Superfoods – we hear this word so often, often associated with other eating habits and promising all, a longer life less wrinkles (it is for adults, not for children!). But what does that mean? Should we and our children eat all the “superfoods” that we hear about? If we did, we would probably broke because they are often very expensive. Here are the facts, to cut through the hype.
What are “superfoods”?
You may be surprised to learn that the word “superfood” has no formal definition when it comes to nutrition. It’s just a marketing term. In the past, it was mainly used to describe foods that were particularly rich in a certain nutrient. However, it is now applied to everything from fruit smoothie wrappers to menu items in cafes, often by people without any nutrition training. It is therefore important to be cautious about promoting any “superfood.” Also note that while some “superfoods” have a lot of science to back them up, others have little or none.
Some superfoods claim to be excellent sources of nutrients we all heard, like blueberries rich in vitamin C. However, other nutrients mention that most of us do not know, such as flavonoids, lycopene or quercetin. These are nutrients that can be beneficial for our bodies but which are not essential as vitamins and minerals. They are known as phytochemicals (meaning plant chemicals) and are produced by plants for purposes such as protection against viruses and bacteria. And over the last decade or so, science has revealed that they could also be helpful to us. They work in various ways, including acting as antioxidants (which may play a role in preventing cancer and heart disease) and combating viruses. Most searches are more relevant to adults, but it does not mean that there are no benefits for children.
What superfoods or phytochemicals deserve some attention?
I will not mention all the phytochemicals here – thousands have been identified, so I doubt you want to read them all. And I will not discuss all the foods that have been proposed as superfoods – again there’s too much talking and often they are not more “super” than what we already have in our fruit bowl. What I will do is highlight some phytochemicals and food types for which there has been a lot of research, so they are not just the latest fad – they have a real scientific support.
Flavonoids – The family of phytochemicals is in a variety of foods, including citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit; fruit with blue, red and purple as blueberries, strawberries and grapes; green tea; soy and grenades. The potential benefits are equally diverse – research has indicated that different flavonoids may be protective against health problems, including asthma, heart disease and some cancers, as well as antibacterial and antiviral properties. Note that research in these areas is still in its early stages and scientists are not yet sure of the role that flavonoids can play in these diseases.
Carotenes – Range of different phytochemicals, carotenes are found in yellow fruits and vegetables, orange and red, like carrots (hence the name), tomatoes and pumpkin. They are also found in green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale. The potential benefits from reducing the risk of macular degeneration (a type of eye injury) to reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Brassicaceae – It is a family of vegetables. Big players on this list include the generally kid-friendly broccoli as well as the sometimes less popular Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage. They contain a range of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber, and also supply the glucosinolate family of phytochemicals. There is a lot of research on this group of vegetables, especially in the area of cancer prevention.
Berries – From raspberries and strawberries to blueberries and acai or goji berries, these little fruits are very nutritious. Besides being generally very high in vitamin C, other vitamins and fiber, they also contribute to the flavonoids mentioned above. These are more expensive fruits to buy, but filling your freezer with frozen berries can cut costs.
Legumes, such as soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, and dried beans – they also contain Not only beans and legumes provide a healthy serving of protein, soluble fiber which helps give them a low GI – (! And adults!) which means they’ll help keep kids fueled for longer long time. As a bonus, legumes are rich in minerals such as iron and zinc. And for adults, if you eat legumes regularly, soluble fiber can also help control cholesterol levels.
oats – This is another food that has a low GI, which makes oat foods like porridge great fuel foods. And, again, adults who eat oats regularly may benefit from lower cholesterol levels.
Fish rich in oil – As we have already mentioned in these newsletters, oil-rich fish such as salmon, sardines, and some types of canned tuna are really brain food for babies and young children. Omega-3 oils they provide are essential for the growth of the brain and eyes. In addition, researchers are studying a multitude of other potential benefits, including a possible reduction in risk of developing asthma or depression, as well as the well-known reduction in the levels of heart disease. . Of course, fish doesn’t just contain omega-3 fatty acids; it is also an excellent source of protein for growing bodies, as well as vitamins and minerals including zinc, iodine and vitamin B12.
Many of you know that there are limits to how much we should eat of certain types of fish, especially for pregnant women and young children. If you want to know more about this, this webpage has some useful information: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/chemicals/mercury/documents/mif%20brochure.pdf
So what should my child eat?
Does that mean we should base all of our children’s meals or our own meals on the foods on these lists? Absolutely not. I hope some things will be clear from the list of foods above.
Eat a rainbow sky – Many of the foods mentioned in the groups above are brightly colored fruits and vegetables, and this is where a large number of beneficial phytochemicals are found. So if there’s one big message about superfoods or phytochemicals, it’s to eat a rainbow of different colored fruits and vegetables.
We still do not know everything – Research into all of these “superfoods” and phytochemicals is ongoing, while new “superfoods” are popping up all the time. And most of them are brightly colored fruits and vegetables. So just because the frozen peas on your plate haven’t made the headlines yet, there’s no reason to believe they won’t be making headlines for months to come.
Balance is the key – Sometimes the promotion of particular superfoods is so strong that we could almost believe that we do not need to eat anything else. However, that could never be the case. All foods contain a mixture of nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and proteins, and none contain all the nutrients our bodies need. This is why we need a “balanced” diet made up of the different food groups: fruits; vegetables and legumes/beans; milk, yogurt, cheese and/or other substitutes; grain-based foods (cereals); and lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes / beans. We can make “super” choices among these groups, but they are all necessary for good health and for the growth and development of children.
Can I take a supplement instead?
People who have difficult children or who do not like too much fruit or vegetables themselves might ask whether it is possible to simply take a supplement instead. Although some phytochemicals and all the vitamins and minerals are available as supplements, research often shows that they are not as effective as when consumed in foods themselves. This may be due to interactions with other phytochemicals and nutrients in food. In addition, there is the fact that there are other beneficial nutrients in whole foods (including perhaps some that scientists have not yet identified). It is best to eat the food itself wherever possible.
Superfoods vs Super Essential Foods
The key is that it is better to focus on a healthy, balanced and varied. Encourage your children to enjoy a rainbow of colorful vegetables and fruits. (I know this may be easier said than done! Check out my 3/24/22 blog post for ideas to help.) Including some slow-release fuel foods, like healthy grain foods and legumes, will give children energy for days of play and learning. And oil-rich fish (if you eat fish) and legumes are great choices for some protein foods for kids. In any case, choose “superfoods” for some of them, in the food groups that children eat anyway. But remember that balance is everything.
© 2022 Fiona Hinton
NOTICE OF MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: Please note that this website is intended solely for general information and should not be considered a substitute for qualified medical advice. Please discuss medical issues with your child’s doctor before taking any action.
About Fiona: Fiona Hinton is a registered dietitian, but describes herself as a nutrition translator, taking the science of nutrition and translating it into the foods we love to eat, to nourish both body and mind. She has over 20 years of experience as a dietitian, working in a wide range of areas from hospital services to running her own private practice. Fiona is particularly interested in child nutrition. As a mother of three school-aged boys, she has first-hand experience of feeding issues in young children, such as withdrawal and irritability. Fiona specializes in real-life strategies and practical suggestions for turning nutritional advice into foods kids will eat. Fiona has collaborated on several books, including one with best-selling children’s food writer Annabel Karmel, and has trained daycare staff in child nutrition.