Archive for the ‘Nutrients’ Category

We are rounding out this series with Vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitaminthat plays a starring role in blood clotting. Clotting is important—it helps bleeding stop. In fact, Vitamin K is responsible for producing 4 of the 13 proteins required for blood clotting.

Dark green, leafy vegetables are a good source of Vitamin K

Vitamin K also helps make other proteins in the body that are important for blood, bone and kidney health. Research indicates that low levels of Vitamin K in the blood are associated with low bone density in adults. Since childhood is the “bone building” period of life, it makes sense to pay attention to Vitamin K.

Additionally, like Vitamin D, our bodies can produce Vitamin K on its own. Vitamin K is made from certain bacteria in your intestines. Prolonged or frequent use of antibiotics may destroy the bacteria-producing Vitamin K in the gut, so we also rely on food sources to assure adequate intake of Vitamin K.

How much do kids need?

Why do babies get an injection of Vitamin K at birth? Vitamin K is poorly transported across the placenta, so babies are at increased risk for Vitamin K deficiency and excessive bleeding.

The levels for optimal Vitamin K intake are set as Adequate Intakes (AI). No adverse effects have been reported for intakes above the AI, and there is no Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) established, however, avoiding excessive intake of Vitamin K (ie, from supplements) is advised.

Adequate Intakes for Children:

0-6 months: 2.0 micrograms/day

7-12 months: 2.5 micrograms/day

1-3 years: 30 micrograms/day

4-8 years: 55 micrograms/day

Boys & Girls, 9-13 years: 60 micrograms/day

Boys & Girls, 14-18 years: 75 micrograms/day

Adapted from the Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference Intakes

Where can we find Vitamin K in food?

Collards, spinach and dark salad greens are the highest sources, with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and bib lettuce containing moderate amounts of Vitamin K. Plant oils (soybean, canola, olive, corn) and margarine are good sources as well. Wow, can you imagine sautéing collard greens or spinach in canola oil—a Vitamin K power-punch!

What if you don’t get enough?

Vitamin K deficiency is extremely rare in the generally healthy population; those who are deficient tend to have problems with gastro-intestinal function or have taken medications known to interfere with Vitamin K metabolism.

The Take-Away Message:

  • It is unlikely that healthy children will experience a deficiency of Vitamin K.
  • A varied diet including green leafy vegetables and plant oils are your best bet for maintaining normal clotting, bone health and Vitamin K status in your child.
  • Do you need extra Vitamin K from a supplement? Probably not.
  • If used, will a multivitamin supplement be excessive in Vitamin K? Probably not.

Thanks for reading our Alphabet Soup series!


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Guest blogger and registered dietitian, Katherine Fowler, shares her wisdom about whole grains for us this week.

Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN

Can you identify whole grains?  More importantly, are you getting enough of them?  The world of whole grains is not easy to navigate.  Claims on packaging can be confusing and misleading.  No need to worry!   The answers to your questions can be found here.

What exactly is a whole grain?

All grains actually start out as whole grains.  The original grain consists of three parts: 

  • Bran:  Outer shell containing phytochemicals, B vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber
  • Endosperm:  Inner portion containing proteins, carbohydrates and B vitamins
  • Germ:  Inner core containing B vitamins, vitamin E, unsaturated fat, phytochemicals, and antioxidants

According to the Whole Grains Council, whole grains contain all three parts along with their nutrients after processing. It is believed that the fiber, vitamins, minerals and other substances contained in whole grains work together to provide maximum health benefits.

The making of white bread (many kids’ favorite!) involves processing the whole grain, removing (or “stripping”) the bran, germ and key nutrients, including much of the fiber.

Why go for whole grains?

Research shows that eating whole grains everyday can help reduce the risk for heart disease and diabetes, and may normalize blood glucose levels, lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure, and decrease risk for some cancers.   Whole grains add texture and flavor to foods and may help you feel fuller between meals, promoting a healthy weight.

How much whole grain is enough?

In a study published in the February 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers reported young people ages 15 to 23 are consuming less than 1 serving of whole grains per day!

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that most Americans make half of their grains whole, or have at least three servings of whole grains daily.  Sixteen or more grams of whole grain ingredients equals a full serving.

Note:  Recommendations for whole grains are different than recommendations for grams of dietary fiber.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 0.5 grams of fiber for every kilogram (2.2#) of body weight for children ages 2 and older.  Adding 5 grams to a child’s age is an easy and accurate way to determine minimum daily fiber needs. 

The Dietary Guidelines define a serving of whole grain as:

  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice, whole grain pasta or other whole grain
  • 1/2 cup cooked whole grain cereal

    The Whole Grain Stamp

  • 1 slice 100% whole grain bread
  • 1 small (1 oz.) 100% whole grain muffin
  • 1 cup 100% whole grain ready-to-eat cereal

For more on the age-specific, minimum serving requirements for whole grains, click here.

How do you know if it’s whole?

Many products contain whole grain and refined flour, so recognizing good sources is not clear-cut.  These tips will help you evaluate products:

1. Look for the Whole Grain Stamp, a symbol now on hundreds of packages.  The 100% Whole Grain Stamp identifies products that are 100% whole grain while the basic Whole Grain Stamp appears on products containing at least half a serving of whole grain.

2. Check the package label.  Many whole grain products do not bear a stamp. Some list grams of whole grain on the package, or label a product as “100% whole grain.”  Be skeptical if you see phrases like “made with whole grain” or if the word “whole” is not used.

3. Focus on the ingredient list.  If a whole grain is listed in the first few ingredients, the product is a good source of whole grain.  If enriched wheat flour, or white flour appears at the beginning of the list, it is not a good source.

A product containing some whole grain is better than one made solely from refined flour.  Some whole grains are better than none!

Cooking Light has done the homework for you and determined whether popular products are whole grain or not.  Click here to see if your favorites pass the test.

What about white wheat?

For those that prefer the taste and texture of white bread, select white whole wheat bread. White whole wheat bread is made with white wheat, a variety of wheat that is lighter in color and texture.  It offers the same benefits of traditional red wheat.  Remember, if the label doesn’t say “whole” white wheat, it isn’t a whole grain product.

A word on fiber

A high fiber food does not imply a food is whole grain.  Different grains naturally contain various amounts of fiber.  Food companies have started to add isolated fibers such as inulin, maltodextrin, and polydextrose to their products that increase fiber content, however, they do not provide the same health benefits of whole grains.

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This year’s National Nutrition Month’s theme, Eat Right With Color, suggests eating a variety of colorful foods promotes good nutrition and health.  Vitamin E, found in foods of countless colors, is featured in this part of the Alphabet Soup Vitamin Series.

When vitamin E was discovered in 1922, it was called the “fertility vitamin.”  Researchers found that lab rats fed a diet deficient in vitamin E became sterile and only regained their fertility after consuming vitamin E.  A few years after its discovery, vitamin E was scientifically named tocopherol from the Greek word tokos meaning childbirth, and phero meaning to bring forth, defining its role as an essential dietary substance in normal fetal development.  Interesting, huh?

Even though its name makes it sound like a single substance, vitamin E is actually a family of essential vitamins that include both tocopherols and tocotrienols.  Naturally occurring vitamin E exists in eight chemical forms that have varying levels of biological activity.  Alpha-tocopherol is the only form that is recognized to meet human requirements.  Vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient, meaning it needs to be consumed with fat to be properly absorbed.

What does Vitamin E do?

It works as an antioxidant in the body protecting cell membranes from free radicals that damage cells and which have been linked to the onset of premature aging, cancer, cataracts, and many degenerative diseases.  Furthermore, vitamin E protects the skin from ultraviolet radiation and has been shown to aid the immune system, helping to prevent infections.

Inadequate vitamin E can cause neurological problems and anemia.  Deficiency is rare in humans, however, it is seen in people who cannot absorb dietary fat, has been found in premature, very low birth weight infants and occurs in those with rare disorders of fat metabolism.

So how much Vitamin E do children need?

The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for children are:

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Vitamin E (Alpha-Tocopherol) **

Age Males Females Pregnancy Lactation
0-6 months* 4 mg
(6 IU)
4 mg
(6 IU)
7-12 months* 5 mg
(7.5 IU)
5 mg
(7.5 IU)
1-3 years 6 mg
(9 IU)
6 mg
(9 IU)
4-8 years 7 mg
(10.4 IU)
7 mg
(10.4 IU)
9-13 years 11 mg
(16.4 IU)
11 mg
(16.4 IU)
14+ years 15 mg
(22.4 IU)
15 mg
(22.4 IU)
15 mg
(22.4 IU)
19 mg
(28.4 IU)

*Adequate Intake (AI)

**Adapted from The NIH Office of Dietary Supplements

What foods are good sources?

Wheat germ oil is the most abundant source of vitamin E; other sources include nuts, broccoli, peaches, salad dressings, and whole grain cereals just to name a few.  Did you know that eating just 1 cup of raisin bran with 1 ounce of almonds meets 100% of the Daily Value for an adult or child 4 years of age and older?  Have a look at the facts about a few foods that contain E:

Selected Food Sources of Vitamin E (Alpha-Tocopherol) *

Food Milligrams (mg)
per serving
Percent Daily Value (DV)
Wheat germ oil, 1 tablespoon 20.3 100
Almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce 7.4 40
Sunflower seeds, dry roasted, 1 ounce 6.0 30
Sunflower oil, 1 tablespoon 5.6 28
Safflower oil, 1 tablespoon 4.6 25
Hazelnuts, dry roasted, 1 ounce 4.3 22
Peanut butter, 2 tablespoons 2.9 15
Peanuts, dry roasted, 1 ounce 2.2 11
Corn oil, 1 tablespoon 1.9 10
Spinach, boiled, ½ cup 1.9 10
Broccoli, chopped, boiled, ½ cup 1.2 6
Soybean oil, 1 tablespoon 1.1 6
Kiwifruit, 1 medium 1.1 6
Mango, sliced, ½ cup 0.9 5
Tomato, raw, 1 medium 0.8 4
Spinach, raw, 1 cup 0.6 4

*Adapted from The NIH Office of Dietary Supplements

Research shows no toxicity from consuming vitamin E in food alone, however, supplements taken in very high doses have been proven to have toxic effects such as hemorrhaging.  The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for Vitamin E applies to supplemental vitamin E only, so unless a child is taking vitamin E supplements, there is no need to worry about them getting too much vitamin E from food.  Check out the ULs for Vitamin E for children:

Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (ULs) for Vitamin E*

Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
1-3 years 200 mg
(300 IU)
200 mg
(300 IU)
4-8 years 300 mg
(450 IU)
300 mg
(450 IU)
9-13 years 600 mg
(900 IU)
600 mg
(900 IU)
14-18 years 800 mg
(1,200 IU)
800 mg
(1,200 IU)
800 mg
(1,200 IU)
800 mg
(1,200 IU

*Adapted from The NIH Office of Dietary Supplements

This National Nutrition Month, Eat Right With Color and savor foods rich in vitamin E!

Contributing Author:  Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN

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Vitamin D is making headlines once again, with yet another update to daily requirements.  As part of our Alphabet Soup Vitamin series, we attempt to sort out the ins and outs of Vitamin D for you.

What Does D Do? Vitamin D’s main job is to maintain normal levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood, which are important for bone growth and maintenance.  Vitamin D may also play a role in providing protection from osteoporosis, hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer, and several autoimmune diseases.

The Downside of D-ficiency: Rickets occurs with vitamin D deficiency in children, causing bone malformations and bowed legs. A host of other problems have been linked to Vitamin D deficiency in children, as well.  If you are exclusively breastfeeding your infant, supplementation of Vitamin D is needed due to low levels in breast milk.

Can There Be Too Much D? Vitamin D is fat-soluble, and therefore stored in the body.  Toxicity is possible, and can lead to serious problems such as hypercalcemia, lung, heart, and kidney problems.  Intake should not exceed 1,000-4,000 IU per day, depending on the age of the child.

The D Diagnosis: A blood test can identify vitamin D deficiency.  Infants and children should be screened for deficiency if they have: poor growth, gross motor delays, exclusively breastfed, unusual irritability, dark pigmented skin, presence of Vitamin D lowering medications, mal-absorption syndromes or inflammatory bowel diseases, frequent fractures, low bone mineral density, obesity, low intake of vitamin D-rich foods, limited sun exposure, and high altitude residences.

The D Double-take: Often known as the “sunshine” vitamin, about 90% is made by the body when skin is exposed to UVB rays from sunlight.  Experts believe that as little as 10-15 minutes in the sun three times a week is sufficient to meet needs.  The other 10% comes from food, which is made easier with Vitamin D fortified products.

Getting D in your Diet: Oily fish, such as tuna, mackerel, sardines, salmon, and cod liver oil are great naturally rich sources of Vitamin D.  Enhanced and fortified foods include eggs, milk, orange juice, and cereal.  Just be sure that the packaging indicates that vitamin D has been added. Fortified milk is the main source of vitamin D for Americans.  Shoot for 3-a-Day of dairy products (this little tracker will help you) and a variety of sources.

So, How Much D a Day? Adequate levels of intake for infants are 400 IU/day with a maximum of 1,000 IU/day for infants 0-6 months of age and 1,500 IU/day in infants 6-12 months of age.  Children and teens 1-20 years of age should get between 400 and 600 IU/day.  Check out the newest report from the Institute of Medicine.

Vitamin D is crucial for any growing child.  Whether it’s the sunshine of your active life, or your family table, the benefits are the same.  Getting a mix of both is the best way to ensure your kids are covered.  Yet another reason to eat a good breakfast and spend more time playing outdoors!

Contributing Author:  Cami Ruark

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Winter is a great time of year to write a post about Vitamin C. As I write and fight my ‘going on 3 week’ winter cold (which has turned into a sinus infection…why do these illnesses hit at the most busy time of the year?!), I am reassessing the amount of Vitamin C I get in my diet.  Not only is this vitamin important for me, it’s important for my children too.  For many of us, Vitamin C is associated with preventing illness and boosting immunity.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear people saying, “Take Vitamin C for that cold!”.  But Vitamin C has other important roles within the body:  helping with the absorption of iron from foods, acting as a protector to cells, protecting the body from bruising, helping heal wounds and keep your gums healthy, and producing collagen (the connective tissue that holds everything together). Vitamin C should be consumed daily, as it is water-soluble and not stored by the body.

How much Vitamin C do children need?  The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) provides the following guidelines:

0-6 months: 40 mg/day

7-12 months: 50 mg/day

1-3 years: 15 mg/day

4-8 years: 25 mg/day

9-13 years: 45 mg/day

14-18 year males: 75 mg/day

14-18 year females: 65 mg/day

Large doses of Vitamin C, although not usually toxic, can cause some unpleasant side effects such as stomach upset, diarrhea, and kidney stones.  Vitamin and mineral supplements should always be used with caution, particularly with children. The safe upper limit for vitamin C in children varies by age and is lower than that recommended for adults (2000 mg/day).  Take caution when supplementing Vitamin C in children and avoid exceeding these limits:  1-3 years:  400 mg/day; 4-8 years:  650 mg/day; 9-13 years: 1200 mg/day; 14-18 years: 1800 mg/day.  The upper limit of Vitamin C in infants less than a year is undetermined.

Many people know that Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits!  It is also found in many other foods that can add additional vitamins, nutrients, and fiber to your child’s diet.  Broccoli actually has more vitamin C than grapefruit.  Red peppers, berries, melons, potatoes, papaya, guava, tomatoes, and green leafy vegetables are also great choices.  Pairing these Vitamin C-rich foods with other foods containing iron and folate, helps little bodies absorb them better.  This is good news, considering iron is the most common nutrient deficiency among children.  Parents should be aware of other sources of Vitamin C, such as beverages fortified with vitamins. Some of these drinks may not be appropriate for little ones, due to fortification.

The best way to ensure adequate vitamin C intake for your child is to get at least 5 a day of fruits and vegetables.  However, some benefits can be seen with just one serving a day.  Choosing natural whole food sources over fortified foods and beverages is best.

Contributing Author:  Cami Ruark

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Snacking is a normal and necessary, if not unavoidable, part of any child’s day.  Whether you are a fellow foodie, a concerned consumer, a proactive parent, or just a health happy nutrition nut, our new series is right up your alley.  “Consumer Corner” is not only an objective review of new and existing products geared toward children, but also an interesting and enlightening account of how products are made and what constitutes them.  The purpose is not to promote or demote any brand or type of food, but instead to give you the tools you need to make your own informed decisions about food purchases.  (Think of us as Switzerland!)  We hope it will take some of the guesswork out of grocery shopping on your life-long journey of healthy eating.

Popchips, Inc. was founded in California in 2007.  What are Popchips?  They are a new innovation in snack chips.  They are not baked, they are not fried, they are…..wait for it…..popped!  It happens using a little heat and pressure on pieces of potato the size of grains of rice or corn kernels.  (This simply couldn’t happen with the bigger slices of traditional chips)

Nutrition Facts: (1 oz./20 chips)

  • Calories- 120
  • Total Fat- 4g
  • Saturated Fat- 0 to 0.5g
  • Trans Fat- 0g
  • Sodium- 250 to 310mg

What’s In?

  • All-natural
  • Blend of seasonings
  • Safflower and/or sunflower oil for seasoning 
  • A little more sodium than traditional fried chips
  • Vegan- original, sea salt & vinegar, and salt & pepper only
  • Allergens:
    • Nuts- none
    • Dairy- Barbeque, Sour Cream & Onion, and Cheddar only
    • Gluten/Wheat- not an ingredient, but present in the processing facility
    • Soy lecithin- Parmesan Garlic only
  • Kosher (certified by kof-k kosher supervision)
  • Acrylamide (found in all fried, baked, and roasted products)

What’s Out?

  • Not Organic
  • Non-GMO
  • Half the total fat of fried chips
  • Zero grams trans fat
  • Low saturated fat
  • No cholesterol
  • No hydrogenated oils
  • No artificial colors or flavors
  • No preservatives (this makes proper storage more important to freshness)
  • No MSG
  • Low in sugar

What are the Options?

  • Original potato
  • Barbeque potato
  • Sour Cream & Onion potato
  • Cheddar potato
  • Sea Salt & Vinegar potato
  • Salt & Pepper potato
  • Parmesan Garlic potato

Where are they found? Whole Foods, Safeway, Target, Wegman’s, Jamba Juice, and select Costco locations. You can also order them online.

My opinion, for what it’s worth: I tried the Barbeque and Cheddar flavors.  To me, the taste was similar to traditional fried potato chips of the same flavor, but without the greasy mess.  There is also an airy quality to the crunch.

If you would like to try them yourself, or just want more information, visit www.popchips.com.  Happy snacking!

*This is not an endorsement of any particular product–just an FYI (for your information).  If there are products that you would like us to review, please let us know by leaving a comment.  Or tell us about the products in “Consumer Corner” that you have tried.  In fact, feel free to comment on anything you would like!

Contributing Author:  Cami Ruark

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Welcome to “DE-Constructed”– a look at the nutrients found in common, popular kids’ foods.  This month we are looking at granola bars.  Sounds healthy, right?   And certainly a convenient, on the go snack! While some of these granola bars may be great options, others pay homage to the candy bar, packing a hefty dose of sugar and fat, and hiding under a “health halo”.  Just look at the packages: healthy, nature, fiber, TLC, organic. These claims lure me to the box too…for a closer look.

How is a parent supposed to know which to choose?  The Nutrition Facts Label and the ingredient list on each package can help guide your choices.  First, scour the nutrition facts label to check for sugar, fat, sodium, and fiber;  then turn over the package and look at the sources of these nutrients on the ingredient list.

We’ve done some of the work for you.  Check out these randomly selected, kid-oriented options:

Brand Calories Total Fat Sat. Fat Sugar Sodium Fiber Calcium
Nature Valley: Strawberry Yogurt 140 3.5 g 2 g 13 g 110 mg 1 g 200 mg
Quaker: Chewy Chocolate Chip 100 3 g 1.5 g 7 g 75 mg 1 g 80 mg
Kashi TLC: Chewy Trail Mix 140 5 g 0.5 g 5 g 105 mg 4 g 0 mg
Hershey’s: Reese’s Sweet & Salty with Peanuts 170 9 g 2.5 g 9 g 180 mg 2 g 0 mg
Kudo’s: Milk Chocolate Chip 120 3.5 g 2 g 11 g 70 mg 1 g 250 mg
Trader Joe’s: Chewy Peanut Crunch 130 2.5 g 0 g 12 g 150 mg 1 g 20 mg
Disney: Chewy Rainbow Chocolate Gems 120 4 g 1.5 g 9 g 105 mg 1 g 20 mg
Cascadian Farm: Organic Chewy Chocolate Chip 140 3 g 1 g 10 g 125 mg 1 g 0 mg
Fiber One: Chewy Oats & Chocolate 140 4 g 1.5 g 10 g 90 mg 9 g 100 mg
Special K: Strawberry 90 1.5 g 1 g 9 g 95 mg 0.5 g 0 mg
Nutri-grain: Strawberry 130 0.5 g 0.5 g 12 g 120 mg 2 g 200 mg

*Nutrition information obtained from www.calorieking.com.

Healthiest: We looked at overall qualities, but you may be focused on a single nutrient such as sugar or fiber. In that case, it’s easy to see how each granola bar fares in nutrient categories compared to its competitor.  Kashi TLC Chewy Trail Mix seems to be the overall best choice with low saturated fat, the least sugar, and a good amount of fiber.  Although its calorie content is on the higher side in comparison to the chart as a whole, it is still a reasonable amount for a snack. Pairing this granola bar with a 1/2 cup of milk would add protein and calcium to make it more nutritious, satisfying and filling.

If you are concerned with sugar content, aim for less than 9 gm per serving (a donut has 12 gm!);  for fiber, go for more than 2 gm per serving (5 gm per serving is considered a high fiber item); sodium a worry?  shoot for under 200 mg per serving.

Unhealthiest: Hershey’s Reeces Sweet & Salty with Peanuts seems to be the least healthy with the highest calorie, fat, and saturated fat content, along with moderate to high levels of sugar…but I bet it tastes good.

What are your criteria for choosing granola bars for your child?

Disclaimer: This is just a small representation of a single flavor from each of many popular brands on the market, not of all bars available.  Nutrient content may change with different flavor options within each brand.  The purpose of this chart is Nutrition Facts label education, and not specific brand recommendations.

Contributing Author:  Cami Ruark

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