Wednesday, April 27, 2011
What should I feed my kids?
I get this question, in multiple forms, on a regular basis. First off, I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist, or really any kind of authority and don't want to set myself up as one. Feel free to take or leave what I have to say. But, my family has experienced multiple health issues that we chose to treat through nutrition. Add to that my penchant for researching, and I do have some opinions on the subject. But again, please no picking fights. Take it or leave it. :)
1. Don't start with rice cereal. I know, I know, I did it too. Most people did. But think about it: rice cereal is pretty processed stuff. It bears no resemblance to "real" food. It is a straight carbohydrate, with no protein, fat, or appreciable levels of nutrients (unless it is fortified, which is also a problem because synthetic vitamins are not easily absorbed and often cause sensitivities). It causes constipation in many babies. The only thing it has going for it is that it is rare to have an allergy to it. But many other foods are non-allergenic as well, and provide much better nutrition serving-for-serving. Good first foods? Avocado. Homemade broth. Plain yogurt. Veggies like sweet potato, peas, carrots, squash. With these foods, they're getting healthy fats (did you know kids MUST have fat for brain development?), small amounts of easily digestible protein, vitamins and minerals. If you are determined to serve rice as their first food, at least make it yourself out of brown rice.
2. Give them a probiotic. Every day. 200 years ago, many of our foods had beneficial bacteria in them. Modern sterilization techniques have allowed us to ship foods for long distances and store them for long periods of time, but they've also had a negative effect - sterile food does not challenge our immune system, nor does it help fight nasty germs when we come across them. Raw milk, sauerkraut, sourdough, soaked grains and beans, and live culture yogurt are not foods most people eat regularly anymore, and you have to get those good "bugs" somewhere or your immune system will be very weak. The easiest way (unless you'd like to get into those probiotic foods, which is also a good idea), is to find a good dairy free probiotic and take it every single day. Do you get colds nonstop? You need probiotics. Struggle with yeast infections? Probiotics. Allergies? Probiotics. This is not an overnight fix. Drugs fix things overnight but often cause other problems. Nutrition takes awhile to work but makes you healthier overall. You change your lifestyle, and over time, your health improves.
3. Serve a vegetable with every meal. For many people, this is a good place to start. And actually, prior to starting the GAPS diet three months ago, I didn't even do this, and I considered us very healthy. Our society is very grain-focused in the way we eat. Try to move your emphasis more to good (ideally pasture-raised) meats, and fresh organic produce. Then you add grains as an afterthought. Also, if you tend to have difficulty controlling your weight, generally it's because you are eating too many carbs. (Food allergies and other health issues such as low thyroid can also play into this). Cut back the carbs, focus on healthy fats (again, the conventional wisdom is just plain wrong), and protein, and most people will see the pounds melt away with minimal effort.
(Soapbox moment: I am very thin. People often assume that I don't understand what it means to be overweight, and that I'm just "lucky" because I have good genes or whatever and they make me thin. The truth is, my family does have something to do with it, but it's not genetic. It has to do with the way I was taught to eat. Dave Ramsey likes to say, "If you want to be rich, do what rich people do." Well, if you want to thin, do what thin people do. I eat a TON of healthy fat (animal fat, coconut and palm oil, avocado. Vegetable oils are generally not healthy.). It is very satisfying. It allows me to eat small portions of food and not feel hungry and shaky and miserable between meals. I also eat large amounts of protein. Even before we started GAPS, carbs/grains never made up more than 1/2 of my meals, and they were always whole grain. Now the carbs I eat (aside from the carbs in veggies) make up less than 20% of my meals, and I feel even better. OK. Soapbox over.)
4. Buy organic produce as much as you can. There are (and probably always will be) debates about this, but here's the straight facts: organic produce is more commonly (though not always) grown in ways that renew the soil. They rotate crops and do other things to put minerals back into the soil. Non-organic crops are generally grown in the same soil every year and over time the nutrients become depleted and no longer offer the same nutrition that they used to. Also, non-organic produce is often genetically modified (GMO). GMO's are so new, that no one is quite sure what the long-term impact of them will be on our health. I'd rather not be a guinea pig, thanks. Also, many kids react to pesticide residue because their bodies are so sensitive to their environment. These pesticides are often known cancer causing agents. Why take the chance?
5. Buy meat direct from ranchers. This is good for several reasons. First, it's cheaper, though it is an up front investment. Second, you have complete knowledge of the way the meat is raised. You can choose which ranch you want to use. Do you want 100% grass fed, with no hormones? It's more expensive, but probably the cleanest you can buy. Or are you ok with some grain fed, but still raised cleanly, allowed to graze? (This is the choice I've made, by the way. It makes the meat have more fat. Grass fed meat is very, very lean, to the point that I don't think it's that good for us.)
6. No whites: sugar, flour or rice, except on rare occasions. This stuff is sometimes processed with chemicals, it causes constipation, it causes yeast in your system to grow too much, and it is empty calories that don't nourish your body.
7. Avoid unnecessary antibiotics. Did you know that most ear infections are viral, and antibiotics don't touch them? Did you know that taking antibiotics when you have the flu generally does nothing for you? Did you know that fever doesn't necessarily mean your child needs an antibiotic? Our culture has reached a point of absurdity over drugs. I'm grateful for antibiotics, but they are WAY overused. Most kids will recover from most common childhood illnesses just perfectly without antibiotics. Consider carefully before you give them. Every dose wipes out the good bacteria along with the bad. (See number 2.) Any time antibiotics are a must, give LOTS of probiotics during and after that time, to recolonize their digestion.
8. Don't buy processed, packaged foods. If you can't pronounce it, don't eat it. These foods are sometimes very cheap (some of these foods are government subsidized, and that is why they can afford to give out coupons that make them practically free, a la Extreme Couponing...), but they can make you fat and sick. Really, the money you save in groceries, you'll pay in doctor bills. It costs money to be healthy. And it's worth the investment! Plus, you can make foods from scratch that will taste much better, I promise!
Start somewhere. Pick one thing to change, and work on it. Every step forward is better than you used to be! I often walk through grocery stores and think about how a person could eat healthy on almost nothing, if they only knew how to shop.
Which of these is the hardest for your family? Do you have any tips to add? Where did you learn the things you know about nutrition and eating habits?
Posted by Sara Kay at 8:13 AM