much as possible to avoid nutritional deficiencies,” he believes.
There is a biological link to all of this, Dean explains. Serotonin, the brain’s feel-good hormone, needs magnesium for its production and function. For this reason, some call magnesium an anti-stress mineral. Dean supports the use of magnesium citrate powder in children because it is highly absorbable.
Clow adds that lack of iron may also affect mood, attention and behavior (10).
Also on the minerals front, Mooney believes zinc may be a good option for supporting good memory, balanced mood, better focus and other cognitive functions. In a study comparing 209 children (ages 9–13) who took 0, 10 or 20 mg of zinc per day (11), those taking the most had “twice as much improvement in reaction time in a visual memory test, increased ‘percent correct’ three times, better word recognition test scores and six times better target detection in a vigilance test. In addition, conduct problems for girls in the placebo group increased by 10%, with no increase in problems for zinc-treated girls,” states Mooney.
Gillespie adds one last item to the list for mood and attention support: B complex vitamins, which “play a role in numerous metabolic functions, including the production of neurotransmitters that regulate mood, like serotonin and dopamine.” She believes B12 is especially important.
Here Comes the Airplane!
Meal times can be a struggle with many toddlers, thanks to their wanting to assert their independence and their natural skepticism of new foods. Aside from standing on their heads, dancing a jig around the high chair and transforming the fork into an incoming airplane, what else can parents do to make meal times less stressful?
Rule 1, says Kate Geagan, nutritionist and dietician, Earth’s Best, Lake Success, NY, is to make sure kids come to the table with an appetite. “Remember that hunger is the best seasoning,” she states. Parents should watch the snacks, milk and juices. “While healthy snacks are a part of helping your little one thrive, if a toddler snacks too often, or too close to mealtime, or has discovered that he can get away with a few bites of a meal and then mom, dad or a caregiver will give him a snack later, they can become incredibly adept at avoiding mealtime, resulting in power struggles.” She suggests timing snacks so that children are hungrier at mealtimes.
Rule 2 is to serve appropriate portions. While toddlers need the same variety of nutritious foods as their parents, they clearly don’t need the same quantities. She believes an appropriate serving size for a toddler is the size of his/her palm. “Toddlers can feel overwhelmed with large servings of food, as their tiny tummies can’t hold a lot at once. Help support them by using smaller cups and plates,” Geagan suggests. “Serve a few bites of each item rather than an adult sized portion…Also, make sure that the foods you are serving are cut into the right size—and have an appropriate texture—so that their tongue and mouth can control it and swallow easily.” Parents should stay away from foods that are sticky, too firm or are slick to avoid a choking risk.
As long as it doesn’t pose a choking risk, Little Duck says some fussy eaters do better with snacks and foods cut into fun shapes, especially for self feeding.
Third, when introducing new foods, do so alongside old favorites. In addition, “Gently offer foods multiple times, and let your toddler see family members enjoying those same foods (even if in different, adult-friendly forms) as well,” Geagan states.
Laraway says it may take multiple tries before a child accepts a new food. “Keep trying,” she advises. “It can take babies and toddlers up to 10 times before they actually accept foods.”
Sometimes, offering a choice of veggies helps a toddler feel in control and more likely to eat up. Says Cassandra Curtis, co-founder and chief operations officer at Once Upon a Farm, San Diego, CA, “Get them involved in the preparation process. Ask them what they want and have them help you prepare it, even if it’s simply handing you the banana to slice or placing banana slices on a plate.”
To this, Laraway adds that self feeding may help them feel more in control, too. “Even two, three and four year olds still eat our pouches because it’s a healthy snack they can eat by themselves,” she states.
“And remember, it’s perfectly normal at this age for your toddler to sometimes be less hungry, and more interested in being oh so busy exploring the world around him!” Geagan adds.
Rule four: don’t be a short order cook. Sally Kuzemchak, M.S., R.D., author of Dinnertime Survival Guide and blogger at RealMomNutrition.com, and Stonyfield Organic, Londonderry, NH, says parents should model healthy eating and rotate foods. “She’ll never learn to branch out if she gets chicken nuggets or PB&J every night,” says Kuzemchak. “Serve the same meal to the family but make sure there’s something on the table that everyone likes, even if it’s just rice or fruit. Deconstructing the meal is also okay, like serving plain noodles with a choice of toppings instead of a mixed pasta dish…You never know when you’ll stumble onto something they like.”
Next, offer variety. Sugarek MacDonald says high-fiber foods are often left out of the picky child’s diet, though it is hugely important for digestive comfort. Therefore, she recommends stocking kitchen cabinets with fiber-rich bread, homemade trail mix, and fun dips (e.g., ranch, yogurt or peanut butter) for fruits and veggies. “The goal is compliance and these fun options can make it easier for parents with strong-minded little ones,” she states.
Last, know your role and keep your cool. A parent’s role is to offer a variety of healthy foods and supervise meals. “Your toddler’s job is to decide whether—and how much—to eat of those foods,” says Geagan.
In agreement is Kuzemchak, who adds that parents shouldn’t get too wound up over the process. She states, “The more you fret about food, the more your child will pick up on your frustrations—and may very well dig in his heels even more. Your job as a parent is to offer your child an array of healthy foods at regular meals and snacks…Trust your child to get what he needs. Model healthy eating. And keep the vibe at the table positive and pleasant as much as you can.”
Kuzemchak says there’s hope: picky eating isn’t a lifetime sentence. “Most kids turn a corner at age five or six,” she states. “Though that probably seems like an eternity, rest assured that while you may not return to that blissful, eat-absolutely-everything phase of baby days gone by, you will once again have a child who enjoys eating—even if she is dunking her asparagus into ketchup.” WF
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Published in WholeFoods Magazine August 2016