Vitamin C

There are a long list of reasons that I start with vitamin C when we are talking about Nutrition & Wellness in children. I will cover the most important with this post. However, there is no doubt that vitamin C is a critical component of your child’s nutrition and the primary aim of this post is to develop a plan that will allow you to optimize your child’s diet as it applies to vitamin C.

Why vitamin C?

Anti-oxidant, anti-cancer… basically anti-anything bad

There is a wealth of information available about the beneficial effect of vitamin C as it relates to Nutrition & Wellness. It has been promoted as a cure for things are benign as the common cold to things more serious like cancer. I am not sure where the facts end and the myths begin. However there is no doubt that it is good for you. Try going without it and you will soon be afflicted with all kinds of very bad things (i.e. scurvy). On the other hand, take too much and essentially nothing bad happens.

Mineral promoter

When the body has everything that it needs for optimal function, disease and illness are uncommon and brief events. In western countries most children are overnourished, especially when we are talking about things like carbohydrates and fat. However, a shocking number of kids in the West are actually malnourished when it comes to essential minerals like Iron and Zinc. In part, it is because these things are lacking or absent in the diet. In part, it is because these things are not well absorbed by the body. This is where vitamin C comes in. It works with the body to increase the absorption of these critical minerals by 3-4 fold. Thus it is a potent tool to ensure that our children have adequate amounts of essential minerals to support growth and immune function.

A tasty treat that keeps good company

There is really little excuse not to have adequate amounts of vitamin C in the diet. This is because vitamin C is plentiful in things are are actually quite tasty – like apples, oranges, and bananas.  Especially high amounts can be found in bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, kale, and spinach. While the latter might not make your mouth start watering, they are generally pretty easy to hide in other foods to ensure kids get adequate nutrition. On top of all the benefits one gets from the vitamin C in these foods, these vitamin C rich foods are also packed with hundreds of other health-promoting and disease-fighting compounds.

How much Vitamin C does my child need?

Here is a helpful table that shows exactly what the requirement is for each age. I would encourage you to review this chart so that you have a sense for what the daily requirements are for your children. The daily requirements range from about 15 mg on the low end to around 120 mg on the high end. It is insanely easy to ensure your children are getting the proper amount of vitamin C. However, it is not sufficient to just give them a pill in the morning and call it quits. Vitamin C works in combination with other foods in your diet. Thus you need to make sure vitamin C is a component of most meals and snacks that your children have throughout the day.

What foods have vitamin C?

Virtually all fruits and vegetables have vitamin C. In general, the more they are allowed to ripen, the more vitamin C they will have. For the most part, all cooking and storage modalities will decrease the amount of vitamin C, but not eliminate it. Depending on how long things are cooked/stored/processed, the vitamin C content will be reduced to 1/3 to 1/2 the original amount. The World’s Healthiest Foods website has about the most complete list that I have come across detailing vitamin C content in foods. For children, the idea is to pick a handful of things that you and your family can eat on a regular basis. For most people this list will consist mostly of fresh fruits. However, you will also want to consider some of the very high vitamin C items and learn how to disguise them (i.e. raw kale, spinach, bell pepper, etc.) Also take note of tomatoes (raw and cooked), as they can easily be combined with a whole array of foods.

The goal

  1. Review this chart of Vitamin-C rich foods.
  2. Select 10 items from this list that you can eat.
  3. Include at least 1 item with every meal and snack.

Helpful hints

Bring on the guacamole

Most kids love guacamole. Avocado has lots of vitamin-C, and if you add some pureed tomatoes and lime, it become even tastier (and healthier). Guacamole can be eaten alone and added to virtually any meal consisting of beans.  On top of the vitamin C benefit, there is also the “good fat” benefit.  Guacamole is easy to feed to kids of all ages and my kids started gobbling it up between 6-9 months.  It is hard to imagine a healthy diet for kids that does not contain guacamole.

Add leafy greens to most meals

There are few things with more nutritional goodness that green leafy vegetable. My personal favorites are kale and spinach. However, no toddler in their right mind is going to eat a big green leaf unless you coat it in something that negates all of its nutritional value (like ranch dressing). So you must be clever. Finely chopped spinach and kale can be placed in just about anything from fruit smoothies to pasta dishes.  If you are really sly you might even be able to sneak it into things like a peanut-butter sandwich.

Consider offering Vitamin-C rich food before other choices

At our house we often offer a banana for snack before offering other options. You will surprised how quickly a hungry toddler can put down a whole banana, which contains 10 mg of vitamin-C. We also leave vitamin-C rich food out on the table in a fruit bowl. The kids can snack on these at will throughout the day.

Combine citrus and water

In general, kids should only drink water. There is little reason to allow them anything else to drink except on special occasions.  However, you might consider adding a slice of lemon or lime to their water. This can add 2-3 mg of vitamin C / glass.

Vitamin Supplements

A single daily vitamin does not work when it comes to vitamin C. The reason is that vitamin C is quickly absorbed and any excess is almost as quickly excreted in the urine. Thus vitamin C taken with breakfast will only aid in mineral absorption for that meal.  The exception to this rule would be a vitamin regimen that is given throughout the day.  Smartypants Vitamins are one such regimen.  Kids over 3 are to take 4 per day.  Giving one with meals/snacks throughout the day is a reasonable approach.  However, do not be deceived…  a multivitamin is not a replacement for the nutritional goodness of fruits and vegetables.  It should only be used as a supplement not a replacement.

Healthy Parents… Healthy Kids!

I am currently shifting focus on this blog since I now find myself in a different phase of life as I am staring down 40.  I also have 3 very young children.  My wife and I put most of what we have into raising these kids.  There is no doubt that we will be very busy for the next 15-20 years.  We have also tried very hard to live responsibly when it comes to our finances and expect that we will have most of the bills fully paid by the time the kids start leaving the house… which will put me at about age 55 or 60.

The irony here is that many Americans are on this same path… work hard to raise your kids, save for retirement, all the while neglecting your own health.  Then when you finally reach the “golden years,” you may have a wad of money in the bank and a wonderful family but you are too busy dealing with the complications of high-blood pressure and diabetes to actually enjoy those years.  This is insane.  I am setting out to radically modify this approach in my own life.  However, the real benefit is that by focusing on my own health, I will change the cultural norms within my own family…and then pass them on to my kids and grandkids.  So even if my health has not been a high priority, as a parent, I am obligated to make it a priority for the sake of my kids and grandkids.  So moving forward, I plan to shift the concept of this blog to Heathy Parents… Healthy Kids!

Know your opponent

Most educated people spend their time worrying about things that are very unlikely to have an impact on their health.  Things like organic and BPA-free seem to be the hot topics these days.  While educating ourselves about these things may be part of making healthy choices, they are not the things that are likely to end our life early or sap the vitality out of those “golden years.”

Nope.  The things that will get us are listed in the chart below. I will spend the next several months going through them one-by-one.  With each disease on this list, I will examine the medical literature and try to determine what steps I should take to maximize the chances that I can prevent them or delay the onset as long as possible.  No one can live forever and I certainly have no desire to do so.  However, what I am focused on is what my health will be at age 55 or 60.  If I play my cards right, it will be excellent, and I will have 30 or more years to enjoy those kids my wife I worked so hard to raise.  Decades to travel with my wife and do all the things we may have put on hold while raising our kids.  As I am writing this it is truly ironic that we put so much time into financial planning for retirement, with so little thought as to how to arrive there in good health.

So heart attack is still #1 and cancer is not far behind.  The next 3 (stroke, emphysema/COPD, and Alzheimer’s) are things that often do not kill us right away.  Rather they but sap us of vitality and functionality leading to a slow demise.  What is really amazing is the next chart that looks at modifiable risk factors for developing these killers.  Virtually all of these things are modifiable, or even curable, with life-style improvements.

Public Enemy #1

So first I plan to set my sights on heart disease and figuring out exactly what I need to do to achieve optimal heart health.  There is a wealth of confusion on this topic.  So I will try and go through things systematically using the following approach:

  1. What are the specific modifiable risk factors for each disease?
  2. What are the specific non-medication modifications that can reduce or eliminate risk?
  3. How can I reasonably incorporate these things into my life?
  4. How can I measure success?

A few key words above that are worth repeating.  Non-medication is a big one.  It has been well established that life-style modifications are superior in every respect to medication when it comes to preventing and treating most chronic illness.  I am in search of optimal health and popping a pill each day is not going to get me there.  The other keyword is reasonable.  Drinking fresh beet juice that I grow in a backyard organic garden may be reasonable for some people, but it is not reasonable for me.  Neither is exercising for 2 hours a day or becoming a vegan.  The key to optimal health is putting something into practice that I can actually do… not for a few weeks but for a life-time.

Day #4: Be Smart about Daycare

Up front, I will admit my bias… I advocate children staying home with one or both parents as much as possible until they are school-aged.  You just cannot find anyone, no matter how much money you spend, that is more invested in your child’s safety, education, discipline, and overall health & well being than YOU.  That said, I understand that not everyone has the resources to allow for one parent to stay home (although this is mostly a choice rather than an absolute truth).  I also understand that even the best mommies and daddies need some precious time alone Continue reading

Generic Infant Formula

The goal of this page is not to debate formula versus breast milk.  That debate is over and there is just no comparison between the two.  However, there are plenty of people that, either by choice or necessity, decide to formula feed their babies.  This is not for me to judge.  In fact our second son has been on formula since about 4 months of age.

The real question is… Do I really need expensive name brand formula? Continue reading

Day # 2: Learn to Live Within Your Means

This may seem like a strange topic when we are considering the health of our children.  However, for a variety of reasons, children tend to suffer a great deal from the financial perils of their parents.  I have read all kinds of books on the subject and I have talked with many “financial experts.”  When I step back and look at things objectively, there is nothing magic about finances.  What is magic is the prosperity that comes from living within your means.  What is tragic is the turmoil that comes from living beyond them.  Again, I intend to argue that the bulk of this turmoil trickles down to your kids and adversely affects them for the rest of their life. Continue reading

Day #1: Sell Your TV

Consider the following:

Several European countries forbid or severely curtail advertising to children; in the United States, on the other hand, selling to children is simply “business as usual.”  The average young person views more than 3000 ads per day on television (TV), on the Internet, on billboards, and in magazines.  Increasingly, advertisers are targeting younger and younger children in an effort to establish “brand-name preference” at as early an age as possible. Continue reading

Take the 21-day Challenge

Inspired by a website that I recently visited, I decided to incorporate the 21-day challenge concept into my Blog.  So if you are up for a new challenge, sign up for email updates and take the challenge…

The Concept

I am putting together 21 different posts that cover what I feel are the 21 most important things for Smart Parents to consider when raising Healthy Kids. These posts come from my experience as both a pediatrician and a parent.  Since there are hundreds (if not thousands) of different considerations when raising kids, I will undoubtedly inject some of my own bias.  However, I will always do my best to distinguish between statements supported by fact and those of mere opinion. Continue reading

Babywise and scheduling… after 2 babies!

Baby #2, moving to a new city, starting a new job, and the beginnings of raising our first 2-year-old required a brief hiatus from blogging. While this time has been devoid of blogging, it has been very rich in personal experiences to blog about. Today I am covering the idea of putting your baby on a schedule, which is the focus of most of the controversy when it comes to Continue reading