Lesson 8: The Importance of Nutrient Density
Here's what we'll cover in this topic:
- What is nutrient dense food?
- Ideas and foods to that pack in nutrition
- How to start with all this information?
- The importance of brain foods for your kids
- Bonus expert interview: Paediatric chiropractic tips by Dr Gina Martins
What is nutrient dense food?
In the most basic terms we can define nutrient dense food like this :
Foods that supply generous amounts of one or more nutrients compared to the number of calories they supply are called nutrient dense. Eggs, for example, have a high nutrient density, because they provide protein and many vitamins and minerals in proportion their calories.
So in this topic we’re exploring a bucket load of creative ways we can increase the nutrient density of the foods you offer your little kids - and yourself - in an effort to curb that constant nagging for more food - the solution to which is two fold:
- We need to up nutrient density and provide proper satiety for the body and brain
- We need to break the habit of turning to food as soon as we can’t think of something to do / as often as before when we’ve transitioned to more nutrient dense. Yes, there can be too much of a good thing. Eating real and eating nutrient dense, means you will find yourself, if really listening to your body (mindful eating), not needing as much food, nor as often. For kids, it will be as simple as transitioning them onto a different activity and taking their mind off food, knowing they ate well last meal, or knowing your motivation for wanting them to eat well with the next meal coming up.
We’ve all heard the term HANGRY?
Well, we’ve known plenty of clients and erm, cough, husbands, who used to get hangry. The good news is there are solutions. Increasing nutrient density across your meals will ward off these nasty, moody, Jeckyl and Hyde moments in your household - something for us all to no doubt get excited about!
Eating to nourish and feel truly 'full' isn’t about quick fixes. It’s about finding lasting energy and a big variety of nutrients. So many kids eat toast or cereal for breakfast, a grain based snack mid morning with fruit, a sandwich for lunch, a bikkie or fruit for afternoon tea and then pasta / rice and sauce / casserole type thing at dinner… It’s easy to see why our body is therefore constantly crying out for more. It’s desperately seeking nutrition that it ain’t getting.
Something a lot of people experience when even cleaning up their diet and ditching the processed stuff, is that while they are getting gorgeous benefits from a range of fresh veggies and fruits that have been added, they’re still hungry all the time. Unless there are some slow burning nutrients in the mix, you’re going to feel a little like you could always do with a few more mouthfuls of something ‘truly satisfying’. We are by no means saying ditch the veggies – NO! Sacrilege. Truth is we need all kinds of nutrients in the mix and the most overlooked way to include them is by having a look at nutrient density of the meal, not just how ‘healthy’ it is. So, firstly there are a few things to check off if you or someone in your house is constantly hungry.
You might want to rule out parasites (worms etc) or hormonal imbalances as these can contribute to constant hunger. You might also want to check your body’s absorption percentage. You can do this with a biomedical scientist / doctor / naturopath and private Live Blood analysis. There could be a whole host of reasons you’re not absorbing enough nutrients from your foods, therefore your body craving more and more all the time even though you may be eating super well. You might also want to check out blood sugar levels with your doctor. Whatever additional investigating you choose to do, if at all, something you can do from today, is include some of the tips below into your daily food preparation to get some serious satisfaction into your meals.
Ideas and foods to pack in nutrition
Enjoy this list of ideas and foods, they’re not in a particular order!
1. Dulse Flakes – Powerful, nutrient dense little flakes that we call 'purple sprinkles'. They’re an awesome way to add nutrient density to other stuff you’ve already got going on at meal time. Pop a heaped tablespoon into curries, stews, stocks or soups. Sprinkle a teaspoon into mashed avocado or veggie mashes or pop a teaspoon in a batch of salad vinaigrette. To read more on them and other sea veggies, read here and here.
2. Coconut Oil – An amazing immune builder, anti bacterial, anti -oxidant, digestive helper and appetite satiating tool, coconut oil is a healthy saturated fat. Dissolve a teaspoon in herbal tea, add a couple of the expeller pressed variety (less coconut-y, use the Spiral brand in Australia here pictured, if you don’t like the strong coconut taste) , tablespoons to bolognese sauce or meat balls, soup, stews, stocks, curries, melt and blitz into smoothies. Vitamins A, D, K and E are fat soluble so if you have vegetable soups, juices and smoothies and aren’t adding a spoonful or two of healthy fats, you’re not getting the full absorption of those vitamins, which seems a big ol’ shame! Here are some of our favourite fats.
3. Butter & Ghee – Again, important to ensure you feed kiddies healthy fats. Double the butter you’d normally put on their toast or in eggs. Lather the veggies in it to ensure A, D, E and K vitamin absorption and if making a vegetable soup, be sure to include a little of either of these if tolerant. Healthy fats provide a slow and steady energy burn, so if your hungry person becomes irrational with hunger, chances are the healthy fats need to go up in the diet and it doesn’t need to be much. For yourself, see what suits you. For a baby, a 1/2 tsp of ghee or coconut oil at meal time is a great addition, especially if vegetables are featuring heavily. For a child from toddler onward, whatever the family meal has in it, distributed across portions is fine, once you’ve started adding a couple of tablespoons to casseroles, omelettes, stir fries etc.
4. Chia Seeds – Great for adding to soups, stews, curries, smoothies, omelettes for extra nutrients. Read more about those here. We just caution you to pay attention to how your body reacts to them. They can aggravate some people – not many – with a little gastrointestinal distress. Be sure to drink plenty of liquids if you’re a chia lover as they soak a huge amount of liquid up and can constipate. That said, many people love adding them to the mix for satiety, fibre, Omega rich kick and protein and thrive with them.
5. Sweets + Fats combo – Don’t feed people sweets without healthy fats. Apple and pear gets a cheese accompaniment, banana and nut butter or coconut cream vanilla bean ‘dip’ (scroll down to ‘cream top’ in that recipe), chocolate icing gets avocado in it… The fats will slow down the sugars and you’ll get a slower, steadier burn of energy while you enjoy a sweet satisfying something.
6. Swap the sauce to grain ratio – For those who eat grains be sure that you’re not serving a massive serve of grain and a small serve of the sauce / meat accompaniment (which you’ve snuck a bit of dulse flake, coconut oil or butter into of course). If you’ve got fussy kids who notice every small change, do it very slowly over time so it goes unnoticed and do it for the whole family not just the super hungry one – it’s better for everyone! They want the grain cause it’s a quick filler and immediately satisfying as well as completely unchallenging to the taste buds, but the grains will turn to sugars in the body which will burn quickly and leave you hungry much sooner than meat, veg and healthy fats.
7. Activate your legumes and wholegrains. All of these things contain enzyme inhibitors, namely phytates / phytic acid, as well whatever nutrients they carry. To activate legumes, read here. To activate whole grains, just soak them in a bowl with a little whey, yoghurt or lemon juice for minimum 12 hours and maximum of 24, and then drain well, rinse well and cook as normal (although cook time will take less time having been pre soaked). Then, you’ve broken down the majority of the phytic acid in there and that means when you eat that food, you’re actually getting the benefit of all the nutrients in the food! Game on! Latest research suggests that soaking nuts does not improve the nutrient bioavailability of them, so no need to activate them! Here's a great blog post about it by our friend Fiona Tuck Nutrition.
8. Do not serve a plain salad - We haven't met many kids who'll just eat green leaves - Click here for how to soup up your salad to make it more filling and nourishing. The trick is to ensure you always have deep coloured veg, bright ones, variety, healthy proteins, crunchy things, creamy extras… And if they love fruit, then add that in too! There are many ways to go from limp lettuce leaf to power nutrition bowl with a little inspiration and variety.
9. Add coconut cream, milk or regular cream to soups, stews, curries for lasting, slow burning healthy fats!
10. Add culture to your meals – a spoonful of crème fraiche once you’ve taken the soup, stew, sauce off the heat (if you add while cooking, the enzymes in the cultured cream will die and not provide the digestive benefit). Add cultured veggies to your meals, or learn how to make your own. The reason these are all going to help is because they are enzyme rich foods, making more of what you eat get assimilated. They help make sure we’ve got lots of good bacteria in our guts too. The healthier the gut, the better the absorption of your food in general so it’s worth incorporating them into your mix. Be sure to start very small:
- Steer clear of kombucha until aged 3 and then 30ml is plenty in a day.
- Cultured veggies, from 8 months onwards, literally a few drops of fermented vegetable juice is plenty. 1/2 tsp a day for toddlers and under 5's, and a tsp at each meal beyond that is plenty starting with less to begin with and working up to the teaspoon per meal over a month.
- Adults need only 100ml as a recommendation in traditional cultures that enjoy it. These 330ml bottles everyone is guzzling these days could actually be having a counter effect you might not love!
Want or need to sneak them into your kids without them knowing until they learn to like them? How to get cultured foods into your kids- Read here.
11. Stop using water and use stock when you’re cooking. Bring on the mineral boost and powerful bone gelatin to your stews, soups, sauces and curries! Every time a savoury recipe says to add water, add corresponding stock, or a mix of both. Make a massive batch and jar a few different sizes to have on hand from the freezer or fridge. It’s also great for cooking baby veggies in for puréeing, to ensure better mineral content in their diets and to strengthen their developing digestive health. New to making stock? CLICK HERE And HERE.
12. Use grass fed beef gelatin is an unbelievable nourisher. You can add a tablespoon to soups, smoothies, stews and curries. You can also make jellies. If you don’t believe just how nourishing this stuff can be to a body, we challenge you to an experiment: Make a cup of fresh squeezed apple juice one day, or buy from a juice stall. Give your child 1/2 a cup of that fresh apple juice mid morning. Time her/ him and see when she starts asking for more food. THEN, with the other 1/2 cup of juice, heat it up on the stove until just boiled and add a good teaspoon of gelatin powder like this Vital Proteins Beef Gelatin or this Nutraorganics Gelatin. Pour into a little pot or a dish and refrigerate and let it set. Next day, feed it as a mid morning snack – time again the next sign of hunger. To make the experiment totally fair, feed the same breakky each of the mornings and feed the snack same time both days. You will see what we’re talking about. Protein packed awesomeness to slow down that fruit sugar in our bodies and a super cheap way per serve to boost the satiety of foods. The tub lasts ages so don’t panic about the price. Supermarket jelly is full of toxic weirdness, so this is a great and easy treat to get on rotation.
13. Eggs - These are particularly fantastic ‘sneaky cheekies’ for little people who are ‘refusal experts’ for any food resembling nourishment BUT also always complain of being hungry. The nourishment in an egg yolk is out of this world good. If you can make sure you are able to source over time eggs that are pasture raised and supplemented only organic feed to avoid GMs, then it’s an extra bonus! You can separate out the whites of a couple of eggs and quickly whisk yolks into a cauliflower mash or a quinoa pasta to turn your bland ambassador child into an omega 3, vitamin D trooper – without even knowing it. Little tricks like this can be vital while you’re supporting their transition from fussiness in the mean time. You can also hide through mashed avocado, steamed veggies, brown rice… whatever you fancy! If you have a growing boy or girl playing lots of sport, just whisk a couple of egg yolks through his or her portion of whatever it is you’re adding. Works a treat! Not all eggs are created equal however, you can read about that here.
14. Add paté to the mix but make it yourself. Here’s a recipe. We love it on celery sticks, crackers, sourdough or grain free bread or crackers of choice for a nourishing hit of healthy fats and nutrient dense liver. Two long sticks like that or a slice of bread with generous paté is lunch done. Very nutrient rich and satisfying. Even if it’s not your thing, try it for your ‘hungry person’ you’re worried about. Many babies and kids love pate as it’s easy to eat and a little sweet, provided it’s not an alcohol fuelled store bought option.
15. Hit the oily fish such as sardines and mackerel, as well as shell fish. Crab meat can be lovely for little ones flaked through a pasta. Fresh local prawns can be super yummy as a finger food. Avoid Asian origin prawns due to high antibiotic use and over farming. As with all foods, when transitioning through solids in the earlier years, try a tiny amount on lip first and then ensuring no swelling or redness, try a little spoonful and then if still clear you can move onto trying more through the week in the family foods.
16. Know your nutrient dense fruit and veggies: Berries, Watercress, Kale, Chard, Spinach, Potatoes (true! how do you fancy some Vit C, B, Manganese, Magnesium, potassium, iron, copper… list goes on. Potatoes with the mix of a meal are great), Beetroot, Carrots with tops still attached, Cherry tomatoes, garlic, rocket and fresh herbs all pack the biggest nutrient punches in the fruit and veggie world. Get amongst it and if you can: Think about growing a few of your own. Asparagus, broccoli, spinach, leek, mushroom and kale for example, lose about 1/2 their antioxidants after just 2-3 days of harvest. Now that doesn’t mean they’re not worth eating, there’s still plenty of incredible nutrition in them, but it certainly breeds reason to support local on the day farmers at markets as well as growing your own when there’s space. Read about the Top 5 Nutrient Dense Powerhouse Greens here.
Phew. Ok, we’re done.
How to start?
The easiest thing to start doing is to say: Can I add anything to this to increase the nutrient density? When making a smoothie, can I add a high quality green blend, a teaspoon of coconut oil, some coconut cream, half an avocado, some chia seeds… When a soup or stew is bubbling away, think to yourself “What can I add?” Some chicken stock, some dulse flakes, some herbs…
These forms of additional nourishment work really well because quite a few of them will go virtually unnoticed. You don’t have to talk to children, sell a new way of eating to them… you can just ‘get it in there’ so to speak until they're ready to add them in themselves and they’re involved with you in the kitchen and see it as normal.
We’d love for anyone who tries any of the ideas out to report back in our Facebook group, so be sure to share your story and/or photos with #thrivinghappykids hashtag. Remember, once you’ve upped the nutrient density, you can lay off the frequency of food. It may take a while for the brain to catch up, so see if you can just move them along to an activity if it’s less than an hour until the next meal is planned. You might find they stop pestering for food rather quickly.
And just so we’re super clear - Nutrient density is as much about feeding the brain as anything, so here’s a little more on nutrient density and it’s direct relation to ‘feeding the brain’.
The Importance of Brain Foods for your Kids
As the synapses connect throughout childhood, the little kiddie brains are growing and learning at a rapid rate, learning how to memorise, organise and categorise. They are also learning how to retrieve their stored information, reshape it and apply it in a useful way (unless it has anything to do with making a bed once in a while). It is an often overlooked fact that the foods they eat are just as important for the brain as they are for the body. The food they eat is building every structure of their brains.
Food is one of many factors that affect a child's brain development along with brain stimulation, physical exercise, hydration and a supportive and mindful upbringing.
Over half the human brain is made up what is known as ‘structural fat” and needs high-quality fats like Omega-3’s to function properly by keeping the brain fluid and flexible.
"The childhood years are critical for brain development, and what they eat affects focus and cognitive skills.” Psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, the co-author of The Happiness Diet and Fifty Shades of Kale.
So here are some of the most important foods to help kids stay sharp all day long, and which have positive long-term effects on brain development.
Fats - Fish, Seeds, Nuts, Eggs
60% of the brain is saturated fat, if we are deficient in certain types of fats this can greatly affect our kids intelligence and behaviour. Essential fatty acids - Omega-3 and Omega-6 actively promote mental health. They keep our kids’ brains healthy and boost their intelligence (mental, emotional and physical) and stabilise their mood.
The best sources of Omega-3 are from wild or organically farmed salmon, sardines, herring & mackerel, anchovies (whole, not salted fillets), flax, hemp and pumpkins seeds, and eggs (from hens who have eaten a high omega-3 diet and have grazed on pasture) can also be a rich source. Some studies have linked low consumption of Omega 3’s with depression and low cognitive function and it’s not surprising when you think about it. Here's a salmon fritter recipe you can try.
Of all the tissues of the body, the brain has the highest proportion of Omega 6’s. The best sources of Omega-6 come from seeds, especially sunflower and sesame seeds, along with walnuts and isn’t it zany how a walnut really looks like a brain! Nuts and seeds are also a great source of the antioxidant vitamin E, which protects the brain-cell membranes from damage.
Tip: Measure one part each of sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, along with three measures of flaxseeds into a sealed jar and store in the fridge. Freshly grind one heaped tablespoon of these seeds and add to your child’s smoothie or porridge in the morning or over the soups. You will be adding truck loads of goodness with this little trick to start the day! Grinding fresh is important due to volatile seeds becoming easily rancid so don’t buy pre blended LSAs and Flax meals… DIY.
Try this: Homemade Seeded Muesli Slice recipe.
Eggs (as well as beans, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, yoghurt, buckwheat and beef) contain choline, which is vital for the creation of the memory stem cells formed deep within our brains. Basically, the more stem cells we have, the better our memory. Choline also helps our kids to concentrate. Try to lightly and gently fry eggs in butter, poach or soft boil eggs to keep the yellow as runny as your kids would like. This is the best way to get the most out of the egg.
Amino acids are the building blocks of life and protein is where you get them. Amino acids build the neurotransmitters that affects your child’s mood, memory and mental alertness.
Ensure that your child has a 2 servings of protein-rich food daily in order to keep their brain running smoothly, keep them feeling positive, motivated, energised and able to concentrate.
Tip: Meat, eggs, fish, dairy, lentils, beans, seeds, nuts & quinoa are some great sources.
Try This: This is a easy and delicious way to get some protein - Spinach, Lentil and Lemon Soup.
Fruits and vegetables (especially greens!)
Vitamins and minerals are mainly derived from fruit and vegetables and play a support role in the development and function of your child’s brain, ensuring everything run smoothly. They are also key to building and rebuilding the brain. The most important are the Vitamin Bs, folic acid, Vitamin C, magnesium and manganese which are plentiful in fruits and vegetables.
Greens are super awesome because they are full of folate and vitamins which help ward off dementia later in life.
Apples and plums contain quercetin, an antioxidant that can fight decline in mental skills. Most of the goodness is usually in the skin of the fruit, so if you are able to, buy organic or spray-free and wash before eating. Berries and other brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are loaded up with antioxidants which protect your child’s brain from normal wear and tear.
Tip: Greens can be challenging to encourage your kids to eat. Give kale chips a go, or chop kale or spinach finely and adding to omelettes or stir fries.
Try this: Crunchy Kale Chip recipe
Complex Carbohydrates are fibre rich whole grains which provide the most important food for your child’s brain – glucose - the brain’s major fuel. It’s the fibre in the complex carbohydrates which slows the body’s absorption of energy, ensuring the brain gets a slow and steady supply of fuel.
A good source of low GI, complex carbohydrates come from whole grains like brown rice, buckwheat, oats or quinoa.
Always try to combine protein and fats when eating these whole grains, to slow down the absorption of sugars found in carbohydrates.
Tip: Studies show that fuelling the brain at breakfast is important for thinking, acting and learning. Try a slower-burning breakfast in the form of bircher muesli and add cinnamon for some extra protection for the brain.
Try this: Find out how to pimp up your oat porridge for optimal nutrition.
Avoid the junk
Refined sugar, damaged fats, food additives and toxic minerals are substances which damage the brain. They contain anti-nutrients which knock out essential brain-friendly nutrients and have potential to interfere with both learning and behaviour.
Kids are often running around in a state of dehydration which can cause listlessness, lethargy and irritability. Not ideal when your kids are trying to learn. Dehydration also creates false hunger which leads children to make poor food choices.
Other great sources of brain food:
- Good quality milk and yoghurt
- Coconut oil
Thrive Expert Bonus: Paediatric Chiropractic Tips by Dr Gina Martins
Chiropractors check your nervous system’s function (brain, spinal cord and nerves). It’s your body’s computer. Information needs to travel unaffected from the brain to the body and organs for optimum health.
Paediatric chiropractors can perform safe, gentle adjustments on babies and children
What to look out for in your babies and children and reasons a paediatric chiropractic check up may help:
- Unsettled babies, especially after a long / traumatic birth, forceps / ventouse.
- Babies always turning their head to one preferred.
- Asymmetrical crawling pattern or missing this stage altogether.
- Excessive crying or sleep.
- Developmental delays.
- Excessive falls.
- Repeated colds or ear infections.
- Sensitivities to food, bloating.
- Behaviour or concentration issues.
- Tilted head, shoulders or hips not level, longer leg, head jutting forward, rolled shoulders, sway low.
What to avoid:
- Facing forward when in a baby carrier.
- Babies using walkers or jolly jumpers before they can stand or walk.
- Feeding solids to a baby who cannot sit.
- Hard soled shoes when under 2yo.
- Pillows when under 5yo, and then very low ones.
- Extended dummy / thumb sucking.
- Sitting with a space between their bottom and back of chair.
- Exercise without sufficient support in the shoe wear.
- School bag on one shoulder only and backpack sitting too low.
- Electronic devices for as long as possible!
Where to find a Paediatric Chiropractor:
Well Kids Chiropractor Directory
Retained Neo-Natal Reflex's Chiropractor Directory
Where to find chiropractor who uses Applied Kinesiology:
ICAKA's Practitioner Directory
If you still cannot locate a chiropractor, please email Gina Martins who may be able to recommend someone.
An offer for Thrivers:
Dr Gina Martins has kindly offered to do a Complimentary Posture Analysis for all THRIVE participants. Simply follow these instructions below on how to take two photos of your child and yourself and send her an email these photos back and Gina will analyse and respond within 14 days.
And so there you have it - General nutrient density followed by a concentrated look at what our brains need to THRIVE (concentrated… Get it?)
It’s easy to start seeing after our journey so far, that there’s really no room for junk - However slow you need to go with your little team, just keep changing things at your pace and know that crowding out the bad by adding more good stuff, is about the best and least stressful way to go.
Alexx and Brenda x
© Thrive 2020
Disclaimer: This eCourse contains the educated opinions of the authors and does not substitute for medical advice from your health care professional. It is your responsibility to consult your medical provider before making any changes to your diet. The author, therefore, assumes no responsibility for the decisions you take based upon the information contained in this eCourse.
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|Read through today's topic.|
|Watch the interview with Dr Gina Martins|
|As you're cooking this week, start to ask yourself: Can I add anything to this to increase the nutrient density? When making a smoothie, can I add a high quality green blend, some melted coconut oil, some coconut cream, half an avocado… When a soup or stew is bubbling away, think to yourself “What can I add?” Some coconut oil, some dulse flakes…|
You might not be able to answer, but my 10 month old usually has 4 milk (breast milk) feeds a day, and solids 3 x. I’m slowing weaning her off the day milk feeds. The past week I’ve experimented with her 11 am milk feed and she seems fine without out it. So far I’ve just given her a bottle of water for her usual 11 am feed when she wakes up and some coconut yogurt and she seems happy enough with that, but I’m worried that it might not be enough nutrients for her? She’s very easy going – she’ll basically eat/drink whatever I give her, so whilst she might not be complaining about missing the milk, I was thinking maybe giving her some brother instead or perhaps adding something like the Nutra Organics Vital Veggie powder to the water in the bottle? I can’t seem to find any good advice on this! thanks.
Hi Kim, it sounds like she’d be getting a good array of nutrients given what you’ve described. Prepping some of her food with some broth would be great too and if you’re concerned about nutriton a sprinkle of Vital Veggie powder in her food would be fine also, keeping in mind nothing beats whole-foods in terms of nutrition. I was listening to a recent summit with some cutting edge wellness doctors and professionals who suggest breastfeeding until 2yrs as an ideal way to produce a solid and diverse microbiota and healthy immune system in our children. So keep up the good work!
Loving the course Brenda and Alexx. This topic especially great – love the simplicity with which you have presented this. thank you
Our total pleasure Lisa. Really appreciate the feedback. x