Nourish and Flourish with Dr. Weil

Nourish and Flourish with Dr. Weil


Feeding our families healthfully is no small feat.  There are more choices to make at the grocery store than ever before, and our on-the-go lifestyle means we often just reach for what’s there, and not what’s really best for us.  But a poor diet impairs our children’s health and their ability to learn.   The risks for them include diabetes, obesity, hypertention, allergies, anemia, cavities, high cholesterol, and future illness from the ingestion of harmful substances, like carcinogens.  Here are some pointers to help navigate the choices in the supermarket aisles and get your family’s healthy eating on track.


When caregivers take good care of themselves, they’re also taking good care of their children.  By eating well and practicing good health habits, parents provide their children with a good example.  Setting a good example will help our children develop sound judgement and self-control over what and how much they eat.  Interestingly, surveys have shown that children under the age of five meet more of their recommended daily nutritional requirements than older children do.  Could this be because older children are making more of their own food choices, and not selecting wisely?   Our children certainly need to learn to make healthy food choices for themselves on their own, but in order to do so, they need our guidance and support. 


At mealtime, offer three to four different food choices, including a protein (milk or meat group) a fruit or vegetable, and a grain.  Here is what your child needs every day in order to build a healthy body:


To help you understand what sizes the portions you serve your child should be, here are some visual equivalents to every day items.

For a teaspoon look to the tip of your thumb.

A tablespoon-sized portion looks like 1/2 of a ping-pong ball; and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter make 1 ping pong ball sized portion.

One ounce of cheese is the size of four dice put together.

For one ounce of meat, think of a matchbox or a domino.

3 oz. of meat is about the size of a deck of cards or a bar of soap.  Another way to think of 3 oz. is the palm of your hand, minus the finger.  For 3 oz. of fish, think of your checkbook.

For a 1/4 cup serving think of a golf ball or egg.

For 1/2 a cup portion – think of an adult rounded handful.

A one-cup serving is tennis ball sized.

For more information on nutrition and serving sizes, visit,



The body needs a steady intake of proteins to build and maintain every cell in our bodies, including organs, muscles, antibodies, hormones and enzymes.  Proteins are made up of molecules called amino acids.  Our bodies contain twenty different amino acids, of which nine are essential amino acids, and eleven are nonessential amino acids.  While our bodies are capable of producing the nonessential amino acids on their own, essential amino acids must be supplied to the body from foods.  During the digestion process, proteins from the food we eat are broken down into amino acids.  These amino acids are then combined and reconfigured by our bodies into the many different proteins that make up the cells and tissues of our bodies.

Healthful Hint:  Choose lean/low fat meats, poultry and fish for your family.  Add an extra egg to homemade foods such as whole-wheat waffles or breads, reducing other liquids in the recipe by 1/4 cup for each egg addedTry a little wheat germ or dry milk  in hot cereals, stews, or even as a dessert topping on yogurt, pudding or ice cream.


Carbohydrates include sugars, starches and fiber, and are the body’s main source of energy.   While they have suffered from an unhealthy reputation lately, the truth is that our bodies require lots of them and about 60 percent of your child’s total daily calories should be in the form of carbohydrates.  The question is, which kinds of carbohydrate foods should you serve to your family?  The most tempting for our children are simple carbohydrates.  These include sucrose, also known as table sugar, lactose, and fructose.    Complex carbohydrates include foods such as legumes, nut butters, oatmeal, pasta, soy, potatoes and whole grains, also commonly known as starches.  In the body, simple and complex carbohydrates behave differently.   For example, let’s say your child eats a candy bar on an empty stomach.  Since the molecules of simple sugars are so small, they break down and are absorbed very quickly by the bloodstream, causing a surge in blood sugar levels. Sugar has also been shown to suppress immunity, promote dental cavities, increase cravings, and promote obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  On the other hand, if your child chose a snack of whole-wheat toast with peanut butter, the longer, more complicated molecules of this complex carbohydrate food would take the body longer to digest, so there would not be the blood sugar fluctuations caused by the simple carbohydrates.  Complex carbohydrates provide a slow, sustained release of energy to the body, and your child’s stomach feels full for longer.

Healthful Hint: Reach for complex carbohydrates first, found in grains, vegetables and legumes.  The best simple carbohydrate choice is a piece of fruit, which provides quick energy.  Choose other simple carbohydrates with caution.


Fiber is a complex carbohydrate and our bodies lack the enzyme necessary to break it down.  So instead of being absorbed in our bloodstream, fiber slows the digestion of other carbohydrates and the absorption of sugar.  It’s also essential for a healthy colon and to prevent constipation.  Some great sources of fiber include whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, and popcorn.  Selecting “brown” foods like brown rice, whole wheat bread, and whole-wheat pastas in the place of refined foods such as white rice, white bread, and white pasta are a good way to increase the fiber in your child’s diet.

Healthful Hint: Beans, peas and seeds provide lots of fiber and it’s easy to add them into recipes kids love.  Try topping a taco with some pinto beans, adding peas to a bowl of vegetable soup or macaroni and cheese, or putting some sunflower or pumpkinseeds on top of a salad.   Like beans, sprinkling a bit of wheat germ on your meals will provide you with both extra fiber and protein.


While vitamins have no calories and are not sources of energy, they are enormously important as they help the body metabolize nutrients from food.  There are 13 vitamins that are essential to humans: vitamins A, B-1 (Thiamin), B-2, Riboflavin, B-3 (Niacin), B-6 (Pyridoxine), B-12, C (Ascorbic acid), D, E, F (Folic Acid), K, Panthothenic acid and Biotin.   These vitamins are divided into two categories: fat soluble, so named because they are absorbed with the help of fats and stored in the fats of your body.  Water-soluble vitamins do not require fat for absorption and are not stored for long in the body.  Your body is only able to manufacture vitamin D and vitamin K, so all the rest must come from food and/or supplements.  Food intake is the preferred way to get your vitamins.   Providing a vitamin supplement to your child should be considered as a little extra insurance toward good health, and not as a replacement for eating real, vitamin rich foods.

Healthful Hint: Eating a balanced diet that provides a variety of fruits and vegetables is a good way to ensure your kids are getting enough vitamins.  For example, what may be lacking in the servings of fruits and vegetables they eat one day will probably be contained in the next day’s serving of different produce.  For more information on vitamins, please refer to “Bite by Bite – a Table Full of Healthy Heating.”


Minerals are elements required by our bodies for proper growth, health and many vital functions.  For example, the mineral calcium provides the building blocks for strong bones and teeth.  The minerals our bodies need include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur and trace minerals, which include iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride, and selenium.

Healthful Hint: Since we obtain the full dietary benefit of both minerals and vitamins in our diet when they are consumed together, select a multivitamin for your child that also contains minerals.   For more information on minerals, please refer to the sections “Bite by Bite – a Table Full of Healthy Heating” “Calcium” and “Iron.”


Beyond healthy bones and teeth, the mineral calcium is vital to every cell of the body and is also necessary for proper blood clotting.  Without proper calcium, muscles cramp and twitch. Though children drink less milk than they did 20 years ago, their bodies still need the calcium milk contains as much as ever.  That’s why it’s important that parents seek alternate foods to serve that include this important nutrient.  Beyond dairy sources, some calcium rich foods include soy/rice milk, almonds, blackstrap molasses, vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, artichoke, beet greens, collard greens, rhubarb and kale, sesame seeds & poppy seeds.

Healthful Hint: Increase the calcium in foods such as mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, pancakes and baked goods by adding dry milk powder to the recipe.  Select foods that are calcium fortified such as orange juice, (the vitamin C it contains improves the absorption of calcium) cereal bars and tofu.  Soft drinks that contain citric or phosphoric acids can decrease the absorption of calcium.


Your body needs the mineral iron to produce hemoglobin, which carries oxygen through the blood to all the body’s cells.  Blood that is low in iron can’t carry enough oxygen to organs and muscles and results in a tired, weak body.  Iron is also required by the brain for the proper functioning of neurotransmitters, which carry messages from one nerve to the other.  Kids that are iron deficient (anemic) may fall behind at school, as anemia has been linked to reduced concentration, decreased performance on intelligence tests, and a general decline in academic performance.   Despite its vital role in our health, Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder in the world.   We need only a small amount of iron for good health, and too much can be harmful.  Iron comes in two forms: heme, which is found in meat, fish and poultry, and nonheme, which is found in plant foods such as cereals, beans, flour and spinach.   Heme foods contain more iron and are more readily absorbed by the body than nonheme.   Red organ meats like liver have the most heme iron, and in general, the darker a piece of meat, the more heme iron it will contain.

Healthful Hint:  Foods high in vitamin C will increase iron absorption, and those high in calcium will decrease absorption.  So serve an orange juice on the side with that steak, and save the glass of milk for another meal.   Cooking in iron pots can also increase the iron content of a prepared meal.


Fats are an important and necessary nutrient which provide energy, help build healthy cells, provide structural components for the brain to produce hormones, help the body to use vitamins, provide for healthier skin and give a protective cushion for our vital organs.  For children aged 2-3 years, 30-35% of daily calories should come from fats, and for children ages 4-18 years, the percentage is 25-35% of daily calories.  Fats also add great flavor and taste to the foods we eat.  EFAs (essential fatty acids) are important dietary requirements and can only be obtained from foods or supplements. Serving fats wisely to your family doesn’t just mean serving a low fat diet, it also means serving the right fats.  Both monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are the good fats; and saturated fats (SATFAs) are the bad fats.  Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, and unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Good fats and bad fats behave a lot on the outside the way they do on the inside of your body.  A good fat flows like oil, both on your plate and through your arteries, while a bad fat, like the marbling on a roast, sits, solid, on your plate, while on the inside, holding their form and sticking to the sides of your arteries. Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats are oils that have been treated with hydrogen, which turns them into solid saturated fats – an example of this is the conversion of oil to margarine.  Hydrogenated fats contain trans fatty acids or trans-fats.  Trans fats are as bad, and sometimes worse, for the body as saturated fats, and have been linked to raising cholesterol levels.  Trans fats also raise the level of LDL(bad) cholesterol, and decrease the HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood.  So eating hydrogenated/trans-fats really spells trouble for our kids.   The good news is that EFA’s Omega-3 fatty acid (linolenic acid) and Omega-6 fatty acid (linoleic acid) help reduce the risk of heart disease and help build healthy brain cells.

Healthful Hint:  Choose liquid oils for your family such as corn, soybean, canola and olive oil.  Eating fish, flax, and nuts provides our body with good oils, too.  Remember that fats from seafood and plant sources are healthier than fats from food factories (hydrogenated) and animal sources.


There is research to suggest that children are more sensitive to sugar than adults.  Serve sugar to your children with caution, and keep in mind it is safer to eat sweets after a balanced meal, as fats and fiber will slow the absorption of the sugar.  Sweeteners may seem like a logical choice to circumvent the issues sugar raises in the diets of kids.  At present, research into the long-term affects of artificial sweeteners in the diets of children are inconclusive at best and generally not available.   So rather than experiment with the health of your child by using artificial sweeteners, it may be wise to avoid them, unless otherwise directed by a doctor.

Healthful Hint: Serve your family foods and beverages that do not contain either sugar or caloric sweeteners (such as high-fructose corn syrup, glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, maltose) as one of the first ingredients.  Choose Blackstrap Molasses as a sweetener at your table and in your recipes.  It is also a source of calcium, iron, and potassium and contains traces of B-vitamins.  For a special treat, serve a piece of dark chocolate which is high in antioxidants and lower in sugar than semi-sweet, white or milk chocolate.


So-called junk foods are often loaded with addictive tastes that kids really crave.  But with little nutrition and ingredients that are more harmful to a child’s body than helpful, eating junk food can leave your child in the dumps.  Junk food often contains ingredients such as artificial colorings and sweeteners, sugars, hydrogenated fats, caffeine, and lots of salt. Ingesting ingredients such as these in place of nutritious ones denies the body’s cells the proper nutrition they require, delays nerve-impulse transmissions, and interferes with neurotransmitters, which can affect thought and actions. Eating a lot of junk food may also establish an unhealthy cycle of cravings in your child.  The hydrogenated oils that are in everything from burgers and fries to baked goods give the foods a fatty tastiness that may leave kids wanting more.  The high sugar levels in junk food skyrockets kids insulin, causing them more sugar cravings.  The high levels of salt found in junk food are not good for children either; developing a taste for salty foods early in life can carve a path for kids leading to hypertension (high blood pressure) as an adult.  The high fat level in junk food meals may keep kids full longer, but also leads to them feeling more sluggish as a result, another deterrent to their learning and playing.

Healthful hint: Providing young children with healthful foods during their early years of life will give them a taste for the good stuff, and help them to be less likely to crave junk food and to be able to moderate their own intake when around it.  Make a point of not keeping junk food in your home as this may give your child the message that this kind of eating is okay.  Avoid serving fast food meals, and don’t reward your child with junk food treats.


Children love juice and drink it very readily, but there are good reasons not to over-serve juice. Over consumption of juice by kids can fill them up and lead them to refuse whole fruits and the nutrition contained within.  Research indicates that children ages 2-5 who regularly consume 12 ounces (the size of a can of soda) or more of fruit juice a dayhave a higher probability of being obese than kids who consume less juice.  Some fruits (prune, pears, cherry, peach, and apple) contain sorbitol, a non-absorbable sugar that moves through the body.  Over-consumption of these fruits/juices can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea.  There is no sorbitol in citrus fruits/juices.  Avoid serving beverages called “juice drinks” or “juice cocktails” as they are often made of a small amount of juice and a lot of added sugar and water.  Choose 100 percent juice drinks for your family instead.  Promote drinking milk, vegetable juices and water to your children in place of fruit juice.

Healthful Hint:  Cut juices in half with waterPromote eating whole fruit in all its forms (fresh, frozen, canned, or dried) and serve juice carefully, no more than 6 ounces each day for children up to age seven, and 8-12 ounces for those who areolder. Try juices that are fortified with vitamin C and/or calcium for increased nutrition.


Taking the time to learn what your child’s school cafeteria is serving for lunch
will help your own child’s performance in school every afternoon.  Questions to know the answer to include what is being served – fast food like dishes or more healthful fare?  Are fresh fruits and milk served in the place of juice and desserts?  What is for sale in the vending machines?  Are there soft drinks available in the school building?   Eating the wrong foods at lunchtime may leave your child lethargic from too many high-fat calories.  So check with your school’s principal and PTA to make sure that healthy meals are a priority at your school.

Healthful Hint: Talk to your child about what they being served for school lunch, and consider either supplementing these servings with extra fruit, healthy snacks, etc. from home or packing them a homemade lunch if the school’s food seems unacceptable to you.  Instead of sending your child to school with money for sweet treats from the vending machine, encourage your child to eat desserts at home, where you can make sure they’ve eaten a complete meal before.


 When your child is thirsty, encourage them to reach for a glass of water.  When your child’s body gets dehydrated, their entire body is affected.  For starters, water cools the body, enables joints to move smoothly, keeps our skin soft, and helps keep things running smoothly in the body’s GI tract.  Drinking plenty of water when you are sick can make you feel better faster by loosening mucous and keeping mucous membranes moist, airways and breathing passages recover faster.  When we drink lots of water we think better too, because dehydration impairs our concentration.   Tap water that is fluoridated provides additional protection against tooth decay for your child.

Depending on where you live and the source of your water, you may be concerned about the possibility of contaminants, such as pesticides, chemicals, bacteria and radioactive materials in the water you drink.   If you have concerns about your family’s water supply, contacting your water utility directly is a good way to learn about the safety of your water.  You may also choose to purchase a filtration system for your home.  Another option is to test your home’s water yourself, using a state and EPA certified testing laboratory.  It’s also a good idea to make sure that water is not traveling into your home through old lead pipes.

Healthful hint:  Children should consume a half ounce of water for each pound they weigh.    For example, a 30 pound child should consume 15 ounces of water each day.  Infants should consume 1 1/2 ounces of water each day – for example, 45 ounces for a 30 lb. Baby.   Children who are exercising, sick, hot, or just plain thirsty need more water.  In general, it’s best to drink enough water throughout the day so that you don’t get thirsty, because by the time you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.  Verify that your family’s water is fluoridated, as some water sources, including well and bottled water, may not be.   In this case, consult your child’s pediatrician about providing fluoride supplements to your children.


The boxes, jars, cans and packs on the shelves at the supermarket compete for our attention with appetizing images of the foods contained within, likenesses of celebrities and beloved children’s characters, and words promoting the goodness of what’s inside.  But what do all those words like “healthy” “natural flavors” and “organic” really mean?  Here is a list of label terms every parent should know.

“low calorie” Contains 40 calories or less per serving
“calorie free” Contains 5 calories or less per serving
“reduced calorie” Contains at least 25 percent fewer calories than regular version of product
“light” or “lite” Contains 1/3 fewer calories and/or no more than half the fat of the regular version of the product
“fat free” Contains less than .5 grams of fat per serving
“free” Contains none or trace amounts of a substance, such as salt, fat or sugar
“low fat” Contains 3 grams of fat or less per serving
“reduced fat” Contains at least 25 percent less fat than the regular versions of the food
“cholesterol free” Contains no more than 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving
“low cholesterol” Contains no more than 20 milligrams of cholesterol or less, and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving
“low saturated fat” contains1 gram or less of saturated fat per serving
“lean” Contains fewer than 10 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, and 95 milligrams of cholsterol per serving
“extra lean” Contains les than 2 grams of saturated fat and less than 5 grams of total fat
“fresh” Unprocessed, uncooked, unfrozen foods
“fresh frozen” Fresh foods, such as fish, that were quickly frozen
“healthy” Contains no more than 3 grams of fat and 60 milligrams of cholesterol per serving, and contains at least 10 percent of the RDA of one of the following nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein, fiber.  Individual foods must contain no more than 300 milligrams of sodium, prepackaged foods no more than 480 milligrams.  There is no limit for sugar content
“natural flavors” Contains flavors extracted from non-synthetic foods
“good source” Contains at least 10-19 percent of the RDA of a particular nutrient, such as vitamin C
“organic” Foods grown/produced with natural fertilizers and without the use of synthetic pesticides or additives.  To obtain organic certification, farm land must be free of agrochemical use for at least three years.  Look for labels which read “certified organic” or “certified organically grown”

Healthful hint:  Steer away from foods that contain things like artificial colors and flavors, preservatives such as nitrites, high salt, and those that have sugar or other sweeteners listed in the first few ingredients.