Nutrition Spotlight: Omega-3’s and DHA

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Image source: india.com

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient in the body. They are used by the body in the brain and eyes and are thought to have many disease-preventing benefits. It’s important that everyone consumes enough of them, but it is even more so for pregnant and breastfeeding women and their toddlers as they develop – especially if they are eating a vegetarian diet.

There are three main omega-3 fatty acids:

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

All three of these play crucial roles in the body and can only be obtained from food. DHA is considered to be one of the most important fatty acids in the brain development of infants and toddlers. In fact, DHA is the most abundant building blocks of brain and retina tissue and adequate DHA levels have been associated with intelligence and happiness later in life. Because of this, breast milk is extremely high in DHA. But what about after breastfeeding?

The most plentiful sources of DHA are cold water fatty fish, like salmon and tuna. This can leave those wanting to raise their child on a vegetarian diet (or those who have a toddler who just doesn’t like fish!) in a tough place. Fortunately for vegetarian families, there are plenty of ways to ensure your toddler’s brain health if you prefer not to eat fish or use fish oil supplements.

While there are no common vegetarian sources of DHA, it is made in the body in small amounts during the breakdown of ALA, along with EPA. Many oils and seeds are plentiful in ALA – chia seed, flax, hempseed, walnuts, pecans, olive oil, and more. Because of this, most adult vegetarians and vegans have a low but steady level of DHA in their body.

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Image source: flickr user

For infants and toddlers with growing brains, they may need a little more. There is no established dietary reference intake for DHA specifically, but the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids suggests a total intake of 15 milligrams of DHA per pound of body weight in children over the age of 1. Many pediatricians recommend a DHA supplement for omnivorous and vegetarian children alike, as well as their pregnant and nursing mothers.

Vegetarians can take comfort in knowing that there are kid-friendly supplement options. Since fish get their DHA from algae, it is only natural that DHA supplements derived from algae have hit the market. Algal oil DHA has been found to be as effective as DHA from fish and is available in liquid and capsule form for kids of all ages.

All in all, for a healthy growing brain, make sure your toddler is getting at least one serving a day of oil or seeds high in omega-3s along with an appropriate algal oil supplement. Vegetarian moms-to-be and breastfeeding moms should also supplement with DHA for baby’s best start!

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Omega 3 Banana Avacado “Ice Cream” Recipe (Vegan)

Ingredients:

2 ripe frozen bananas
½ avocado
¼ cup pistachios
1 tablespoon sliced almonds
1 tablespoon shredded coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Chop bananas into pieces a day or two ahead of time and place into freezer
2. If pistachios are still in shells, remove them
3. Place ingredients into a blender or food processor; blend until thick and creamy
4. Spoon mixture into bowl! If you would like it thicker, place it into the freezer for a couple hours after making
5. Top with well-ground up pistachios or flax seed for an extra boost of omega-3

Tip: This recipe can be modified to create a puree for little ones transitioning to solid foods, using just half a banana and half an avocado!

Written by: Amanda Dunham

Sources:
Omega-3 fatty acids: considering microalgae as a vegetarian source of EPA and DHA
Harvard Ask-the-Expert
Divine Glowing Health blog

A Wholesome Start: Vegetarian Toddler Nutrition

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A vegetarian diet can support the healthy growth of toddlers and preschoolers – if it is done right. Since these years are key when establishing eating habits for life, it’s important to give your toddler a solid foundation, especially if you choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Kids who can learn to appreciate and enjoy greens, fruit, and grains at a young age are going to be set up for a lifetime of solid eating choices.

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine,

Children raised on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes grow up to be slimmer and healthier and even live longer than their meat-eating friends. It is much easier to build a nutritious diet from plant foods than from animal products […] As for essential nutrients, plant foods are preferred sources because they provide sufficient energy and protein packaged with other health-promoting nutrients such as fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

Below are some helpful tips and information of key nutrients that are important to remember when feeding your budding vegetarian.

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Key Nutrients in a Vegetarian Diet:

Protein – found in beans and legumes, grains, tofu, tempeh and other fermented soy products, nuts and nut butters, dairy, eggs

As long as he is eating a good mix of greens, beans, and veggies, your toddler’s protein intake should be sufficient.

Vitamin D – fifteen minutes of playtime in the sun every day; also found in milk and fortified milk replacements

Calcium – found in green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, almonds and almond butter, milk and yogurt, calcium-set tofu, fortified milk substitutes (soy, coconut, almond), fortified orange juice

Iron – found in whole grains and cereals, dried fruits, beans and legumes, green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals

Try to pair plant-based foods containing iron with foods containing vitamin C (citrus, tomatoes, fruit, and more) as it promotes iron absorption!

Zinc – found in whole grains, nuts, beans, hard cheeses, tofu, fermented soy products

Vitamin B12 – eggs, dairy products, B12-fortified nutritional yeast, fortified milk replacements, fortified cereals

B12 is one of the few nutrients that isn’t easily found in a varied, wholesome plant-based diet, but is crucial for growth and development. If your toddler loves dairy, her B12 intake should be fine – if not, consider fortified foods or a supplement.

Fiber – found in whole grain breads and cereals, legumes, fruit, vegetables

We all know a diet high in fiber is good for adults, but it fills up small toddler tummies quickly and may cause children to feel full before eating enough. High fiber foods should also be high in calories, or try lower fiber foods like fruit.

Fats – found in nuts and nut butters, avocados, tofu, hummus, oils

Healthy fats are important for growth and brain development. Aim to provide monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (avocado, nut butters, tofu) and linoleic oil (canola, flaxseed, soy products).

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Helpful Tips:

The key to success with a vegetarian diet is mindfulness and planning!

Make every bite count – pack in plenty of protein, vitamins, and good fats.

Keep things fun by offering a variety of foods and introducing new ones frequently.

Toddlers are experts at mimicking. Make sure you’re eating your greens, too!

A well-balanced vegetarian diet contains things like nuts and fruit. Be sure to limit choking risk for toddlers by grinding nuts, halving or quartering grapes small fruits, and finely cutting vegetables and fruits – and of course, always supervise consumption of these foods!

Be sure to maintain regular checkups with your pediatrician, and listen to their recommendations.

Written by: Amanda Dunham

Sources:

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Vegan Society

Vegetarian Nutrition

Modern Mom

Squash Spotlight: Butternut Squash!

Butternut squash soup
Photo credit: Veronique

Last week we featured a post about different kinds of fall and winter squash. This week we would like to highlight one in particular from that list, one of the most popular and versatile varieties mentioned: butternut squash!

Butternut squash, with its bright orange flesh full of carotenoids (a group of antioxidants), is an excellent source of Vitamin A–about 148% of your daily recommended intake for only half a cup! It’s also high in Vitamin C, fiber, manganese, potassium, magnesium, and the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Plus its sweet, smooth, slightly nutty flavor makes it a winner for the tastebuds!

The tastiest butternut squash will feel heavy for its size and have a matte skin rather than a glossy skin. (A glossy skin is a sign of having been picked too early, and the flesh likely won’t be as sweet as a full-grown squash.) The squash can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to three months, while cut squash can stay fresh for about a week in the refrigerator if well wrapped. For a gourd with the most flesh, choose one with a long, thick neck. For slightly more beta-carotene content, pick one with skin more orange-colored than the rest.

Butternut squash can be prepared in many ways through roasting, toasting, puréeing, grilling, stuffing, or adding to casseroles or baked goods. In South African cuisine, butternut squash is commonly used in soups or grilled whole and seasoned with spices like nutmeg or cinnamon. Another common method is roasting, simply by cutting the squash in half lengthwise, lightly brushing with oil, and placing cut side down onto a baking sheet to bake for about 45 minutes. The seeds can also even be roasted like pumpkin seeds.

Here’s a favorite way to enjoy butternut squash that even the littlest members of the family can eat! Smooth, creamy, easy Butternut Squash Soup!

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1-2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
1 (32 fl oz) container vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the oil in a large pot and cook the onion, celery, carrot, potatoes, and squash for about 5 minutes or until lightly browned.

2. Pour in just enough vegetable stock to fully cover the vegetables, and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer for 40 minutes or until all vegetables are tender.

3. Pour soup from pot into a blender and blend until smooth. Return to pot, then add as much of the leftover vegetable stock as needed to reach the desired consistency and heat through. Season with salt and pepper and enjoy!

What’s your favorite way to cook butternut squash? Share your tips in the comments below!

Written by: Lauren Mesaros

Sources:
Recipe adapted from Butternut Squash Soup II

Grain Spotlight…Buckwheat!

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Photo credit: Ervins Strauhmanis

As more people have begun adopting gluten-free diets due to allergy, intolerance, or other health-related reasons, alternative grains have experienced a boost in popularity. One of these is buckwheat, which, despite the name, is not related to wheat at all. The “fruit” of the buckwheat plant is actually more like a sunflower seed, with one seed inside a hard outer hull. Buckwheat flour is made from the white, starchy endosperm, and kasha (or buckwheat groat, as it is sometimes called) is the hulled, crushed whole grain most commonly used in cooking. The flowers of the buckwheat plant are also very attractive to bees and are used to make a dark honey.

Like many grains, buckwheat is a good source of protein and fiber, providing about 5.7 grams of protein and 4.5 grams of fiber per cooked cup. Buckwheat is also high in manganese, a micronutrient needed for many chemical reactions throughout the body. Some studies have shown that diets containing buckwheat and other grains are linked to a lower risk of high cholesterol or high blood pressure. These effects are partly due to buckwheat’s supply of flavonoids, which act as antioxidants and also help to prevent excessive clotting of blood platelets.

 If you’re looking for a gluten-free alternative or just want to experiment with another nutritious grain, there are many ways to use buckwheat in cooking and baking. Buckwheat flour can easily be a substitute for regular white or wheat flour in muffins, breads, cookies, or as a thickener for soups and sauces. You can even grind your own at home using whole buckwheat and a spice or coffee grinder (ideally one with at least 200 watts of power, as buckwheat hulls are harder than other grains). The flour should always be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, while the grains can be stored in an airtight container in any cool, dry place. 

 The cooked grains can be used as a plain or seasoned side dish, as a hot breakfast cereal with milk, or as a replacement for rice given the similar texture and cooking methods. They’re an excellent addition to soups, cooked or cold salads, stuffings, stir-fries, or any other dish you would like to add some complex carbohydrates and protein to! 
 
Buckwheat can even be made into baby food: just thoroughly whisk together over low heat 1-2 cups of water for each 1/4 cup of buckwheat flour. For older babies or toddlers who can chew, try a kasha cereal by boiling 2 cups of water, adding 1 cup of kasha and returning to a boil, then reducing the heat to low to let the mixture simmer for about 15 minutes as you stir occasionally. This can be served on its own or easily mixed with fruit, fruit purees, or milk.
 
One of the most common uses of buckwheat around the world is for buckwheat flour pancakes. Here’s an easy, vegan, gluten-free recipe!
 
Vegan Gluten-Free Buckwheat Pancakes
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup white or brown rice flour
2 tablespoons ground flax
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon date sugar (or other sweetener)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
 
1. Sift the buckwheat flour and mix together with all dry ingredients.
2. Add the milk and vanilla and mix well.
3. Let sit for about 10 minutes, then add any fruit or nuts as desired.
4. Pour about 1/4 cup of batter onto a greased griddle or pan and flip the pancake when bubbles form on the surface. Cook until golden brown on each side.
 
 
What’s your favorite way to cook with buckwheat?
 
 
Written by: Lauren Mesaros
 
Sources:
Recipe adapted from Helyn’s Healthy Kitchen

Fresh Fruit Pizza With Coconut Cream Whip

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Looking for something new for dessert at this weekends BBQ?  Why not try this delicious fruit pizza!!  It is full of fruits and you can add even more if you like!  The kids can get involved and help layer on the toppings!!

Cinnamon-sugar pizza crust

1 cup + 3/4 cup white bread flour, divided
3/4 tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp sugar
1.5 tsp cinnamon
2 & 1/4 tsp pizza yeast (no proofing required)
3 tbsp oil
2/3 cup very warm water
more flour for kneading dough
Avocado-Lime Whip
4 avocados
Fresh lime juice from half a lime (approx 1 tsp)
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste or 1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup agave nectar
2-3 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1-2 tbsp coconut milk
12 tbsp icing sugar (confectioner’s)

Fruit
Fruit salsa: Chop up a mixture of strawberries, mandarin oranges, mango, kiwi, and raspberries. Add in blueberries too. You will want about 2-3 cups of the salsa.

Fruit layer: Mandarin, strawberries (sliced), blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, kiwi (sliced), mango (sliced), and whatever else your little heart desires! Peach would be good too.

Preparation:
For crust
1. Preheat oven to 500F. In a large mixing bowl, mix together 1 cup flour, plus the salt, sugar, cinnamon, yeast. Stir well. Now quickly add 2/3 cup very warm water along with 3 tbsp oil. Stir well. It will be very sticky but not to worry.
2. Now add in 3/4 cup- 1 cup more flour, gradually, as you stir. Once the flour is in, grab the dough and place on floured surface.
3. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, adding flour as it gets tacky. After 5 mins the dough should be smooth and not tacky. Form into a ball and place in a large oiled bowl. Cover the ball with a bit of oil so it doesnt dry out. Now cover the bowl and let it rise for 1.5 hours. You can punch out the air halfway through.
4. After rising time, punch air out and spread into an oiled pizza pan or you can place it directly onto a preheated pizza stone. Sprinkle with lots of sugar and bake at 500F for 14-15 mins. until golden. Cooking time may vary so watch carefully.

For avocado whip
In a food processor, add in the avocado, lime juice, and agave. Process until smooth. Now add in the vanilla, melted coconut oil, and coconut milk. As the last step, add in the icing sugar very gradually until the consistency you want is achieved. Cool in fridge for about 30 minutes before using. Spread over the base of cooled & cooked pizza crust.

For Fruit
After you have spread on the avocado-lime whip, it is time to layer on the fruit. I started with an outer layer of fruit salsa, followed by a layer of sliced fruit. After those two layers, I did a very small layer of sprinkled coconut, followed by a layer of raspberries, and then finally fruit salsa.

Source: Oh She Glows

Overnight Oatmeal

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With the temps soaring and endless vacations, play dates, and activities happening each day, preparing a hearty breakfast for the little ones each morning might be somewhat challenging.  Overnight oats are great because they not only require little to no preparation, but you can get the kids involved by having them help select and prepare their own combination!

1 cup uncooked old fashioned oats
1 cup whole milk, rice, soy or almond milk
1 cup plain greek yogurt
3 tablespoons honey

Add any combination or make up your own of each of these: 1/2 a banana, mashed or sliced, mashed or chopped berries (this works great with frozen berries too) ,flax seeds, chia seeds, a teaspoon of peanut or almond butter, dried fruits, chopped, almonds, walnut, cashew or pumpkin or sunflower seeds

Preparation
1. In a bowl, stir together the oats, milk, yogurt and honey. Pour into small mason jars and stir in desired accompaniments.
2. Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days. Serve chilled.