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19 June 2009

Why kids need fruit and veggies

Many a parent has surrendered to the indomitable will of a child who refuses to eat any fruit or vegetable. Other kids go through fads where anything green is considered

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Many a parent has surrendered to the indomitable will of a child who refuses to eat any fruit or vegetable. Other kids go through fads where anything green is considered toxic or the only form of fruit that passes their lips is a fruit smoothie.

Surveys show that the consumption of fruits and veggies is dropping to worrisome levels among children. Many kids replace such foods with processed products that have little or no nutrition, such as soft drinks instead of juice. Jane Collins, the medical director of London's Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, says parents should try any way they can to inveigle children to eat their fruits and vegetables.

In her column for The Times of London, Collins describes the necessary nutrients that children miss as finicky eaters:

  • Vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron and to heal wounds and keeps skin and gums healthy. It is easily destroyed by heat so food is best eaten raw or only lightly cooked. Sources include citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, leafy greens, broccoli and red and green peppers.
  • Vitamin E protects cell membranes from damage and is important in the formation of red blood cells. It is found in leafy greens, avocados and vegetable oils.
  • Fibre keeps the intestines working and seems to reduce levels of fats in the blood. In the long term a fibre-rich diet may help to prevent heart disease and some cancers. The best sources are dried fruit and pulses (including baked beans).
  • Calcium strengthens teeth and bones, which prevents fractures, aids blood clotting and keeps the heart beating regularly. It is found mainly in milk and milk products but also in oranges, dried fruit and leafy greens.
  • Iron is needed to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. It helps muscles to work and increases resistance to disease and stress. The body does not readily absorb iron but eating it with a source of Vitamin C makes this easier.
  • Vitamins A, C and E are known as antioxidants. They mop up chemicals called free radicals, which are naturally produced in the body in the reactions that produce energy. Free radicals have been implicated in cancers, asthma, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and many other disorders as well as ageing.

Collins suggests that making fruits a novelty item could be a good idea. By cooking them into pancakes or making fancy fruit kebabs, children can be taught to see fruit as a delicacy.

But don't worry if you're up against staunch resistance. You're not alone. Even in Berkeley, California, a mecca for vegetarians and healthful eaters, the average kid gives thumbs down to fruits and veggies. Health-conscious parents who nosh on macrobiotic rice and drink wheat grass juice apparently have little effect on their own offspring's eating preferences, according to a report from the University of California, Berkeley.

 
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