Getting Kids to Eat Leafy Greens Essential for Later Heart Health
For most kids, it is a struggle to get them to like most vegetables, but leafy greens can be especially hard to enjoy for young taste buds. But here is why it is important to start developing that habit early.
As we get older, we do develop a taste for many things we hated as kids. For me, bitter foods such as kale and broccoli certainly were at the top of the list of foods I’d rather sneak to the dog than eat at dinner. Over time, I have learned not only to tolerate them, but to actually seek them out when creating a healthy meal for my family.
Plant-based eaters already know how important it is to get in a variety of vegetables and most of us are well aware of how essential it is to incorporate leafy greens into our meals. Green vegetables are nutrient dense – full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants we need for good health. (They are also really low in calories and high in fiber for those of us watching our weight.)
One nutrient in particular stands out – Vitamin K.
You probably already know that vitamin K is essential for proper blood clotting. But it also has other essential roles in the body as well. A recent study has found that not eating enough foods rich in vitamin K during the adolescent years led to an increase in heart enlargement, even at such a young age.
The part of the heart studied is the left ventricle. This chamber can sometimes enlarge, especially in adults with chronic high blood pressure. Hearts that become bigger are less efficient and less effective at pumping blood.
The study, conducted at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, found that among teens aged 14 to 18 years, only 25% had even an adequate intake of vitamin K. This age group needs 75 mcg per day, less than what would be found in a ½ cup of cooked broccoli. (Adults need 90-120 mcg/day, which would easily be provided in a cup of raw spinach.)
So, as you can see, it doesn’t take much to meet daily needs – we just need to find a way to get kids to actually eat vitamin K-rich leafy greens.
As I mentioned earlier, kids seem more picky about the foods that they eat, and for good reason. The average young person has about 10,000 taste buds that are replaced every 2 weeks or so. As you age, the number of working taste buds are significantly reduced - therefore younger people are more sensitive to taste than we are as adults.
So it may be best to get kids to eat their veggies by creating ways to make them more palatable. Cheese sauce over broccoli is not a bad thing if it gets a kid to actually eat something green! Here are some other ways to sneak veggies into a kids (or a veggie-hating adult) diet:
• Add frozen spinach or kale to a smoothie. It will likely change the color, but not the taste.
• Try “zoodles”, or zucchini noodles. Mix it into your regular pasta dish and it gives a nice complement to something you are already eating. Alternative, puree vegetables and mix directly into the spaghetti sauce.
• Mix veggies into casseroles or hide it in a homemade veggie burger.
• Do you like guacamole? It’s already green – so make a kale or spinach puree and stir it in. You can do that to other sauces as well.
• Pureed vegetables also can work well when baked into muffins or breads.
Phylloquinone Intake Is Associated with Cardiac Structure and Function in Adolescents, The Journal of Nutrition, October 1, 2017.
Office of Dietary Supplements (National Institutes of Health)