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Go for green!

Go for green!

Parents and carers instinctively know that green vegetables are important for the growing body, hence the drive to encourage our children to eat large amounts. This desire to ensure a good diet can often be hugely challenging. Recent recommendations to increase fruit and vegetable consumption from 5 a day to 10 is based on a great deal of research, but recent statistics suggest we still only manage 4. So, what’s the drive behind the importance of eating a rainbow and getting your greens?

Aside from fats, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals, chemicals from plants aren’t essential for keeping us alive but they can help maintain optimal health and prevent disease. All plants produce chemical compounds called phytonutrients as part of their normal metabolic activity to protect the plant from fungi, bugs and other potential threats. This protective mechanism of the plant is also linked to its colour, taste and texture. It’s certainly no accident that green vegetables often have a bitter taste, which can test our acceptance of these foods as demonstrated by the often reluctant eating patterns of two- and three-year-olds. This initial fear around food, known as neophobia, is believed to be an evolutionary-rooted response. It served as a protective mechanism to ensure as hunters and gatherers we didn’t eat something poisonous which would make us sick. Our ancestors developed their diet around safe colours, smells and textures and as some foods (specifically vegetables) have a naturally bitter taste acceptance of these foods was challenged. This natural uncertainty is evident in modern children as they develop and expand their food palette. 

Green vegetables are rich in beneficial phytonutrients with the most significant being lutein, zeaxanthin, indoles, quercitin, chlorophyll and folate.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are both carotenoids and are found in high concentrations in the eyes where they protect the lens and macular area of the retina. For this reason, they are thought to reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration in the elderly.

Focus on: Kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, broccoli, green peas, kiwifruit and honeydew melon.

Indoles are important cancer fighting compounds; studies have shown their benefits for breast and prostate cancer. It also supports the liver to break down and clear toxic compounds from the body.

Focus on: Broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, bok choy, rocket, Swiss chard, watercress, cauliflower

Quercitin is a bioflavanoid, which has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It is thought to be hugely beneficial for allergies as it blocks mast cell production and also promotes hormone activity.

Focus on: Spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage and Brussel sprouts.

Chlorophyll found naturally in green plants is fat-soluble and can stimulate red blood cell production and is also a powerful antioxidant.

Focus on: All green vegetables

Folate is also known as vitamin B9 and is called folic acid in its synthetic version. It’s important for DNA synthesis and cell repair but has wide-reaching benefits including foetal development, cardiovascular support, reducing the risk of stroke and support for optimal digestive health.

Focus on: Spinach, kale, bok choy, rocket, Swiss chard, watercress

So, knowing why green is so beneficial for our health can be invaluable but if your child or those you care for are reluctant about such foods then focus on exposure to help reduce any fear around green vegetables with your child. To reduce the fear response, you will need to plan at least 15-20 exposures before a child will willingly eat a particular food and you may need to track progress from happy to have on their plate, to touching, tasting and eating and acknowledge small steps. Before you know it, incorporating these foods into the weekly menu can become widely accepted and the far-reaching health benefits can be astounding.

 


About the author
The Food TeacherThe Food Teacher,
Katharine Tate, has worked as a teacher and education consultant internationally in primary and secondary schools for over 20 years.

Qualified as a registered nutritional therapist, Katharine, combines her unique education and nutrition expertise to offer schools, organisations and families advice, education programmes, practical workshops, and individual/family clinical consultations. She has also published 2 books: ‘Heat-Free & Healthy’ and ‘No Kitchen Cookery for Primary Schools’.

(For more information, visit her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter or email her at info@thefoodteacher.co.uk. You can also visit her website to find out more and subscribe to her newsletter.)








Banish summer sniffles

Banish summer sniffles

Red eyes and sneezing are common allergic symptoms this time of year for hay fever sufferers. Hayfever, which is also known as seasonal rhinitis, is an allergic reaction to pollen from grass, trees and weeds during the early spring and summer months. It is thought to affect more than 20% of the UK population and up to 40% of children.  It can impact on quality of life, increase risk of asthma and sleep problems leading to general fatigue and reduced cognition.

Hayfever is caused when the body makes allergic antibodies (IgE) to certain substances, such as pollen, house dust mites or mould, which are known as allergens. When the pollen count is high, symptoms can intensify. Other immune cells are involved in allergic reactions and they release chemicals such as histamine, which can produce common symptoms. These cells are found in high quantities in the nose, throat, lungs and skin, which is why symptoms can include itchy eyes and throat, sneezing, blocked or runny nose, watery and red eyes, itchy skin, headaches and shortness of breath.

Managing hayfever especially with children is not always easy, but some strategies and nutrients that are worth consideration include:

Being Pollen Aware:

Monitor daily pollen levels and on warmer, dry days when counts tend to be high plan some time indoors.

Focus on: Encouraging your child to get changed when they come home or in from outdoors and if their symptoms are intense having a shower and washing their hair may also help. Simply wearing sunglasses and applying a barrier balm to the nostrils may reduce the amount of pollen that can enter the nose and eyes and alleviate symptoms.

Other Sensitivities/Intolerances:

Many people with hayfever also have sensitivities to certain foods, which can increase symptoms. Common foods include wheat and dairy but it can be hugely variable, such as eggs or oranges.

Focus on: Keeping a food and symptom diary and try eliminating wheat and/or dairy for a 2-week period. Consider support from a registered nutritional therapist, such as myself, to help with a suitable elimination diet and note other factors such as behaviour, sleep and digestion.

Omega Balance:

Consider your child’s balance of omega-3 and omega 6 rich foods. Omega-3 fatty acids are considered to be anti-inflammatory whereas omega-6 fatty foods can promote inflammatory conditions such as hayfever.

Focus on: Oily fish, such as sardines, salmon, mackerel or herrings 3 times a week and nuts and seeds are recommended. If your child struggles to eat fish, consider an omega-3 supplement rich in EPA and DHA. It’s also important to avoid foods made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils like margarine and baked goods as these can damage the beneficial omega-3 fats and increase inflammation.

Vitamin C

Increasing vitamin C rich foods may help to support immunity, which explains why levels deplete quickly when the body is fighting an infection. It’s also a natural anti-histamine and can help to minimize tissue damage and provide increased immune protection due to its antioxidant status.

Focus on: Increasing food sources such as peppers, strawberries, dark green leafy vegetables, parsley, broccoli, kiwi and citrus fruits. You could also consider a supplement.

Histamine Balance:

Some foods contain high levels of histamine so this may be worth investigating as a potential cause of increased symptoms.

Focus on: Eliminating high histamine foods such as cheese, chocolate and canned/smoked fish, strawberries and citrus fruits to see if symptoms reduce.

Immunity:

Ensure the immune system has optimal support, especially when the pollen count is high. This can involve increasing specific nutrients (vitamin C, vitamin D and probiotics) that can be beneficial and also reducing ‘anti-nutrients’, such as sugar, that may compromise immunity. Sugary and processed foods, which impact on blood sugar balance can put pressure on the immune system and increase inflammation.

Focus on: Swapping refined grains, breads and pastas for wholegrain alternatives and choose unpackaged foods and cook fresh foods as much as possible.

Having hayfever as a child doesn’t necessarily mean it’s for life, as many people report their symptoms improve with age with over 10% reporting it completely disappears. Following a healthy diet and lifestyle can be significant factors in supporting children with hayfever and consider some of the advice above to help banish those summer sniffles!

About the author
mefinal2015The Food Teacher,
Katharine Tate, has worked as a teacher and education consultant internationally in primary and secondary schools for over 20 years.

Qualified as a registered nutritional therapist, Katharine, combines her unique education and nutrition expertise to offer schools, organisations and families advice, education programmes, practical workshops, and individual/family clinical consultations. She has also published 2 books: ‘Heat-Free & Healthy’ and ‘No Kitchen Cookery for Primary Schools’.

(For more information, visit her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter or email her at info@thefoodteacher.co.uk. You can also visit her website to find out more and subscribe to her newsletter.)

 








Nutrition and autism

Nutrition and autism

Autism is one of the most prevalent developmental disorders in the world, which is much more common than many people think. Roughly 1 in 1001 people are on the autistic spectrum in the UK and five times as many males as females. Autism is a complex biological disorder that influences a person’s ability to communicate and relate to others. It is a spectrum condition, meaning that whilst all people with autism may have similar behaviours, overall their condition will impact them in different ways. Some people may be able to lead fairly independent lives whilst others may require ongoing specialist support. No single cause has been identified and whilst it is incurable, research around genetics and environmental factors including nutrition is growing. Knowing a little about these factors may be supportive and help to generate personalised strategies for different individuals.

Some researched factors are detailed below and every family must review their needs on a very personal basis and incorporate strategies into their lifestyle that can be implemented with limited stress.

Digestive Health:

Research suggests that children with autism have a higher rate of inflammation and digestive imbalances. Symptoms can present as constipation and/or diarrhoea, undigested food in the stools, food allergies/intolerances, bloating and flatulence. It can be helpful to increase insoluble fibre as this can add volume to stools and improve transit time, which can significantly reduce the risk of constipation.

Better bacterial balance in the digestive system can also be helpful. Probiotics are important for populating the digestive system with beneficial bacteria whilst prebiotics help to feed said bacteria.

Focus on: Fibre rich foods include raw fruit with the skin (apples, pears, plum, peach), vegetables, seeds, oats, beans such as butter beans and kidney beans and dried dates and apricots.

Try prebiotic and probiotic foods including cottage cheese, olives, kefir, yoghurt, sour dough, banana, chicory and leeks. Parents could also consider a probiotic supplement.

 

Blood Sugar Balance:

For autistic children who show signs of hyperactivity, focusing on blood sugar balance can beneficial.

Focus on: Avoiding sugary foods, swapping white refined carbohydrates for wholegrain options and ensuring meals and snacks include a good quality protein can help to slow down the release of sugar from foods. Some snack examples include combining apple and cheese, rice cakes and cottage cheese and berries with yoghurt.

 

The Right Fats:

Research has highlighted that it’s common for autistic children to be low in essential fats.  Omega-3 fatty acids are required for brain development and function and they can also reduce inflammation, therefore supporting the immune system and digestive health.

Focus on: Oily fish, such as sardines, salmon, mackerel or herrings 3 times a week and nuts and seeds are recommended. If your child struggles to eat fish consider an omega-3 supplement rich in EPA and DHA. It’s also important to avoid foods made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils like margarine and baked goods as these can damage the beneficial omega-3 fats and increase inflammation.

 

Nutritional Needs:

Research also suggests autistic children can be low in essential nutrients. These can include:

  • Magnesium, which is an important relaxant. Increase spinach, seeds, nuts and beans.
  • Vitamin B6 is needed for energy production. Increase cauliflower, lentils, nuts, seeds and bananas in moderation.
  • Zinc, which can be especially low in boys. Increase fish, seeds, nuts, and chicken.
  • Vitamin C for antioxidants, sleep and digestion. Increase citrus fruits, kiwi, salad vegetables, broccoli and peppers.

 

Allergies/Intolerances:

Autistic children seem unusually prone to allergic conditions like asthma, eczema and hay fever suggesting immune system imbalances. Other signs and symptoms have been associated with intolerances to gluten and dairy and removing these from the diet has brought significant benefits for many children.

Focus on: Nutritional support from a registered nutritional therapist, such as myself, to support an elimination diet and note factors such as behaviour, sleep and digestion.

 

Lifestyle:

Many lifestyle factors can be helpful such as plenty of exercise, creating a regular sleep pattern, planning routine and structure into each day and also reducing exposure to environmental toxins such as cleaning products, toiletries and plastics.


About the author
mefinal2015The Food Teacher,
Katharine Tate, has worked as a teacher and education consultant internationally in primary and secondary schools for over 20 years.

Qualified as a registered nutritional therapist, Katharine, combines her unique education and nutrition expertise to offer schools, organisations and families advice, education programmes, practical workshops, and individual/family clinical consultations. She has also published 2 books: ‘Heat-Free & Healthy’ and ‘No Kitchen Cookery for Primary Schools’.

(For more information, visit her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter or email her at info@thefoodteacher.co.uk. You can also visit her website to find out more and subscribe to her newsletter.)


1 The NHS Information Centre, Community and Mental Health Team, Brugha, T. et al (2012). Estimating the prevalence of autism spectrum conditions in adults: extending the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. Leeds: NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care

 








Nutrition to support optimal eye health

Nutrition to support optimal eye health

Healthy vision is one of our fundamental five senses; it is the key to our perceptions, our ability to interpret the world, and to connect with it. Our eyesight engages us socially, enables us to non-verbally communicate, learn, understand others, care for ourselves and supports our independence. Optimal nutrition is essential for children whilst they are growing and developing, and research suggests that 20% of school-aged children have an undiagnosed vision problem. Children’s healthy vision supports their social development, achievement and ultimately reduces risk factors for adulthood. Understanding nutrients and lifestyle factors which can support the development and function of the visual system can be extremely helpful.

Essential Fatty Acids

Aside from being a key component for brain development and function, essential fats are also a major component of the retina. 20% of these fatty acids found in the retina are the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are important for both structure and function. Studies have linked low levels of fatty acids with numerous degenerative eye conditions including age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

Focus on: Oily fish, such as sardines, salmon or herrings 2-3 times a week are recommended. Perhaps get children making mackerel or salmon pâté for snack time (see my website for a recipe) and if your child struggles to eat fish consider a supplement rich in EPA and DHA. It’s also valuable to avoid foods made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils like margarine and baked goods as these can damage the beneficial omega-3 fats and increase inflammation in the body.

 

Vitamins A and E

Vitamin A is vital for vision and ensures the retina is working effectively. Retinol is the animal form of vitamin A, whilst beta-carotene is the vegetable form, which is converted into retinol in the liver. As this is a nutrient that can be stored in the body, over supplementation can be toxic therefore it’s advisable to focus on increasing food sources to boost levels. Vitamin E helps to protect the eye from oxidation damage and conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma.

Focus on:  Vitamin A rich foods such as liver, milk, cheese, eggs, mackerel and chicken (see my website for a child-friendly liver pâté recipe). Increase vitamin E rich foods such as avocados, nuts, sweet potato, asparagus, seeds and spinach.

 

Lutein and Zeaxanthin

These two carotenoids are found in high quantities in the eyes and protect the lens by supporting changes to light, enhancing visual range, reducing glare and reduce the risk of cataracts.

Focus on: Encouraging your child to consume more dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, eggs, fruit and corn.

 

Vitamin C

The primary function of vitamin C in the body is the production of collagen, the main protein substance of the body and found in the cornea of the eye. Low levels have been linked to increased risk of cataracts. 

Focus on: Colourful fruits and vegetables such as papaya, peppers, broccoli, strawberries, oranges, kiwifruit and melon.

 

Zinc

This is an essential trace mineral important for growth and the body’s production of melanin, which protects pigment in the eye.

Focus on: Including zinc rich foods such as fish, seeds, nuts, and chicken.

 

Blood sugar balance

‘Normal’ eye movements are essential for focus and tasks such as writing and reading. Dyslexic children commonly have more erratic eye movements, which can impair their ability to focus and develop their language performance. Factors such as a high sugar diet and blood sugar imbalance can contribute to greater erratic eye movement. 

Focus on: Avoiding sugary foods, swapping white refined carbohydrates for wholegrain options and ensuring meals and snacks include a good quality protein can help to slow down the release of sugar from foods and support eye health. Some snack examples include combining apple and cheese, rice cakes and cottage cheese and berries with yoghurt.

 

Strategies

Other strategies, which support eye development and health include exposure to visual stimulus when children are little including mobiles, colourful toys and books. Ensuring children spend time outdoors regularly to play and exercise with studies suggesting 2 hours each day is optimal. Minimising exposure to screens including phones, tablets and TV and avoiding bright lights specifically in the early evening is also valuable and supports optimal sleep. Regular eye tests should also be planned.


About the author
mefinal2015The Food Teacher,
Katharine Tate, has worked as a teacher and education consultant internationally in primary and secondary schools for over 20 years.

Qualified as a registered nutritional therapist, Katharine, combines her unique education and nutrition expertise to offer schools, organisations and families advice, education programmes, practical workshops, and individual/family clinical consultations. She has also published 2 books: ‘Heat-Free & Healthy’ and ‘No Kitchen Cookery for Primary Schools’.

(For more information, visit her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter or email her at info@thefoodteacher.co.uk. You can also visit her website to find out more and subscribe to her newsletter.)

 








Why children should eat fish

Why children should eat fish

The news about which foods are healthy and nutritious for us is constantly hitting the headlines. With concerns around escalating childhood obesity, tooth decay and chronic disease in children, understanding more about foods that have outstanding health benefits is beneficial. Eating fish regularly has been long regarded as important for our development, health and well-being by a whole host of experts.

The importance of fish in our diet has a long history and has been widely researched. Fish is highly nutrient dense and an excellent source of high quality protein, but the omega-3 fatty acid content draws most attention.  Omega-3 fatty acids are a kind of fat which is essential for optimal health. The right types of fats are important for the body and with the human brain being 60% fat (with one-third coming from essential fats) it’s important we aren’t deprived of these nutrients. This is especially true for growing children.  

Our modern diet can often be low or deficit in omega-3 fatty acids and higher in omega-6 which is found in vegetable oils, meat, cereals and wheat. The omega-3 fats make hormone-like substances, which can support brain function, learning ability, co-ordination and mood. They can also help blood cholesterol levels, improve immunity, support metabolism, maintain water balance and reduce inflammatory pathways. Oily fish provides a direct source to the body that does not require any conversion so can be readily utilised by the body.

Not all fish can be considered equal in their nutrient content and potential benefits. Those fish with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids include: herring, mackerel, sardines, pilchards and salmon. Medium levels include: tuna (Bluefin), bass, whiting and lower levels can be found in cod, haddock, halibut and trout. Aiming for 2-3 portions a week is recommended in the UK.

Fresh, wild fish contains greater nutrient levels versus tinned or intensively farmed fish and UK advice recommends we limit the amount of tuna we eat due to potential exposure to mercury. Take a look at the Food Standards Agency for more detailed advice.

There are a number of signs and symptoms that can be linked to omega-3 fatty acid deficiency, which include:

  • Poor coordination
  • Hyperactivity and inattention
  • Slower cognition and learning difficulties
  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Fatigue
  • Dry or rough skin, dry hair or dandruff
  • Eczema and asthma – signs of allergy and inflammation
  • Sleep problems – getting to sleep and waking
  • Visual problems, including poor night vision and sensitivity to bright light

Many of the above signs are found commonly in dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD but anyone can present with them.

Often knowing what foods are better for children can be frustrating, especially if they are particularly picky eaters. Advice around this would be to continue to give them fish as it can take many tries before a child will eat something. Talk about its benefits and, if they are old enough, engage them in the kitchen to cook and prepare simple dishes. It can also be easier to prepare fish that has a mild flavour and delicate texture such as cod, haddock and hake before increasing flavour and texture with sardines, trout, mackerel and salmon. Consider the flavours individual children enjoy and use this when cooking, such as tomato based flavours or creamy dishes. Even giving it a name that appeals can be helpful such as ‘pink fish’. If, as a parent, you still struggle to establish regular fish consumption then good quality supplements could be considered.

Early years settings are well placed to promote fish consumption by talking about the importance of foods for development, reading stories about fish and singing songs. If your setting also feeds children, then ensuring unbuttered/unbreaded fish is regularly part of the menu is valuable and sharing your recipes with parents can also be helpful for those children who tend to refuse at home. Encouraging parents to model good practice at home will also be beneficial for all and support long-term health.

About the author

The Food Teacher, Katharine Tate,mefinal2015 has worked as a teacher and education consultant internationally in primary and secondary schools for over 20 years. Qualified as a registered nutritional therapist, Katharine, combines her unique education and nutrition expertise to offer schools, organisations and families advice, education programmes, practical workshops, and individual/family clinical consultations. Katharine also presents The Food Teacher show on UK Health Radio where she discusses the importance of food for health and wellbeing.

She has published 2 books: ‘Heat-Free & Healthy’ and the award-winning ‘No Kitchen Cookery for Primary Schools’. Look out for The Food Teacher at Food Festivals and events throughout the country during 2016.

For more information, visit her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter or email her at info@thefoodteacher.co.uk. You can also visit her website to find out more and subscribe to her newsletter.

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