Livewell Northwest Colorado: You are what you eat |

Livewell Northwest Colorado: You are what you eat

Kristi Brown/For Steamboat Today

I fondly recall my childhood family dinner routine on the nights when our menu included spinach. After we swallowed a bite of spinach, my brother and I would get up from the kitchen table and run over to my father, so that he could check our biceps.

"Feel my muscle, Dad," we'd say again and again as we worked through the mound of spinach on our plates. Of course, my father always found a noticeable improvement in the size and strength of our muscles after every mouthful of the super food went down the hatch. We were visualizing how food we were eating was fueling our bodies, albeit in an overly simplistic way.

Kids are pretty good at identifying which foods are good for them and which are not. However, when it comes to selecting which foods to eat, kids generally opt for what they already know that they like. Telling kids about how foods go to work in different parts of their bodies can be a good strategy to get them to try new healthy foods.

Following is information you can share with kids during mealtimes to help them visualize the nutrients making a beeline to specific body parts to make them stronger and smarter. Recognizing that different foods fuel different parts of their bodies also helps make the case for consuming a variety of foods each day.

• Calcium is a superstar in building strong teeth and bones. This mineral also helps keep your heart beating properly. Great choices for getting calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, calcium fortified orange juice, soymilk and cereals.

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• Phosphorus is also important in building strong teeth and bones and is part of every cell in your body. Phosphorus can be found in meat, fish, milk, yogurt and cheese.

• Vitamin E protects the cells and tissues in your body from damage. The foods containing the most Vitamin E include whole grains, leafy green vegetables, vegetable oils, egg yolks, nuts and seeds.

• Iron enables red blood cells to carry oxygen to cells throughout your body so they can "breathe." Foods rich in iron include meats, fish, eggs, beans, dried fruits, leafy green vegetables and whole grains.

• Vitamin C helps you fight infection as well as heal cuts and bruises. Vitamin C is an important contributor to healthy skin and muscles. You can find Vitamin C in strawberries, oranges, red bell peppers, tomatoes and broccoli.

• Like Vitamin C, zinc protects you from getting sick. Zinc also helps cells grow and wounds heal. Foods high in zinc include nuts, beans, legumes and meats.

• Vitamin D helps your bones and teeth absorb calcium, which they need to stay strong. Foods that contain Vitamin D include egg yolks, mushrooms, fortified cereals, fish and fortified milk.

• Magnesium promotes proper nerve and muscle function to keep your heart beating strong and strengthens your bones. Good sources of magnesium include bananas, whole milk, avocados, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, dark green vegetables, yogurt and low-fat milk.

• Potassium enables cells and body fluids to maintain a proper water balance, which is necessary for your muscles and nerves to function well. Potassium containing foods include bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, oranges, tangerines, grapefruits and green leafy vegetables.

• Vitamin A (beta carotene) plays a very important role in eyesight, including helping you to see at night and in color. Foods with Vitamin A include fortified low-fat milk, dark orange fruits and vegetables and green leafy vegetables.

• Fiber helps you digest your food, feel full and remove wastes. Fiber-rich foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.

• Protein is a superhero when it comes to building, maintaining and repairing your muscles and other body tissues. Protein-rich foods include meats, fish, beans, peas, legumes, eggs, nuts and seeds.

• Good bacteria aids in the digestion of your food, keeping your intestines working well and preventing you from getting sick. Yogurt is a good source of good bacteria.

• Healthy fats maintain the health of your heart, brain and blood vessels. Healthy fats are unsaturated, and include olive oil, canola oil, avocados, and almonds.

Understanding how the foods that they eat help their bodies to grow strong and healthy can influence the foods kids choose as fuel. It's pretty awesome when every carrot stick enables them to see farther and farther, each black bean makes their hearts beat noticeably stronger and every slice of avocado builds brainpower. Even now that I'm an adult, when I eat spinach, my biceps feel stronger.

Kristi Brown, MPH, is the health and wellness coordinator for Hayden and South Routt School Districts; a member of the Northwest Colorado Food Coalition, Health Equity Advocacy Committee, South Routt Health Roundtable, Hayden Health Advisory Committee and the Routt County Youth Services Coalition; and a trustee of Yampa Valley Medical Center.