In every family with curious kids, nutritional questions can come up around the dinner table. Hopefully, the answers that follow will encourage your children to eat a little better, or at least pay more attention to the foods they choose. And parents can probably get some lost knowledge rekindled.
Why do I have to eat breakfast?
Children who eat breakfast show improved academic performance, longer attention spans, greater attendance and decreased hyperactivity in school, studies show. Test scores of children who do not eat breakfast are generally lower than those who eat a well-balanced meal. Four out of five children do not get enough vitamins and minerals from lunch and dinner alone; they need the nutrients from a healthful breakfast. Children who do not eat a healthful breakfast tend to eat more junk food during the day. Skipping breakfast can make kids tired, irritable and restless.
What is a whole food?
Whole foods are in a form found in nature — fresh, unprocessed and simple. When you eat something, ask yourself these questions:
- Can you imagine it growing?
- Does it have just one ingredient?
- Has anything been done to it since it was harvested?
- Is this part of a food or the whole entity?
- Has this food been known to nourish human beings for a long time?
A body is able to use the nutrients in whole foods more easily than those in processed foods, which are often missing essential elements or made with chemicals.
What does organic mean?
Organic foods are grown without pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers or hormones, which have all been shown to contribute to cancer and other diseases and create extra work for the immune system. Many farms grow foods without these chemicals yet do not have the organic certification. Just ask. And eat as many organic foods as you can.
What are GMOs?
GMO stands for genetically modified organism. The term refers to organisms whose genetic material has been manipulated in a laboratory so they can withstand herbicides and better fight off insects. Industrial farmers hope these GMO seeds enable more crops to be successfully grown per square foot of soil, thus making them more money. There are unanswered questions as to the safety of the foods that come from GMOs.
What is BPA?
BPA stands for bisphenol A and is a chemical used to make certain plastics. Research has shown that the BPA in plastic containers seeps into food and beverages, possibly negatively affecting the brain and behavior of infants and children. Seek out BPA-free plastic bottles, cans and food storage containers, or choose glass, porcelain or stainless steel, especially for hot foods.
Protein is an essential nutrient that provides 10 percent of a body’s energy. It is a part of everything in the body that has structure, such as bones, organs, hair, skin and nails. It makes up the enzymes that enable essential chemical reactions in the body and builds neurotransmitters that transfer information in our brain.
What are the facts on fats?
Healthful fat is a concentrated source of energy for the body. Our brain is partially constructed from healthy fats. Fat slows the absorption of carbohydrates and other parts of our meal into our blood, helping us feel full longer. Our bodies are unable to digest and absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K without it. It is a building block of cell membranes and hormones. So don’t be afraid of fat. Healthful fats (found in avocados, nuts, seeds, fish, olives, olive oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil and butter) should make up 25 to 35 percent of your daily calorie intake. Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important.
Are carbohydrates bad?
Carbohydrates are the sugars and starches found in fruits, whole grains, vegetables and dairy. They are one of the three macro food groups (along with proteins and fats) that are essential for health. Carbohydrates provide energy for muscles and the nervous system. They are important for brain function and enable fat metabolism. The word “carbohydrate” often conjures up unhealthful processed foods such as cookies and breads, yet the naturally occurring carbohydrates in fruits, whole grains and vegetables are vital for health.
There are 13 vitamins with countless functions that help the body operate at peak performance. Without vitamins, our immune system wouldn’t fight colds, our wounds wouldn’t heal, our bones would break, our eyes wouldn’t focus properly and we wouldn’t optimally digest the foods we eat. And that is just the beginning.
Casey Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a Washington, D.C.-based nutrition education company, and author of “The Super Food Cards,” a collection of healthful recipes and advice.