"Superfoods" is a word that is bandied around on blogs, advertisements and a range of manufactured products every day, supposedly to encourage our consumption of these foods and brands. But what exactly is a superfood, and why are some foods "super" while others aren't?
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Kate Freeman, registered nutritionist with the Nutrition Society of Australia and author of Lose Weight for Life, explains: " A 'superfood' doesn't have an agreed definition, but there's a general consensus that superfoods contain superior amounts of nutrition (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, essential fats etc.) compared with other foods in the class.
"For example broccoli is superior to zucchini and green beans when it comes to vitamins and other phytochemicals [plant chemicals with health promoting properties]."
Kate says that including superfoods in your family's diet can help kids' growth and development by giving them "the maximum nutritional 'bang' for the lowest amount of energy". Here is a breakdown of her top five superfoods for kids.
1. Green leafy vegetables
"Specifically broccoli and kale get the most attention in this group," Kate says. "But other green leafy vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and spinach are also worth a mention.
"Broccoli contains a significant amount of vitamin C, vitamin K, folate and beta carotene (converted to vitamin A by the body)," she says. "All of these vitamins are essential for growth and development in children."
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Kate explains that vitamin C is needed to help keep immune systems functioning well, as well as being vital for good collagen formation in the skin and also helping the body absorb iron from food.
"Just 100g of broccoli contains almost three times the daily recommendation of vitamin C for children aged one to eight years," she said. "It also contains fibre and a substance called sulphoraphane which has anti-cancer properties."
Though nutritious, it can be a challenge to get kids eating green leafy vegetables, so Kate says that "hiding" the vegetables is a great way to get kids to eat them, but that it's also worth persevering with getting kids used to vegetables' individual tastes.
"The CSIRO suggest that children need in excess of 10-20 'tastes' of a particular food before they will accept it," she says. "Good parental modeling will also make the child more likely to eat particular foods."
2. Rolled oats
Kate recommends oats as a great source of carbohydrate. "They have a low GI which means they provide more sustained energy," she says. "This makes them perfect for breakfast, with the energy they provide filling kids up and ensuring they can concentrate at school until their next scheduled time to eat."
She adds: "Oats are also good sources of iron (vital for the transport of oxygen through the body and for brain development), and zinc (vital for growth and sexual development)."
The berry family contains lots of antioxidant and vitamin rich fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, incaberries, acai berries and goji berries.
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"The great thing about berries," Kate says, "is their high antioxidant content and very low sugar content. This makes them great low kilojoule snacks that offer maximum amounts of nutrition."
Antioxidants protect the body from damage against free radicals, which cause some cancers.
"Children love to snack and graze," she says, "so berries, both fresh or frozen, offer low sugar, nutrient dense treats that kids really enjoy eating."
4. Natural yoghurt
Kate recommends yoghurt to help super kids grow, as it offers them lots of essential nutrients: calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous and vitamin B12.
"An adequate calcium intake is essential during the high growth stage of childhood for the formation of strong bones and teeth," she says. "Good bone acquisition during childhood and adolescence decreases your risk of osteoporosis in late adulthood.
"Children and teenagers need up to 1300mg of calcium per day, and just 150g of yoghurt offers up to 50% of a child's daily calcium needs."
There is also the friendly bacteria. "These bacteria populate the gastrointestinal tract and help keep the balance of good and bad bacteria in check making you less prone to illness and infection," she says.
Salmon, and in particular Atlantic salmon, is known to be a very rich source of the essential omega 3 fatty acids. "The role and health benefits of omega 3 are extremely diverse within the body," Kate says. "For young children especially, omega 3 is essential for healthy brain development and growth of the central nervous system.
"Not only does salmon contain high amounts of healthy fats, it's also a great source of many vitamins and minerals including most of the B vitamins, vitamin A, vitamins C, selenium, iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorous," she says.
Kate recommends parents aim for children to have about 2 serves of salmon or other fatty fish (tuna, sardines, mackerel) a week.
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