Every parent wants to give their child the most nutritional food to give them a head start in life. Some parents may have views on whether fresh fruit and vegetables are better than frozen fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately the case for which contains more nutrients is not clear cut.
Freezing food does not in itself destroy mineral or vitamin levels - levels are preserved until the produce thaws. Vitamins and minerals are destroyed by heating, however, meaning that levels start to diminish as soon as you start cooking the food. Some frozen foods are blanched or heated prior to being frozen in order to protect them and this could start destroying nutrient levels, although industrial processes are generally refined enough nowadays to keep levels at their optimum.
There's a strange twist to the tale when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables. Much produce travels from all over the world to reach our supermarket shelves - bananas from South America, beans from Africa, Strawberries from the Middle East...just look at the packaging and you'll be surprised! Many of these items are picked before they ripen fully and ripen on their long journey to our shelves. This means that they aren't as nutritious as they would have been had they been allowed to ripen naturally on their plants. Frozen foods, on the other hand, are picked at their prime, once they have ripened fully in the fields or orchards, and arguably therefore start with higher vitamin and mineral levels than for some fresh produce.
Of course, there's no way to look at produce and know how it has been prepared before reaching our shelves. The best thing you can do is to minimise the 'air miles' that your produce has racked up in transit. Buy fresh produce that has been grown in local markets and it should be the best all round!
The continuing scandal surrounding horsemeat in the British food supply chain serves to show that although we pride ourselves on food labelling, there seems to be a huge disjunct between what the label says and what our food products contain. Food labellling has arguably never been clearer but clearly there is still room in the suply chain for malpractice.
While in Britain we don't usually eat horsemeat, there's nothing dangerous about this meat per se, except for the fact that if it has entered into the foodchain illegally, then it's unlikely that any high standards of farming have been applied. The greatest danger in this instance is that horses can be treated with veterinary medicines that may be dangerous for human consumption and must not be allowed to enter the food chain.
It turns out that a supplier in Poland provided meat to a supplier in France who gave it to a supplier in Ireland who sold it to our supermarkets. If ever there appears to be a case of 'too many cooks' then this has to be it!
To make a beefburger, buy some steak, mince it and round it into patties.
Our food doesn't need to travel through several countries, being part processed along the way until we arrive at a product that really doesn't take long to prepare from fresh. Even Lasagne can be made in 30 minutes and left to cook for 40.
What we have seen is the logical conclusion of consumer demand for maximum convenience for just a few pennies. Didn't we ever wonder how supermarkets managed to supply 'value' meals so cheaply? Do you remember 'mad cow disease' that resulted from animals being fed the remains of other animals? Where will the horsemeat currently being sold in the UK as burgers and lasagne end up once it has been halted from our food supplies? Will it enter into animal feed next?
If you want to ensure that your little ones are eating nutritious and healthy food, then find the time to prepare the best meals. Source your food from local providers whenever possible, and buy ingredients rather than processed foods when you can.
Eczema is a condition found in about 15-20% of children where dry, itchy patches of skin become uncomfortable, irritated and sore. There is much discussion about the reason why eczema is so common but scientists do not know definitively why or how it occurs.
There is also much talk about how we can prevent eczema or make it less severe even before a child is born. It appears to run in families, suggesting a genetic predisposition, and scientists are researching whether anything can be done to prevent or reduce it: should we avoid certain foods, or are there ways to adapt our lifestyles to reduce the impact?
Here are a few tips:
Breastfeeding exclusively for the first four months of a baby's life may help to protect against eczema. Research has shown that this is the case and that longer term breastfeeding protects against other allergies too. The Government recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of a baby's life.
Cow's milk can have an allergic reaction and cause eczema in children. However, if you fear this may be the case, you need to discuss it with your doctor as cows milk shouldn't be removed from a child's diet without careful consultation. Even formulas that contain cow's milk could induce an allergic reaction, but again consult your doctor. Soya based formula and goat's milk formula are not recommended but again, the doctor can advise.
Certain foods you eat while breast-feeding may result in a flare-up and if you suspect certain foods to be a trigger, you should consult your doctor. There is no conclusive evidence to support this, but it may be the case. Don't change your diet unless you have first discussed it with your doctor.
Probiotics as a supplement or in food such as yoghurt has been shown to reduce the chance of your child developing eczema. Research continues in this area.
What can be done to help the situation?
Keep a diary - to help identify if food or other activities or environments trigger a bad reaction or flare up.
House mites are believed to trigger eczema although the evidence is inconclusive. Try to reduce dust in the home by using a damp cloth rather than a dry one when cleaning. Use cotton sheets and wash them at a high temperature each week. Vacuum the mattress weekly and air the room frequently.
Wear cotton clothing as synthetic fibres may make things worse.
Keep cool and avoid overheating as this can make eczema more severe. Keep homes warm but not hot.
Keep nails short to prevent children scratching too much.
Eczema can be a very difficult condition to live with, at best it's uncomfortable whilst severe eczema may have a severe impact on your child's ability to develop normally as they will be constantly distracted by the pain. Whilst there is no final cure, follow the advice above and you may be able to relieve the symptoms. Can you tell us any other tips that have helped relieve symptoms in your own children?
By the time a baby is born, its taste buds are developed and a baby has an innate sense of what foods are good, and which are bad. Breast and formula milks are sweet, and babies initially favour sweet tastes over sour or bitter flavours. Although they may taste similar, the difference between breast and formula milk is the difference between processed and natural food. The first solid foods that many children experience are also processed baby foods. The packaging will tell you that the contents are healthy and nutritional, but often the truth is that they are laden with more sugar than we would use in our own cooking, and sometimes ingredients that we wouldn't be happy to add ourselves!
There is inceasing evidence that eating high proportions of processed foods as babies leads to increased consumption of processed foods throughout life, as our tastes adapt to the foods that we eat early on. Processed foods are typically high in salt and sugar and use cheap fats with higher saturated fat content. This almost certainly plays a part in the rising instance of obesity in children and adults.
A study published in America in 2004 suggested that by the age of 2 years, one third of toddlers do not eat fruit and vegetable in any healthy form, instead being fed a diet consisting only of processed foods. Other research suggests that babies exposed to a broad range of complex flavours, provided by natural foods, grow up to eat a broad and healthy diet, which in turn contributes to a better lifestyle.
If these ideas are correct, then it reinsforces just how important it is to be feeding our little ones a broad range of foods and flavours from an early age. Don't become dependent on baby jars from the supermarket, instead, look to buying a wide selection of fruit and vegetables from which to make your own purees, and wholesome meals.
Recent research has discovered evidence that some cases of childhood obesity are linked to genetic mutations, but the studies suggest that fewer than 2% of cases of obesity in children are caused by genetics. Childhood obesity is reaching epidemic proportions with 1 in 5 children in the US and 1 in 7 in the UK classed as obese.
Obesity is measured by calculating body mass index which is calculated by dividing your height in kilograms divided by the square of your height in metres. A result greater than 30 is considered obese although a high proportion of muscle, which is heavier than fat, can produce misleading results.
Obesity is linked to a number of problems, mental and physical, including:-
- Low self esteem and depression
- Low motivational drive, including feelings of lethargy
- Increased risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure
- Reduced quality of sleep (sleep apnea)
Most causes of childhood obesity are linked to lifestyle - nutrition and activity being the two main factors. Parents have a responsibility to look after their children and help their children avoid excessive weight gain. Simple steps that you can take include:-
- Encouraging an active lifestyle - make sure that your children have time to run around outdoors and in the park
- Avoid excessive snacking - children don't need to be grazing constantly but it is an easy habit to develop, ration snacks to appropriate times of the day
- Provide a role model - if you are excessively overweight then your children will consider entirely normal
- Encourage whole foods and healthy snacks rather than fast food and soft drinks
- Don't let your children choose their meals - they will probably focus on unhealthier foods - ensure you give your children a balanced diet
- Breast feed as long as you can - research suggests that breastfeeding protects children against obesity in later life
- Make sure your children consume vegetables and dairy products in their diet
Childhood obesity is something that you will want to avoid. There is no approved medication for obesity in children but so much can be done by adapting lifestyle. If your children are growing excessively overweight for no apparent reason, then do seek medical advice. There may be more serious underlying problems not linked to lifestyle, but remember that these cases are rare.