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It's a well known fact that obesity is increasing at an alarming rate, putting children in danger of life-threatening conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and heart attacks - once considered adult diseases. Helping parents understand the principles of fitness and good nutrition, thus enabling them to make healthy choices for their families, Fit Kids addresses the 21st Century challenges of sedentary lifestyles of both children and their parents. Authoritative and extremely accessible, this is an easy-to-follow guide for all parents who want their child to get the best out of life.
Nutrition and fitness are the cornerstones of children's health.

To give your child a head start on lifelong fitness, consider children's sports and other kid-friendly physical activities. With your encouragement, chances are a few sports will spark your child's interest. And consider other classic tips from children's health experts, such as promoting activity - not exercise - and by setting a good example yourself.

You can also promote children's health by encouraging your child to eat a variety of healthy foods and control portion sizes. Learn which nutrients are necessary, in what amounts, and how the guidelines change as a child grows older.

Of course, other children's health issues matter, too - such as vaccines, child safety and school health. Share any concerns you may have about children's health with your child's doctor.

Nutrition

Nutrition for kids is based on the same principles as nutrition for adults. Everyone needs the same types of nutrients - such as vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein and fat. What's different about nutrition for kids, however, is the amount of specific nutrients needed at different ages. One of the main health issues, that experts are focusing on, is children's immunity; and there are several well known nutrients that boost the immune system of children and adults.

8 FOODS THAT BOOST IMMUNITY


Adequately feeding your immune system boosts its fighting power. Immune boosters work in many ways. They increase the number of white cells in the immune system army, train them to fight better, and help them form an overall better battle plan. Boosters also help to eliminate the deadwood in the army, substances that drag the body down. Here are the top eight nutrients to add to your family's diet to cut down on days missed from work and school because of illness.

1. Vitamin C. Vitamin C tops the list of immune boosters for many reasons. There has been more research about the immune-boosting effects of Vitamin C than perhaps any other nutrient. Vitamin C supplements are inexpensive to produce, and it's available naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Also, you can buy a vitamin-C-fortified version of just about anything. Here's what the research shows about how this mighty vitamin protects your body. Vitamin C increases the production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies and increases levels of interferon, the antibody that coats cell surfaces, preventing the entry of viruses. Vitamin C reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by raising levels of HDL (good) cholesterol while lowering blood pressure and interfering with the process by which fat is converted to plaque in the arteries. As an added perk, persons whose diets are higher in vitamin C have lower rates of colon, prostate, and breast cancer. You don't have to take in massive amounts of vitamin C to boost your immune system. Around 200 milligrams a day seems to be a generally agreed-upon amount and one that can be automatically obtained by eating at least six servings of fruits and vegetables a day. If you take vitamin C supplements, it's best to space them throughout the day rather than take one large dose, most of which may end up being excreted in the urine.

2. Vitamin E. This important antioxidant and immune booster doesn't get as much press as vitamin C, yet it's important to a healthy immune system. Vitamin E stimulates the production of natural killer cells, those that seek out and destroy germs and cancer cells. Vitamin E enhances the production of B-cells, the immune cells that produce antibodies that destroy bacteria. Vitamin E supplementation may also reverse some of the decline in immune response commonly seen in aging. Vitamin E has been implicated in lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. In the Harvard School of Public Health study of 87,000 nurses, Vitamin E supplementation was shown to cut the risk of heart attacks by fifty percent. It's not difficult to get 30 to 60 milligrams every day of Vitamin E from a diet rich in seeds, vegetable oils, and grains, but it's difficult for most people to consume more than 60 milligrams a day consistently through diet alone. Supplements may be necessary to get enough vitamin E to boost your immune system. You need 100-400 milligrams per day, depending on your general lifestyle. People who don't exercise, who smoke, and who consume high amounts of alcoholic beverages will need the higher dosage. Those with a more moderate lifestyle can get by with lower levels of supplementation.

3. Carotenoids. Beta carotene increases the number of infection-fighting cells, natural killer cells, and helper T-cells, as well as being a powerful antioxidant that mops up excess free radicals that accelerate aging. Like the other "big three" antioxidants, selenium, vitamins C and E, it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by interfering with how the fats and cholesterol in the bloodstream oxidize to form arterial plaques. Studies have shown that beta carotene can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, especially strokes and heart attacks, giving scientific credence to the belief that a carrot a day can keep the heart surgeon away. Beta carotene also protects against cancer by stimulating the immune cells called macrophages to produce tumor necrosis factor, which kills cancer cells. It has also been shown that beta carotene supplements can increase the production of T-cell lymphocytes and natural killer cells and can enhance the ability of the natural killer cells to attack cancer cells. Beta carotene is the most familiar carotenoid, but it is only one member of a large family. Researchers believe that it is not just beta carotene that produces all these good effects, but all the carotenoids working together. This is why getting carotenoids in food may be more cancer-protective than taking beta carotene supplements. The body converts beta carotene to vitamin A, which itself has anticancer properties and immune-boosting functions. But too much vitamin A can be toxic to the body, so it's better to get extra beta carotene from foods and let the body naturally regulate how much of this precursor is converted to the immune-fighting vitamin A. It's highly unlikely that a person could take in enough beta carotene to produce a toxic amount of vitamin A, because when the body has enough vitamin A, it stops making it.

4. Bioflavenoids. A group of phytonutrients called bioflavenoids aids the immune system by protecting the cells of the body against environmental pollutants. Bioflavenoids protect the cell membranes against the pollutants trying to attach to them. Along the membrane of each cell there are microscopic parking spaces, called receptor sites. Pollutants, toxins, or germs can park here and gradually eat their way into the membrane of the cell, but when bioflavenoids fill up these parking spots there is no room for toxins to park. Bioflavenoids also reduce the cholesterol's ability to form plaques in arteries and lessen the formation of microscopic clots inside arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. Studies have shown that people who eat the most bioflavenoids have less cardiovascular disease. A diet that contains a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, at least six servings per day, will help you get the bioflavenoids needed to help your immune system work in top form.

5. Zinc. This valuable mineral increases the production of white blood cells that fight infection and helps them fight more aggressively. It also increases killer cells that fight against cancer and helps white cells release more antibodies. Zinc supplements have been shown to slow the growth of cancer. Zinc increases the number of infection-fighting T-cells, especially in elderly people who are often deficient in zinc, and whose immune system often weakens with age. The anti-infection hype around zinc is controversial. While some studies claim that zinc supplements in the form of lozenges can lower the incidence and severity of infections, other studies have failed to show this correlation. A word of caution: too much zinc in the form of supplements (more than 75 milligrams a day) can inhibit immune function. It's safest to stick to getting zinc from your diet and aim for 15 to 25 milligrams a day. For infants and children, there is some evidence that dietary zinc supplements may reduce the incidence of acute respiratory infections, but this is controversial. The best source of zinc for infants and young children is zinc-fortified cereals.

6. Garlic. This flavorful member of the onion family is a powerful immune booster that stimulates the multiplication of infection-fighting white cells, boosts natural killer cell activity, and increases the efficiency of antibody production. The immune-boosting properties of garlic seem to be due to its sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin and sulfides. Garlic can also act as an antioxidant that reduces the build-up of free radicals in the bloodstream. Garlic may protect against cancer, though the evidence is controversial. Cultures with a garlic-rich diet have a lower incidence of intestinal cancer. Garlic may also play a part in getting rid of potential carcinogens and other toxic substances. It is also a heart-friendly food since it keeps platelets from sticking together and clogging tiny blood vessels.

7. Selenium. This mineral increases natural killer cells and mobilizes cancer-fighting cells, and rids of harmful free radicals. Best food sources of selenium are tuna, red snapper, lobster, shrimp, whole grains, vegetables (depending on the selenium content of the soil they're grown in), brown rice, egg yolks, cottage cheese, chicken (white meat), sunflower seeds, garlic, Brazil nuts, and lamb chops. High selenium yeast, SelenoExcell®, is an excellent organically-bound form of selenium.

8. Omega-3 fatty acids. A study found that children taking a half teaspoon of flax oil a day experienced fewer and less severe respiratory infections and fewer days of being absent from school. The omega 3 fatty acids in flax oil and fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) act as immune boosters by increasing the activity of phagocytes, the white blood cells that eat up bacteria. (Perhaps this is why grandmothers used to insist on a daily dose of unpalatable cod liver oil.) Essential fatty acids also protect the body against damage from over-reactions to infection. When taking essential fatty acid supplements, such as flax or fish oils, take additional vitamin E, which acts together with essential fatty acids to boost the immune system. One way to get more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is to add one to three teaspoons of flax oil to a fruit and yogurt smoothie.

If you have further questions about nutrition for kids or specific concerns about your child's diet, talk to your child's doctor or a registered dietitian, or go to the "Other Resources" that we have listed below.

Fitness

For many kids, biking to the playground and playing kickball in the backyard have given way to watching television, playing video games and spending hours online. But it's never too late to get your child off the couch. Use these simple tips to give your child a lifelong appreciation for activities that strengthen his or her body.

Be a good example

Your active lifestyle can be a powerful stimulus for your child. If you want an active child, be active yourself. You can't just "talk" activity - you need to make activity a priority for yourself as well. Go for a brisk walk, ride your bike or take a yoga class. Better yet, invite your family to play catch or to join you on a walk. Talk about physical activity as an opportunity to take care of your body, rather than a punishment or a chore. Praise, reward and encourage activity. You might even set goals and have everyone track their activities and progress.

Wonder how much physical activity is enough? Consider these guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Kids. Children and adolescents age 6 and older need at least an hour a day of physical activity. Most of the hour should be either moderate or vigorous aerobic activity. In addition, children should participate in muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities at least three days a week. Many classic activities - such as playing on playground equipment and jumping rope - cover all the bases at once.
  • Adults. Most healthy adults need at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking or swimming, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, such as running - preferably spread throughout the week. Adults also need strength training exercises at least twice a week.
Limit screen time is key

A surefire way to increase your child's activity level is to limit the number of hours he or she spends in front of a screen - including television, video games and online activities. For example, you might consider a limit of one or two hours a day and, for a better night's sleep, no screen time in the hour before bed. To make it easier, don't put a television in your child's bedroom, don't watch television while you're eating dinner, and restrict computers and other electronic gadgets to a family area. Also consider limiting other sedentary activities, such as text messaging or chatting on the phone.

If your child plays video games, opt for those that require movement. Activity-oriented video games - such as dance video games and video games that use a player's physical movements to control what happens on the screen - boost a child's calorie-burning power. It has been shown that kids who traded sedentary screen time for active screen time more than doubled their energy expenditure.


Other Resources

National Institute of Health (NIH) (children's health)
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/childrenshealth.html

American Heart Association (children's health)
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/HealthierKids/Healthier-Kids_UCM_304156_SubHomePage.jsp

Keep Kids Healthy
http://www.keepkidshealthy.com/nutrition/


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