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