The Health of Our Children is in Your Hands

Introducing children at a young age to brain- and gut-healthy foods will give them an edge as they grow

By Deb Dittner

The health of our children has never been more important and needs to start in utero and continue through their entire childhood into adulthood.

Moms need to make sure they are eating whole nutrient dense foods for the health of themselves and their unborn child.

Once born and while breastfeeding and pumping with a breast pump covered by insurance, Mom needs to continue with the same whole nutrient-dense foods. As the baby grows and begins eating on their own as a toddler and into the teen years, the foods they eat will help provide the proper nutrients for a healthy body from brain health to gut health to bone health and more.

Whole nutrient-dense foods are influential in supporting the brain health of children allowing them to grow into young adults. Sometimes it can be difficult especially if you have a picky eater. The best way to convince children into eating healthy is to introduce healthy foods from the beginning encouraging their taste buds early on.

Let’s look at a few brain health foods to offer your child when they’re young:

• Cucumbers, jicama and carrots (or any crunchy veggie) are great to offer while teething and teaches them early-on to enjoy the flavor. Keeping these finger foods available in the fridge as they get older and providing a dip such as hummus encourages them to reach for these themselves.

• Yogurt is not just for brain health but also gut health. Introducing plain dairy or non-dairy yogurt with live cultures provides the gut with good bacteria. Stay with plain versus fruit-flavored as these contain plenty of sugar. Add in real fruit such as berries and a dash of cinnamon for added flavor.

• Avocado can be enjoyed at any age by turning it into a pudding, topping toast or adding to a variety of dishes including salads. This healthy fat is also full of fiber and magnesium.

• Legumes and beans do dual work providing for gut and brain health. These fiber-rich, plant-based sources are also great sources of magnesium which have become deficient in many people of late. Magnesium is needed for a good night’s sleep and decreasing anxiety.

• Organic dark chocolate consisting of a minimum of 70% cacao helps to boost gut health as long as there is a minimal sugar content. Dark chocolate provides antioxidants, magnesium and that little bit of sweet.

• Nuts are a great snack assuming the child does not have any nut allergies. Nuts supply needed crunch and can be eaten on the go. Prepare a large bag of trail mix consisting of almonds, walnuts (they even look like a brain and contain omega 3 fatty acids) and pecans then add pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes and dried cranberries. Measure out into individual servings and you have a snack full of healthy fat, fiber and magnesium.

• Omega-3 fats found in fatty fish such as sustainably sourced salmon are not only good for brain health but also decrease stress, boost mood and promote emotional balance. You can even start out by adding a fish oil into their meals getting them accustomed to the flavor.

• Eggs are rich in choline and can be served in many ways from hard boiled (great to take along on a hike) to an omelet chock full of veggies. Eggs are high in melatonin allowing for a better sleep as well as improved brain function. If you or your child cannot tolerate eggs consider quinoa or soybeans.

Introducing your children at a young age to brain- and gut-healthy foods will give them an edge as they grow. By using food as medicine, you will optimize your child’s overall wellbeing. Making healthy food choices provides fiber, anti-inflammatory properties, pre- and probiotic foods and the necessary nutrients to grow.

Deborah Dittner is a family nurse practitioner and health consultant. Her mission is to transform as many individuals as possible through nutrition and lifestyle changes.

For more information, check out her website at www.debdittner.com or contact her at 518-596-8565.