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Food & Nutrition

With the hectic pace of many families' lives and with more women working full time, even health-conscious parents are finding it easy to tolerate less than desirable eating habits. It is best to start training children about foods as soon as they can talk since they are most influenced by their families during the preschool years. Additionally, research has shown that heart and blood vessel disease can begin very early and that hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis) can be associated with a high-fat diet.

Parents should carefully read food labels to check nutrients and ingredients. Most kids are attracted to the advertising and packaging of food, including highly sugared cereals.

Although it's a myth that children become hyperactive by eating too much sugar, sugary food is still bad for oral health, can be stored as fat, and aggravates diabetes, says Rees. However, completely denying children sugar will only make it more tempting.

Developing children's attitude toward food should be similar to teaching them how to handle money -- by giving them growing responsibility along with sensible access. If children are properly prepared, they are more likely to make healthy food choices once they enter school.

Focus on Nutrient-Rich Foods Nutrient-rich foods (NRF) provide high amounts of beneficial nutrients compared to the calories they provide and include brightly colored fruits and 100% fruit juices; vibrant vegetables; whole, fortified and fiber-rich whole-grain foods; low-fat milk, cheese and yogurt; and lean meats, skinless poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts. The NRF approach is a realistic, easy and positive way help you make healthy choices. The reason ? It focuses on the total nutrient package of a food or meal instead of foods to avoid.

Try these 10 tips
  • Start the day with a nutrient-rich breakfast, such as oatmeal made with low-fat milk, dried fruit and nuts.
  • Shop the perimeter of the grocery store; focus on the produce, dairy, meat and seafood sections.
  • Try a new, nutrient-rich recipe at least once a week.
  • Encourage everyone to try a new and out-of-the-ordinary food each week, such as arugula, lentils, low-fat ricotta (paneer) cheese, avocados or kiwifruit.
  • Choose nutritious options, such as entree salads with grilled chicken and low-fat dressing, yogurt parfaits with fresh fruit etc.
  • Replace carbonated drinks with 100% fruit juices or low-fat milk.
  • Stock your desk with instant oatmeal packets, light microwave popcorn, dried fruits, and single-serve containers of peaches or pears packed in water or juice.
  • Choose low-fat or fat free milk.
  • Make your plate more colorful by including more brightly colored fruits and vegetables in each meal.
  • Grill or boil food items instead of sauteing or frying.

Nuts- The crunchy munchy food
Many people shy away from eating nuts because of the high fat content, but these fats are mostly unsaturated fats, specially monounsaturated fat. This type of fat actually decreases the level of "bad" LDL cholesterol and helps maintain the desirable levels of "GOOD" HDL cholesterol. A diet rich in nuts, vegetables and fruits may reduce cholesterol levels as much as medications!

Studies also show that nuts may help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and photochemical and phytosterol content of nuts help fight some forms of cancer. A few handfuls of raw nuts as a snack food are completely satisfying and the protein and fat not only satisfy hunger, but give lots of energy. And nuts also contain potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, vitamins and minerals.

By eating a mixture of nuts, one will get a variety of important nutrients, including magnesium, manganese, proteins, fibre, zinc and phosphorous. As a group nuts are also important for what they do not offer: firstly nuts are cholesterol free; also unless salt is added to nuts, they naturally contain, at most, just a trace of sodium.

The deep blue of a blueberry, the red of a tomato, the orange of a carrot. They're more than just colors -- they're also virtual nutrition labels.

(Examples: Blueberries, blackberries, purple grapes, raisins, prunes, plums, eggplant)

Benefits: Scientists believe the antioxidants in these foods may help prevent heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants work by ridding your body of free radicals, the dangerous by-products of your body's oxidation processes or of exposure to hazards such as radiation or tobacco smoke. Blueberries are loaded with antioxidants, some of which may protect the brain: Numerous studies have found that blueberries can slow memory loss and improve coordination in rats, a finding the researchers believe may have implications for aging humans. Fresh blueberries are seasonal and spoil easily, so you may prefer to buy frozen blueberries and add them to your cereal.

(Examples: Tomatoes, grapefruit, watermelon, cherries, beets, strawberries, raspberries, radishes, red peppers)

Benefits: Red pigments may prevent heart disease, lower the risk of some cancers, and perhaps help guard your brain against aging. Lycopene, found in red tomatoes, has been linked to a lower prostate cancer risk in men, according to a study reported in the journal Cancer Research.

Strawberries and raspberries are another reason to love red foods. They are rich in ellagic acid, a chemical compound that helps to fight cancer, and animal studies suggest that they may even protect the brain from age-related problems such as memory loss. Enjoy a large slice of watermelon as a dessert -- or make a potluck salad that combines watermelon, papaya, strawberries, and raspberries. You may also want to juice some of these fruits together for a delicious smoothie.

(Examples: Spinach, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, green peppers, kale, collard greens)

Benefits: Aside from making Mom happy, eating your greens may have other health benefits, such as preserving eyesight and preventing cancer. Lutein, one of the primary antioxidants in the eye, is a pigment found in spinach, broccoli, kale, and collard greens.

But even if you're not likely to develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD), you can still reap the rewards of lutein. Cataracts or glare sensitivity often accompany aging, blurring your vision and making seeing difficult in dim light. You may be able to lower your risk of these conditions by eating a lutein-rich vegetable regularly. Not only will your eyes benefit, but green vegetables may be yet another weapon in the battle against cancer, according to recent research. Scientists are focusing on chlorophyll -- the green plant pigment -- as a potential cancer inhibitor.

Cabbage, brussels sprouts, and kale (all "cruciferous" vegetables, in nutritionist speak) may help lower your risk against cancer, according to Tufts University researchers. Try planting some kale or collard greens in your backyard or a window pot -- they're easy to grow, and the trip to your stove will be shorter than ever.

(Examples: Carrots, pumpkins, apricots, oranges, grapefruit, lemons, pineapple, yellow peppers )

Benefits: These fruits and vegetables contain carotenoids and flavonoids, chemicals that no body should go without. They may boost the immune system, protect the eyes, and, like other phytochemicals, lower the risk of heart disease and cancer, according to studies.

Orange is an another food jam-packed with phytochemicals. Oranges contain a flavonoid called hesperetin, which can slow down the replication of viruses such as those that cause herpes and the flu in cell cultures. And one study found that the hesperetin in a daily glass of orange juice can lower your risk of a stroke by 25 percent.

(Examples: white onion, garlic)

Benefits: Yes, even white has its place on the spectrum of healthy colors. Members of the garlic and onion family may keep your immune system strong while protecting the heart and lowering the risk of cancer. Some studies have suggested that garlic may protect the arteries by preventing LDL, or "bad cholesterol," from forming plaque on artery walls.

Whether you have a kid or a teen, here are five of the best strategies to improve nutrition and encourage smart eating habits:
  • Have regular family meals.
  • Serve a variety of healthy foods and snacks.
  • Be a role model by eating healthy yourself.
  • Avoid battles over food.
  • Involve kids in the process.

But it's not easy when everyone is juggling busy schedules and convenience food, such as fast food, is so readily available.
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