Our children: well-fed but malnourished?

kidsshoes

The Healthy Skeptic reader Jessica wrote in with this topic suggestion:

“I like the “what to feed children” idea. But it has to be food they will actually EAT.”

The question of how to nourish our children so they develop into healthy adults is one of the most important questions we can ask. Tragically, the answers that the medical mainstream has come up with have contributed to unprecedented epidemics of childhood disease and endangered the health and well-being of our children.

The numbers of overweight and obese children worldwide are expected to climb dramatically by 2010, according to a study by Youfa Wang, PhD, MD at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. By the end of the decade, 46 percent of children in North and South America are projected to be overweight and 15 percent will be obese. It’s been assumed that U.S. life expectancy would rise indefinitely, but a new data analysis which was published as a special report in the March 17, 2005 issue of New England Journal of Medicine suggests that this trend is about to reverse itself – due to the rapid rise in obesity, especially among children.

Increasing numbers of children are being treated for depression, according to a 2004 study in the British Journal of Medicine. A 1999 report in California from the state’s Department of Developmental Services found that autism had increased by 273 percent from 1987 to 1998. Current estimates for the incidence of autism are as high as 1 in 120. A national review by The Advocacy Institute in 2002 revealed that learning disabilities in children increased by 30 percent from 1990 to 2000.

These studies show that our children are more obese, more depressed, and have more learning disabilities and behavioral problems than ever before. What could be the cause of such a dramatic change?

Although each of these diseases is complex and multifactorial, it is safe to say that diet and nutrition play a significant role in all of them. For example, consider the key nutrients for brain development in children:

Key nutrients for brain development

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Choline
  • DHA
  • Zinc
  • Tryptophan
  • Cholesterol

Many parents probably know that these nutrients aren’t found in the refined carbohydrates, vegetable oils and sugars which form the bedrock of the standard American diet. Yet many parents may be unaware that even foods widely assumed to be nutritional – including packaged foods commonly described as “organic”, “natural” or “fortified” – are themselves highly processed and stripped of nutritional value, and little better than their “non-organic” alternatives.

So what should we be feeding our children to ensure healthy growth and development? The following “First Steps” recommended by children’s health advocacy group Nourishing Our Children will get you started:

First steps to healthier children

  1. Replace sugar with natural sweeteners like honey and rapadura.
  2. Replace fruit juices with whole, raw milk.
  3. Replace breakfast cereals with non-nitrate bacon, eggs from hens on pasture, whole milk yogurt, homemade kefir, soaked oatmeal or soaked, wholegrain pancakes.
  4. Replace pasteurized dairy products with raw and cultured dairy.
  5. Eliminate all processed soy foods from your household (this includes soy milk, “protein bars” with soy, baked tofu products and all “soy fast food”).
  6. Replace polyunsaturated vegetable oils and trans fats with traditional fats such as butter, olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, lard, and tallow.
  7. Replace processed, convenience foods (boxed, packaged, prepared and canned food items) with fresh, organic, whole foods
  8. Provide a daily dose of high vitamin cod liver oil (with no synthetic vitamins added)

In contrast to the bland, unsatisfying (and dangerous) low-fat diet recommended by medical authorities, kids naturally love the foods in a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet. However, it is true that if they’ve been on a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates for a long time, there will be an adjustment period as they transition away from those highly processed foods.

My suggestion is to take one item on the list above at a time, and be gentle with yourself. It may take a while longer that way to get to where you want to be, but it’s worth the effort! Some of the changes will be more difficult than others. For example, most children (and adults) prefer the taste of saturated fats like butter, cream and whole-fat dairy to low-fat alternatives such as vegetable oil and skim milk – but may not yet have acquired a taste for cod liver oil!

I’ve provided links to some articles below with some helpful ideas on how to encourage even the most finicky eaters to enjoy nutrient-dense foods and some ideas for quick and healthy brown-bag lunch suggestions for parents.

Recommended links

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Kids Health

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