Nutty Kids are Healthy Kids

Many of today's families are busy and on the go constantly, juggling work, school and extracurricular activities. This makes healthy eating a challenge. Still, parents want and need to teach their children how eating well promotes great health. Luckily, just a little planning can ensure that nutritious and gluten-free snacks are available for kids to choose from, even when they are away from home. Nuts are powerhouses of protein, healthy fats and fiber; they are the perfect snack for growing children, with minerals and antioxidants to keep them healthy as they learn and develop.

Why Choose Nuts?

Choosing nut snacks for both adults and children is a wise and nourishing move. Here are just a few of the reasons:

  • Nuts are great for heart health: Almonds, walnuts, pecans and other nuts lower cholesterol, and they contain heart-healthy unsaturated fatty acids, lowering the bad LDL cholesterol levels. Eating nuts helps keep plaque from forming in arteries and lowers inflammation that is linked to heart disease. Double score!
  • Nuts are high in protein: While a little high in calories, nuts pack a huge protein wallop, which helps to keep a person feeling full and without sugar spikes and cravings. It's much easier for kids to eat healthy foods when they are not experiencing major grum-bellies.
  • Nuts are portable and inexpensive: Nuts are one of the best snack foods They are inexpensive, very portable, nourishing and easy to grab and go on the run. Plus they are simply delicious. What more could a person expect from a snack food?
  • Nuts offer omega-3 stores: Most nuts are omega-3 powerhouses. This is great for kids, who often haven't yet acquired a taste for fish beyond the breaded and fried variety. They can get an ample supply of omega-3 fatty acids from nuts, and these are thought to prevent dangerous heart rhythms and keep things humming along.
  • Nuts are packed with fiber: Fiber keeps people feeling full, lowers cholesterol and encourages them to eat less. Fiber is also believed to play a great role in the prevention of diabetes.
  • Nuts contain natural plant sterols: Plant sterols are often added to products like orange juices and even margarine for extra health benefits, but plant sterols occur naturally in nuts. Plant sterols lower cholesterol and treat arteries and the heart right.

Minerals, Antioxidants and Nuts

Oxidative damage is a problem for health, but nuts can help avert that problem due to plenty of antioxidants. Body cells rely on energy molecules to power all activities, from doing school work to swinging a baseball bat to practicing ballet. These mitochondrial powerhouses create energy by transporting protons as oxygen reacts with them, producing water as a harmless result. Conversely, when oxygen reacts with energy molecules to create O2 or other free radicals, they can create instability that damage cell proteins, cell membranes, and in extreme cases, even genetic code. Obviously, it's quite important to prevent this type of damage to the body.

Damages caused by free radical reactions are called oxidative stress, and they've been linked to many chronic health issues. Though many of these health issues, such as neurodegenerative diseases -- Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or Lou Gehrig's disease -- as well as cancer, are seen as largely problems of the aged, it is never too early to fight against this bodily damage by eating healthy foods.

What Are Antioxidants?

Luckily, there are substances within foods that can protect cells against oxidative damage; these are called antioxidants and are noted as fighters against oxidative stress and damage. In fact, antioxidants are thought to slow and even reverse this type of damage, making them an important element of reducing the risk of chronic disease.

The body produces some antioxidants naturally, including coenzyme Q, bilirubin, melatonin and alpha-lipoic acid, but others must be found in the foods that are consumed to boost antioxidant activity for great health. Knowing which antioxidants are important is key to getting the right ones into a child's diet easily. Here are a few vital antioxidants, along with where they can be found:

  • Lycopene: Lycopene improves overall cardiovascular health and is found in high amounts in tomatoes and tomato products. It can help negate the risk of prostate and gastrointestinal cancers.
  • Sulforaphane: High amounts of sulforaphane are found in cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. These compounds are potent antioxidant fighters, warding off skin cancer and colon cancer.
  • Carotenoids: These compounds are pigmented molecules found in apricots and carrots. Most people are familiar with the idea that carrots improve healthy vision, and carotenoids are the reason why. The carotenoid lutein, eaten regularly, affords a level of protection against cataracts and macular degeneration. Additionally, lutein combined with another carotenoid, zeaxanthin, is thought to improve cognitive abilities in the later years.
  • Resveratrol: Resveratrol is a plant chemical (phytochemical) found in red grapes and is extremely heart-healthy. Resveratrol promotes lipid metabolism, prevents platelets from forming clots and reduces bad cholesterol. Further, it's thought to reduce cellular inflammation and help to stave off cancer.
  • Vitamin E: The vitamin E in nuts can help banish plaque from arteries, staving off chest pain and eventual heart attacks. Walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts are great sources of vitamin E, as are sunflower oil and wheat germ. Teaching kids healthy eating habits when they are young will serve them throughout their lives, and they'll be thrilled to know that nuts are actually good for them.
  • Vitamin C: A prime antioxidant vitamin, bell peppers, broccoli and citrus fruits are loaded with vitamin C. This vitamin helps with immune system health, repair of damaged tissues and gland functioning. It is vital for optimal health at any age.
  • L-arginine: Another antioxidant plentiful in nuts is L-arginine. The L-arginine in nuts cleans artery walls and makes them flexible, preventing blood clots and blockages.

Healthy Nut Snacks for Kids

With all of the health benefits found in nuts, they should be a part of every child's regular diet. While nuts do contain a considerable amount of fat, it is healthy fat for the most part, making them much healthier than saturated fats found in meat, dairy products and eggs. Still, moderation is key when eating nuts, so teaching children proper portions is vital. A small handful is an appropriate serving size, as is 2 tablespoons of nut butter. This breaks down to about 20 almonds, 15 cashews, 15 pecans, 30 pistachio kernels, 9 walnut kernels or a handful of mixed nuts. The American Heart Association recommends four servings of nuts per week, preferably raw or dry-roasted.

What Types of Nuts Are Best?

Almost all nuts are generally healthy, though some definitely have higher nutrient loads. For instance, walnuts contain the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, and almonds, hazelnuts and pecans are nutrient dynamos as well. Even the lowly peanut, actually a legume, is quite good for heart health. Calories and fat vary among the different types of nuts, with roasted chestnuts being the least calorie- and fat-dense, and macadamias, pecans and Brazil nuts being the highest in both categories.

Each type of nut has a different makeup, offering lots of great benefits. They are an easily accessible source of healthy fats and other nutrients. Many health organizations recommend the regular consumption of nuts, and with all of these reasons, it's easy to see why:

  • Almonds are a great source of calcium, protein and vitamin E.
  • Walnuts contain lots of healthy plant omega-3s and multiple antioxidants.
  • Macadamias are extremely high in manganese and monounsaturated fats.
  • Brazil nuts have lots of selenium and fiber. Just two Brazil nuts provide 100 percent of the U.S. recommended daily allowance (RDA) of selenium.
  • Cashews are very low glycemic index (GI, means no blood sugar spikes) and a great source of protein.
  • Hazelnuts have lots of fiber, vitamin E and potassium.
  • Peanuts are a good source of protein, vitamin E, niacin, manganese and folate.

Note the amount and variety of antioxidants and minerals found in the different types of nuts.

The humble nut has come a long way in the recent past. It was once severely underrated as a healthy snack, and people often thought the high amounts of fat were not healthy for the heart. Further studies need to be completed, but already it is plain that nuts play a positive role in reducing the risk of gallstones, maintaining bone health, reducing the risk of cancer, slowing the aging of the brain and reducing macular degeneration leading to blindness.

Children who get into the habit of eating yummy and protective snacks like nuts, fruits and vegetables will live longer and healthier lives. Setting them up for success is as simple as giving them the proper snacks to choose for optimal well-being. Nutty Snacks is committed to offering the most nutritious nut snacks available, with all-natural, easy-to-pronounce ingredients, and in combinations and flavors that both children and adults love.