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Round Out Your Child’s Plate

Help your kids thrive with these nutrition powerhouses.

Antioxidants Battle Disease

Antioxidant nutrients, including vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and the mineral selenium, receive a lot of attention for their potential to head off chronic conditions in adults, including cancer and heart disease. While their effects are still under study, experts regard antioxidants as the "superheroes" of nutrients.

Antioxidants battle the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are by-products of normal metabolism that also form when you're exposed to air pollution, cigarette smoke, and strong sunlight. As free radicals accumulate, they can damage DNA, the genetic blueprint for cell reproduction, as well as other cell parts.

While there's little research to back up the effects of antioxidants on a child's well-being, Ayoob and Rarback agree that you can't go wrong by offering children antioxidant-rich foods, such as whole grains and produce.

Brightly colored fruits and vegetables, including blueberries and other berries, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, cherries, and carrots are among the produce offering the most antioxidants.

Iron Is a Crucial Nutrient

Your child depends on iron to grow. Red blood cells need iron to ferry oxygen to every cell in the body. Iron also plays a role in brain development and function.

"Iron is so critical to brain development that the negative effects of a daily iron deficiency on cognition may be irreversible, even when the shortfall is small," Rarback says.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in America, affecting mostly older infants, young children, and women in their childbearing years. Small children are at risk because they grow so fast. Teenage girls and women must make up for monthly blood losses with iron-rich foods or dietary supplements. An iron deficiency can lead to anemia.

Both animal and plant foods provide iron. Animal products, such as meat, dark meat poultry, and seafood, supply heme iron, the form of iron the body absorbs the best. Plant foods, including spinach and legumes, supply nonheme iron. Nonheme iron is also the type of iron added to breads, cereals, pasta, rice, and fortified grains.

A steady supply of fortified grains can provide enough iron, even for those who don't eat meat and who should take a daily multivitamin with iron for safety's sake.

Also, "you can boost nonheme iron absorption by adding a source of vitamin C," Ayoob says. "Offer kids foods such as oranges, orange juice, tomatoes, kiwi, strawberries, or red bell pepper with each meal to make the most of nonheme iron."

Reviewed on December 02, 2012

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