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Ten ways to make your kids eat more fruits & veggies

I am a mother of a four year old girl who has been a picky eater since the time she ate her first morsel of solid food. Some days were a breeze, but some were bad and most were downright miserable. Being a doctor, I know how important healthy diet and nutrition is, but children are not born with the wisdom of the benefits of healthy eating. It is a gradual learning process, for both children and parents alike. We as parents are well aware of the snowball effect a bad diet can have on our bodies and lives.

Making your child eat a healthy meal can be perplexing and frustrating for many parents. I have met many parents who are petrified at the thought of meal times. I have seen friends shedding tears and lamenting about their children’s eating habits. I was overwrought when my daughter turned picky and gave me a tough time. Children also become anxious when they see or hear that they are the cause of stress in their parent’s life.

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Being on the edge or hyper does not work with handling kids especially those who are picky with their food. First we have to understand that it is a phase that children are going through and they will eventually overcome it with time, love and support from the parents. Giving up and yielding to our children’s demands is the common path we take most times and we feel frustrated and helpless when it comes to parenting.

However, We must try not being too hard on kids and reminding ourselves to enjoy their childhood with matching playfulness and optimism. I attained nirvana when I saw my picky eater improving tremendously over time. Let’s pause and ask ourselves this question: “Is it worth the effort to cajole, negotiate and bribe our children to try to eat healthy foods (including vegetables) or should we give in to their comfort foods (e.g. Milk, formula, Junk)?”

The answer is a definite “yes”. There are a million reasons why incorporating vegetables in your little one’s diet is so important, but if you are not sure yet then below are the four most compelling reasons for you to ensure that your child eats at least 5 servings of fruits & vegetables a day:

It Aids growth
Fruits and vegetables are packed with essential vitamins and minerals, fibre, photo chemicals which are vital for our growth.

Prevents obesity
We all love the look of chubby kids, we always hear “aww, aren’t they are just adorable cotton balls”. However, this is not healthy in the long run. Incidences of obesity has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the last 30 years. Obese youth are at a greater risk of cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. There is also an increased risk of suffering from pre-diabetes (a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk of developing of diabetes). They are prone to bone and joint problems, sleep apnoea and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem. A good intake of fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of obesity amongst children greatly.

Immunity boosters
Being absent from school is very common among children below the age of five due to recurrent illness, frequent visits to paediatricians and repeated courses of antibiotics begin to take a toll on the overall immunity of the children. Vegetables & fruits are natural immunity boosters. Children who consume 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day reduce the risk of catching infections from school.

Better digestion
One of the most difficult things as parents is to witness your kids suffering from pain and discomfort caused due to constipation. Children who are on a meat based diet with very low or no servings of fruits and vegetables are more likely to suffer from irregular bowel movement as compared to children who eat a good amount of fruits and vegetables. By increasing their intake it could reduce constipation and irregular bowel movements significantly

I hope you are convinced. If yes, then here are the ten simple ways to incorporate fruits & vegetables in your child’s diet

1. Try similar foods
Try to be slow and consistent when introducing new food in your child’s diet plan. While introducing a new fruit or vegetable, try something that tastes or looks similar to what your child likes. E.g.Sweet potato fries instead of French fries. Instead of crackers, try whole wheat or multi-grain versions Whole wheat pizzas with a variety of vegetable toppings instead of regular pizza. Do not force, terrorise or threaten children to empty their plates, this will eventually lead to eating disorders in children as they will associate meal times with negativity.

2. Eating at home helps
Planning meals ahead of time and eating more often at home helps a lot. Resorting to restaurant food and ready to eat meals is a no brainer but the serving size is typically several times more than a healthy serving at home. According to research, a restaurant meal often contains 18 percent more calories than home cooked food. Do not visit fast food joints which entice children with toys. This leads to impulse eating amongst them.

3. Take Lead
As an adult, set an example yourself for your little ones to emulate. Stop eating foods that you don’t want your kids to eat. If you are not the primary caregiver of your child, instruct and educate your nannies to serve only healthy foods to your little ones. De-clutter your kitchen of all the junk food, discard the energy drinks from the fridge, and get rid of all the mouth-watering bakery items, chocolates and crisps from the cupboards. Simply refuse to visit your favourite bakeries and dessert joints. Fostering healthy eating habits from early childhood is gratifying. However, there is no harm in treating your child once in a week with a small portion of their favourite foods.

4. Variety is the spice of life
Kids get weary and bored of eating the same food again and again. Introduce a “Rainbow Variety” of fruits and vegetables and ensure you don’t repeat the same food in two consecutive meals. Making a schedule and charting out the meal plan in advance is essential so that we don’t resort to unplanned treats. Planning the previous night for the next day is elementary in reducing the stress in the kitchen. Make a repertory of foods that the child likes and repeating it every week is worthwhile.

5. Sneak in vegetables in their regular diets
Incorporate vegetable purees to pasta sauces, add vegetables to their pilaf’s, dish out stuffed parathas, include a variety of vegetables like carrots, sweet potato, beet root and fruits like strawberry, banana etc. in their cakes and muffins.

6. Introduce rewards
Record every successful intake of vegetables in a reward chart and encourage every small victory with a prize (e.g stickers, bubble mixtures, finger paints, water colours, a new book or toy).

7. Role Play
Young kids love “pretend play”. Why not encourage them to become chefs for some time, run restaurants, cafe and supermarkets where they can serve healthy snacks.

8. Increase engagement & participation
In a safe environment, involve older children while cooking meals. Involve younger children making shopping lists and lead in grocery shopping. In this way you are helping them to learn to differentiate between good produce and unhealthy stuff. Stay away from the aisles selling candies, cakes, crisps, juices etc. Growing herbs & vegetables in your backyard and involving your child in gardening it can go a long way in encouraging your child to eat healthy produce.

9. Creative presentation leading to fun mealtimes
Making meal times a fun filled activity goes a long way in promoting healthy eating. Replicate the presentation of restaurant food at home. Children are enticed by creative plating of food. Creating their favourite characters like teddy’s, dinosaurs, cars with fruits and vegetables is time consuming, but worth the effort. Arrange play dates and picnics with other parents and provide healthy menus with vegetables as salads and soups.

10. Creative storytelling
“Talk” to your children about vegetables. Discuss its benefits. Girls from a very tender age become aware of their looks and admire all forms of beauty. Their world revolves around fairies, princesses & magic. Why not tell them an interesting story that eating vegetables will make them healthy and beautiful (e.g. Carrots are good for vision, spinach and green leafy vegetables for long hair etc.) Boys are packed with energy and talk to them about their superheroes eating healthy vegetables to stay strong. Why not create your own character for your kids? A “MangoMan” or “Princess of Brocolli” is not a bad thing if it gets your kids to think of veggies in a positive way.

There are no pre-set rules for healthy parenting. It is a journey which we all need to undertake. There will be days filled with joy and some with difficulties. Let’s try to give the best we can to our children.

All the best!

The Best Whole Grain for Weight Loss

Take almost any breakfast, lunch or dinner a grain will be the main ingredient of it. Take any food recipe and you will have a grain or grain powder as the critical ingredient. It is probably clear that the grain is the most consumed food item in the world and will remain so for at least next few decades. Given this lion’s share in our plates, we must think about which of these grains are actually best for us when it comes to achieving natural weight loss. This article is going to do exactly that – a fact finding mission to discover the best grain for weight loss. Read on if you love to know it.

Why do we eat so much grain anyway?

The grains make up the major portion of our plate is not by accident but actually it fulfils a critical purpose – To provide us with abundance of energy which we need everyday. It also provides this mainly through the rich carbohydrates content which is the most easiest to digest of all macro nutrients. Hence most grains will have high carbohydrate content in them. The differences start with other two major macro nutrients – protein and fibre. These are required in relatively lesser quantities but grains rich in them are typically considered better grains. Fats are the last of the macro nutrient which are present in even lesser quantities.

How does a good grain help in weight loss?

This is the big question, is’nt it? So let us look at how a good whole grain help us in achieveing natural weight loss? A good grain simply make us feel fuller for longer periods and hence reduce the amount of food we take. This will eventually lead to us eating less (junk) foods which will help reduce amount of calories we take everyday. This is probably the easiest way to reduce weight. If you combine a good grain with nice dose of fruits, veggies & nuts and some decent physical activity then you will surely see amazing results in four to six weeks.

So what makes a good whole grain?

Grains have a purpose – to provide us with good does of energy and most of them do it well. However, good grains will make it harder to digest the food and hence help us feel fuller for longer. This is possible mainly with a better quality of carbohydrates and higher quantity and quality of fibre and  protein in them.

In very simple terms it is the amount of fibre, protein and complex carbohydrates which determine how effective will the grain be in keeping us feel fuller for longer and stop our craving to eat more. So this enable us to eat less and achieve weight loss

The Comparison

This article will look at top 12 grains based on its macro nutrient content and other essential factors and try to score them. Here we will be comparing uncooked, raw wholegrains (or wholegrain powder) instead of their processed versions to ensure that the comparison is fair. The grains that we will be looking at are as below (sorry, if you eat something outside of the list but do pass it on and we will check and include it if possible). Please note that oat bran is techinically not a whole grain but actually a by-product produced when processing whole oat grains into more refined ones.

  1. Barley
  2. Brown Rice
  3. Buckwheat
  4. Corn
  5. Millet
  6. Oat Bran
  7. Oats
  8. Quinoa
  9. Rye
  10. Sorgrum
  11. Teff
  12. Wholewheat Floor

Macro Nutrients

As all grains that we have considered for comparison are raw unprocessed grains most of these have complex carbohydrates but we will be looking at their Glycemic Load which is a good indicator of how easy it is for the body to digest the food. Lower the number less easier to digest the food and hence better the food for weight loss.

Typically, the protein present in most vegan foods is of poor quality and hence a measure of quality of protein present in these grains would be a good measure of the grain. Fibres are differentiated as soluble and insoluble fibre but both are important for the body. Fibre helps us in many ways one of which is achieving natural weight loss as they make us feel fuller and reduce our need to eat more.

Most grains do not have much fat in them and those which do have do not have the (really bad) trans fats and (not so good) saturated fat in them. So let us look at the numbers, the winner and the reason.

Grains Calories Carbs GL Protein Protein Quality Fibre Fat ND Score Total Score
Oat Bran

246

66

16

17

86

15

7

56

243

Rye

335

70

33

15

80

15

3

47

214

Whole wheat Floor

339

73

36

14

54

12

2

48

207

Oats (Rolled)

379

69

39

13

95

10

7

42

201

Buckwheat

343

71

37

13

99

10

3

41

201

Quinoa

368

64

36

14

106

7

6

45

201

Barley

352

78

40

10

73

16

1

36

198

Teff

367

73

43

13

55

8

2

48

195

Millet

378

73

44

11

38

8

4

37

182

Corn

86

19

7

3

83

3

1

57

175

Brown Rice

370

77

53

8

75

4

3

32

169

Sorghum

339

75

47

11

40

6

3

25

166

Source: nutritiondata.self.com (all nutritent data in grams. For more click on the name links of each grain. GL – Glycemic Load, ND Score – Nutritional Data Completeness Score).

The best Grain in the world is..

Oat Bran

The Awesome Oat Bran

Oat Bran comes out the winner by a distance. If you look at the table, you can see that even though rolled oats is a version of oats it is nowhere close to oat bran at the finish line. While it is easily available in the most parts of the world, it is not as famous and readily available as rolled oats. So next time you go shopping make sure you ask for one of these.

While Rye and Wholewheat does take the distant second and third spots they are gluten based products. Given that there is a lot of research recommending reducing or removing gluten from our plates I would not be recommend them (or even barley). Given this, my top picks are Oats Bran, Buckwheat and Quinoa but it does not mean that the other grains are bad or not worth consuming. We can consume most of the above grains but point to note is that most grains get cooked and the impact of cooking will adversely affect grain nutrition and typically result in significant reduction in fibre and protein content.

Based on the comparison, the top picks are Oats Bran, Buckwheat and Quinoa. However, it does not mean that the other grains are not worth consuming.

I did look into the micro nutrient profile of the grains and it was as impressive as macro nutrients esp. for their vitamin content. Most of the grains did not have any vitamins in significant proportion and hence I thought it was not worth the effort to post it online (However you can download excel version of all the data and scoring here). The grains did have some decent amount of minerals in them and below is how each stack up.

Grains

Ca

Fe

Mg

Ph

K

Na

Zn

Cu

Mn

Barley

29

2.5

79

221

280

9

2.1

0.4

1.3

Brown Rice

23

1.5

143

333

223

7

2

0.3

3.7

Buckwheat

18

2.2

231

347

460

1

2.4

1.1

1.3

Corn

2

0.5

37

89

270

15

0.5

0.1

0.2

Millet

8

4

114

285

195

5

1.7

0.7

1.6

Oat Bran

58

5.4

235

734

566

4.1

3.1

0.4

5.6

Oats (Rolled)

52

4.3

138

410

362

6

3.6

0.4

3.6

Quinoa

47

4.6

197

457

563

5

3.1

0.6

2

Rye

33

2.7

121

374

268

6

3.7

0.5

2.7

Sorghum

28

4.4

0

287

350

6

0

0

0

Teff

180

7.6

184

429

427

12

3.6

0.8

9.2

Wholewheat Floor

34

3.9

138

346

405

5

2.9

0.4

3.8

Source: nutritiondata.self.com ( All mineral are denoted by respective periodic table symbols & all nutritent data in milligrams. For more click on the name links of each grain in the above table.)

Verdict

Grains currently take up the elephant’s share in our plate. The best grains are whole grains with reduced glycemic load and very good dose of protein and fibre. Such whole grains help us feel fuller for longer and reduce our craving to eating more and indirectly and naturally help in excess weight loss. Oat Bran, Buckwheat and Quinoa came out as the best grains in the comparison.

However, grains are not the best source for micronutrients primarily vitamins and hence there are number of studies which suggest reducing the amount of grain intake and increase vegetable portion in our plates. Vegetables not only provide us with all essential macro nutrients, they are also much richer source of micronutrients i.e. vitamins and minerals. Given that most of them have lesser calories we can in fact consume more of them. The main thing we need to do is to eat a variety of vegetables and fruits each day.

How to judge the goodness of a food?

Few weeks back I was having an interesting argument with my wife on which is a better fruit? The apple or the banana? She had a bunch of numbers on banana and I had a bunch on apple and we ended up with a classic problem of comparison and I remembered the old saying – “One cannot compare apples with oranges” (in this case bananas). There are so many nutrients that a healthy body needs so it is not easy to conclude which is important & which one is not. This argument threw a larger question in my mind – How can we can decide on the quality of the foods we eat? or how to judge the goodness of a food? based on what?

This set me out for the next few weeks in nomadic search for answers in books and of course the internet. I looked at many places and it took a while before I could find answers which broadly satisfied me. While there was always an inner debate as what are the parameters I should choose, I was able to list four items for now. I narrowed down the list based on criticality of the role played by the nutrient and the availability of the same in our foods. I believe this list will evolve with time but for now I want these listed for you to see.

Pomegranates & kiwi fruits on a white plate

The Fibre content in the foods we eat is a very important and an essential nutrient for our body. It helps in lowering the blood cholesterol level and also reduces the absorption of sugar. It also helps us feel fuller for longer time reduce our craving to eat more. It is also helpful in having regular bowel moment. So in short, more fibre rich foods you eat better it is for you. The good part is that most of the vegetables and fruits have a good amount of fibre but if you are keen on the best fibre rich foods out there then here is a list of foods which are rich in Fibre.

Antioxidants is the other factor which is very important for us as it helps reduce the ill effects of a crucial process called oxidation. Oxidation results in the release of villains called the Free Radicals. These free radicals are independent but unstable chemicals which could set off a series of chain reactions (the state called “oxidative stress”) eventually leading to damage or death of the cell. Antioxidants are our saviours in fighting these free radicals. Antioxidants immediately stop the oxidation process in the cell by removing the free radicals. Oxidative stress has been associated to many problems and diseases and hence foods which have a good amount of antioxidants are considered priceless for human health. Here is a list of foods rich in antioxidants.

Until recently Fat was considered a big bad word without exception. However, lot of research has been able to distinguish the Good fat from the bad fat. The saturated fat has continued to maintain its tag of “bad fat”(we could still eat it in moderation) but Trans fat is a big No-No and you have to find a way to completely avoid it. To make the matter worse, this bloody trans fat might probably be in your favorite cookies, donuts and so many other processed foods.

On the other hand, both monounsaturated fatty acids  and polyunsaturated fatty acids is considered to be very good for our body. Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in nuts and in the likes of Olive oil and healthy for the heart. The polyunsaturated fatty acids are of two types – Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids. Both are good for our health but Omega 3 is much more important and also we get a lot of Omega 6 but not so much of Omega 3.

Lets get to know Omega 3 better. Well, to start with there are 3 types of Omega 3 fatty acids – ALA, EPA and DHA and simply put we need DHA the most. ALA variant can be sourced from many plant-based options prominent being the Flaxseed. Our the body can convert the ALA variant it gets in to the DHA variant but it doesn’t do a good job of it and it gets worse as we age. For EPA and DHA, the primary source is the sea based algae and hence vegans and vegetarians will struggle to get it from their usual sources (non-vegetarians tend to get this from fish and salmon but these sources could have its bad influence on our health because of other undesirable ingredients). So given the importance of DHA variant of Omega 3 fatty acids for the body it is advisable to go for a natural vegan supplement to be consumed regularly.

Lastly I think Glycemic Index & Glycemic Load are too important a factor not to consider. Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure of every food we eat which indicates the amount of raise it causes in our blood sugar (or blood glucose) levels. Higher the raise in blood sugar from a food, higher is its GI. When the blood sugar levels rise above normal, the body produce a hormone called Insulin to bring the sugar levels back to normal. The sugar that we consume on a daily basis is considered standard and has a value of 100. All others foods will have a lower value and this will range from 50 to 100. Higher the value, more glycemic the food is. It is worth noting that, unlike in schools where 100 is seen the perfect score to get, here it means it is bad for our body in most cases (except when we are in bad need of energy very quickly).

Glycemic Load (GL) is actually a better measure of the impact on the blood sugar as GI doesn’t take into account of the portion size of the food we take. So basically, GL of the food is derived by multiplying it’s GI with the Carbs it provides for a given portion size. So for example, Watermelon has a GI of 120 but a GL of 4 (for 120 grams) and on the other hand dried dates has a GI of 60 and a GL of 42 (for 60 grams). Here is a list of commonly eaten foods and its GI and GL for a given portion size.

Why GI and GL are important? Well, to put it crudely, if the blood sugar levels keep increasing regularly to very high levels and if this happens for a relatively long period then this could lead to a health condition called Diabetes. So, we should try to eat as foods with lower GI as much as possible.

 

Conclusion

So there you are. Fibre, antioxidants, good fat (esp. Omega 3 fatty acids) and Glycemic load are important aspects that should be considered when judging a food. Mind you not all foods score highly on all factors and as long as the foods you choose score highly on at least one factor (but doesn’t score too badly on others) then it is good enough. Mind you, this is not a definitive list as we still need to be mindful of nutrients like Protein, Vitamins & Minerals. If I do identify something which meets the above criteria then I will come back and update this article (for e.g. vitamin B12 might be able to make it to the list on its own). However, for now, the above gives you an idea and hence should help you to rethink on what you are eating right now and what positive changes you can bring to your diet.

 

Thanks you note

Thanks for reading this article and I am greatful for it. I would very much appreciate if you could let me know your views on this article. If you like this article please press the like button and share it with your friends and family. Let us do our bit to make a healthier and happier place.

Eating Uncooked Oatmeal Vs Cooked Oatmeal

Cooking as we know has been the essense of food prepration as it enables richer blending of ingredients and brings in much needed taste to it. However research conducted in last few decades has shown the ill effects of cooking on nutritional value of the food we eat. Cooking alters the structure of the ingredients and hence in most cases reduce its nutritious value. In the same lines, there is lot of curiosity out there to know the benefits of uncooked oatmeal as oppose to cooked oatmeal and this article explores the same (and why not know the comprehensive benefits of oatmeal in the first place) .



Uncooked Oatmeal Vs Cooked Oatmeal Comparison

We only have data available for 100 grams of each cooked and uncooked oat bran. As the cooked oatmeal have significant amount of water in it, it skews the comparison proportionately. The difference is such that cooked oatmeal food displays lower numbers for every element as water contributes to make up good chunk of 100 grams of sample being considered. Below comparison hence should be taken into consideration with this point in mind. The comparison has been broken down by type of elements i.e. proximates, minerals and vitamins.

Prioximates

Element Unit Cooked Oat Bran Uncooked Oat Bran
Energy kcal 40 246
Carbohydrate g 11.4 66.2
Protein g 3.21 17.3
Fibre g 2.6 15.4
Fat g 0.86 7.03

 

Minerals

Element Unit Cooked Oat Bran Uncooked Oat Bran
Calcium mg 10 58
Iron mg 0.88 5.41
Phosphorus mg 119 734
Potassium mg 92 566
Magnesium mg 40 235

 

Vitamins

Element Unit Cooked Oat Bran Uncooked Oat Bran
Thiamin mg 0.16 1.17
Riboflavin mg 0.034 0.22
Niacin mg 0.144 0.934
Vitamin B-6 mg 0.025 0.165
Vitamin E mg 0.0 1.01

 

Verdict

Though this comparison easily gives an impression that uncooked oatmeal is the way to go as it has higher portion of every nutrient. For example, there is around 50% reduction in fibre and protein content of oat bran which is really bad. The effect of cooking is not limited to oat bran but to most grains and food items.  Having said that, eating raw grains is not for everyone but the bottomline is we should avoid cooking food as much as possible. We can certainly help ourselves by using other means to make grains digestable like soaking or steam cooking instead of cooking or worse pressure cooking it. The real challenge most of us face is that we find it hard to compromise with taste even when there is huge health benefits.  Those of us who can over come this challenge can find it easier to be healthy.

 

References

USDA – Uncooked dry Oat Bran

USDA – Cooked Oat Bran