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Children's nutrition calls for innovation

Children's nutrition calls for innovation

Kids don’t eat as well as they used to in the US, and it’s not because of the recession. Associate editor Nora Simmons looks at some ways out of the nutrition wilderness.

What’s new in children’s nutrition? According to Chip Marsland,  food scientist and president of Medwell Foods, almost nothing.

“The food-nutrition-dietary supplements industry is still operating like they did decades ago,” said Marsland. “Children get the short end of the stick. We are feeding them poorly. Especially when they need the proper nutrients to fuel the muscular system as well as the brain.”

As of 2003 a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated that one in three kids would develop diabetes in his or her lifetime. And it’s no surprise when as much as 40 percent of their diets come from added sugar and unhealthy fats, according to a 2010 report in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

What’s really amazing is that 83 percent of kids say they prefer to eat healthy foods as long as they taste good, according to a poll conducted by The Family Room, a marketing and consulting agency for children’s products. And another 85 percent say that they need more options that taste great and are also healthy. According to market research firm SPINS, only 109 new items hit the children’s vitamins and mineral supplements category in the last 12 months. For functional foods, kids meal replacement and supplement powders saw only 24 new items in the same time frame. But, according to Marsland, even when great new products hit the market there are a lot of flops when it comes to kids.

What’s working and why

Much like their adult counterparts, kids want results from food claiming to be healthier or better for them. In other words, if Tommy is going to pick your protein shake, fortified bread, or vegetable juice over a sugar-laden soda and bag of potato chips he needs to know “what’s in it for me?” Because, let’s be honest, we’re never going to make truly nutritious snacks taste as good or send the same brain responses as fat- and sugar-packed snacks. And we don’t want to. We’re offering something better—wholesome, nutritious food that will make you bigger, faster, stronger, smarter. Just like with adults, results-oriented functionality works.

Sports-performance products have been steadily successful with kids because they address a specific goal like stamina or speed. The popular website recommends the Clif Builder’s Bar (270 cal, 20 g protein, 20 g of sugar) for athletic kids that need a super snack after school and before practice. While 20 grams may seem like more protein than a kid needs in one serving, the National Dairy Council notes that although the RDA for protein is only about .45 grams per lb of bodyweight, a “recreational exerciser” needs .5 to .7 g/lb and an “endurance athlete”—applicable to some of our sport-loving kiddos—needs closer to .8 g/lb. So assuming the typical 12-year-old girl weighs in around 90lbs (according to CDC growth charts) if she so much as plays tag at recess, she could need close to 63 g of protein a day. And if you’ve got a soccer star on your hands, better crank that up to 72 grams.

If you’re wondering why the market isn’t flooded with protein-packed energy bars, bevs, and powders marketed for kids, so are we.

Bolstered by doctor recommendations and market acceptance, the children’s vitamin and mineral supplement category has done well ever since Flintstone’s chewables hit the scene in 1968. Unfortunately, we haven’t progressed much since then.


Good ingredients for kids

Vitamin K2 is the right form of vitamin K because although it represents only about 10 percent of all vitamin K intake, it forms half of the total vitamin K absorbed. This is because of better absorption and significantly longer biological half-life of the long-chain menaquinones, specifically MK-7. Vitamin K2 activates a K-dependent protein called osteocalcin that is necessary to use calcium to build healthy bone tissue. At a tiny serving of only 45 mcg/day, K2 will get you there. We all know kids need strong bones, but did you know that the main determinant of postmenopausal osteoporosis incidence is peak bone mineral density as an adolescent? Every kids’ multi needs to have K2 in it.

Solazyme Roquette Nutritionals, a joint venture pairing the respective algae and grain processing leaders, has created a new ingredient to replace fat content while maintaining a full-fat mouthfeel. Dubbed Whole Algalin Flour, it is a processed, powdered form of a proprietary algae strain cultured via fermentation. It contains 50 percent lipids content and as well as fiber and protein, so it adds nutrition while reducing fat. The ingredient is ideal for bars and baked goods.

Water-soluble omega-3s from Ocean Nutrition (Meg 3) and Nordic Naturals (Arctic Omega Fortify) have made it possible to deliver these critical nutrients in whatever way the consumer or the manufacturer can dream up. Arctic Omega Fortify is marketed directly to consumers in single-dose packets of tasteless powder that can be added to beverages or sprinkled on top of foods. Each packet contains 500 mg EPA and DHA.

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