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What’s For Dinner – Without Gluten, Dairy, Soy, Corn, or Nuts?

What’s For Dinner – Without Gluten, Dairy, Soy, Corn, or Nuts?

Sunday is food shopping day (er, night) in my house. My husband took this on years ago – it’s his job. He is better at it than me – faster, more organized, more clinical (he’s an engineer). I get distracted. I’m too interested in new stuff on the store shelves, I meander, I like to read labels on items I don’t even buy just because it’s interesting – even the junk, because I’m amazed by what passes for food, what fills the aisles, what people are buying. I take too long and spend too much. He fired me.

He also sits us both down before the shop, to pin down exactly what our meals will be for the coming week. That can be the hardest part – we blank out. So we keep a list of dinners made over the years and add to it often, when we find a new idea we all like. This has really helped my family eat well. We are spendy on good organic food, and don’t eat out often – something not all families can swing – but just the act of choosing what’s for dinner a week in advance is a worthy time, money, and health saver. Here’s some ideas to get you started – in my house, these meals have to be free of gluten, soy, corn, dairy, and most nuts.

Salmon with saffron sauce and chick peas

…Salmon with saffron sauce and chick peas (Recipe from Hummus and 65 Other Delicious Recipes) with brown rice

…Minestrone Soup from scratch (Recipe from Special Needs Kids Eat Right) with GF Chebe rolls (store bought mix)

…Meatloaf (Recipe from Special Needs Kids Eat Right) with quinoa cooked in chicken broth, green salad, green beans. Sounds pedestrian but try this recipe. It’s good.

…Vegetable Frittata over GF Penne (use any veggies but we like asparagus, onion, spinach, mushroom, and pepper)

…Lentil Shepherds Pie with green salad (here’s the basic idea of this recipe; we use So Delicious or Silk coconut milk instead of cow’s milk, ghee, and green beans instead of corn)

…Pork or Chicken Adobo with brown rice and baked sweet potato

…Spaghetti and meatballs (from Special Diets for Special Kids), green salad, summer squash with oregano, Chebe rolls

…Curried chick pea skillet dinner (from Special Needs Kids Eat Right) over spiral GF pasta

…Coconut chicken curry with sweet potato over rice

…Thai red curry sauce over mahi or haddock (if available) from Blanchard’s A Trip To The Beach with GF risotto and ginger carrots (slice fresh carrots into skillet with olive oil and fresh ginger slices. Add a dusting of curry powder, dash honey, and enough chicken broth to keep from sticking. Cook to desired softness over medium heat).

Adding lemon slices while cooking chicken picatta makes it even better

…Portuguese kale soup (recipes abound, our own version is in Special Needs Kids Eat Right), Chebe rolls.

…Kale calzones with brown rice green pea salad

…Roast chicken, potato, onion, carrot – baked in one big Pyrex. We buy a half chicken with skin; the organs that come with it go to the cats.

…GF penne pasta with pesto – we make ours with pine nuts, which are safe in our house (not walnuts), and skip the parmesan in the recipe.

…Stuffed bell peppers (blanch the peppers, then stuff with whatever mixture you like: raisins, bread crumbs, leftover minced pork or ham, pine nuts, cashews, onions, mushrooms, brown rice, your favorite seasonings – then bake), chicken sausage

…More: Lemon chicken picatta, home made chili, pork loin, stuffed pork chops or chicken (we use mushrooms, minced ham, onion, bread crumbs – whatever is on hand); pot roast or beef stew, lentil soup and hot dogs

…A side of fresh vegetable, stir fried greens, and/or fresh garden salad with homemade dressing is almost always on the table, when vegetables are not featured as a main course.

No doubt I am blanking out again as I type, which is why I keep cookbooks on hand that I like to thumb through again and again – like The Victory Garden Cookbook (1982), Yankee Magazine’s Favorite New England Recipes (1972), Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook (2006), Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces (1987), Gluten Free Italian Cookbook (2008), Hummus and 65 Other Delicious Recipes (2006), a now dog eared Joy of Cooking that was given to me in 1979, and many others. Whether you can manage just one or two home cooked meals a month, or several a week, make them special occasions where your family knows they are being cherished with good healthy food.

Q & A with Anne Dachel, Age of Autism on Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free

Anne Dachel, Age of Autism

Anne Dachel is a contributing editor for Age of Autism and parent of a child affected by autism. I’m grateful for her daily news alerts on all things autism and her tireless effort to advocate for autism awareness. When I sent her a copy of Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free, she wrote back “..my copy is now in tatters, having been carried with me in my purse everywhere I went so whenever I got a spare moment, I could read it.” Here are her questions for me about the book.

Your book gives dire statistics right at the beginning about the state of the health of American children. What has happened to children in this country during the last 25 years? Two major changes happened in the 1990s in the US, making American children born since then extremely vulnerable: One, the FDA permitted, with no safety review, the introduction of genetically modified (GMO) foods – including soy and corn, which both go into infant formulas and most processed foods. Two, we upped the vaccine schedule dramatically for infants and children. Both have shown potential to injure the human immune system, brain, gut or other organs‘ development and function, from birth onward. We’re just beginning to understand how detrimental this is for triggering asthma, allergies, inflammation, seizure disorders, autism, or gut/brain injuries that may mean poor outcomes like Crohn’s disease, eosinophilic esophagitis, learning disabilities and conduct disorders – all of which have risen dramatically in children since 1990.

Synergistic effects of GMO foods in pregnancy, in utero, in infancy – plus all the vaccines now recommended – are entirely unknown. For example: The gene inserted into GMO soy makes soy produce its own insecticide. It was found in gut bacteria of human volunteers eating GMO soy – meaning, the gene transcribed to the bacteria in the gut, and “taught” the volunteers’ gut bacteria to make insecticide. I believe this may be why some children with autism and GI problems are so treatment resistant, when it comes to correcting their bowel microflora. Do they have genes operating in there that make antibiotics and probiotics less effective? Nobody knows.
GMO crops are banned in most European countries. The approach there in the ’90s was that no data existed to show these foods were safe, so it was an unacceptable risk. The US approach was the opposite:The FDA said there no proof this is unsafe, so they allowed these highly profitable crops into the food supply. These can trigger allergies more often than their naturally occuring counterparts; other findings of detrimental effects on animals eating GMO feed crops are very disconcerting, from increased miscarriages and organ failures to death. Consumers are just beginning to understand this issue. Eating food that’s genetically modified to produce its own pesticide is something we wouldn’t want to do if given the choice, but Americans were not given the choice. Interestingly, the UK is also a GMO friendly nation, and has an even a higher rate of autism than the US.

Why aren’t doctors expressing alarm over what they’re seeing? Doctors are at a disadvantage for two reasons. One, they don’t study nutrition to a meaningful degree, and have a limited exposure to it. They are inundated with pharmaceutical information during their education and in practice, at the expense of valid information about nutrition or special diets. So, they don’t know how to assess kids for nutrition problems beyond the most obvious, and they don’t know how to provide nutrition care.  This leaves children unscreened and untreated; doctors may not even know there is potential for treatment here.

Two, they have no accountability for the injuries that may be caused by vaccines, due to the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program set up in the 1980s and the recent Supreme Court ruling that vaccines are “unavoidably unsafe”. Doctors have zero liability and zero accountability for vaccine injuries. If a child is injured by a vaccine, the doctor never gets sued; they suffer no penalty whatsoever. If a nurse goofs and gives a baby the wrong vaccine at the wrong time, and an injury occurs, there is no recourse at all other than to file a government claim and wait. My own family waited nine years for my son’s case to reach the docket, only to have it thrown out. I think this – along with how lucrative it is to vaccinate children in a pediatric practice – has kept doctors easy for industry to manipulate. This also leaves physicians free of any accountability to treatments for the injured – if they are brainwashed that these injuries aren’t happening, then there is nothing to treat. This leaves families scurrying for help elsewhere.

Your book is about nutritional needs…  What’s wrong with what we’re feeding out children? Lots can go wrong with how we feed our kids, even with all our best intentions. But the book is not about what parents are doing wrong, or even what is wrong with food. It’s about strategies that restore a child’s normal appetite, normal curiosity for a variety of foods that are healthful, normal bowel habits, and specific tools to replenish and support brain function with food and nutrients, instead of drugs, where ever possible.

Aren’t agencies like the Food and Drug Administration supposed to be making sure all our food is good for us?  What do you mean when you say the FDA is “overwhelmed”? The FDA’s focus has historically been about bacterial contaminants in food, not chemical toxins. There is less of a focus on agricultural chemicals, dyes, preservatives, additives, heavy metals, toxins, or colorings in food. There is no focus at all for monitoring the healthfulness of food, and certainly none at all for monitoring what GMO food does to human beings – the FDA has made it clear it doesn’t care about this with recent industry-friendly steps. It’s an overwhelming task to chase whether the food supply is safe, even in the FDA’s simplest terms; when you have beef in a single hamburger coming from dozens of cows raised in different countries, or juice in one carton from oranges in four countries, that’s a lot of processing over many locations to monitor. That’s just two foods. Parents can be a lot more pro-active than waiting to hear what’s okay to eat from the FDA. Buy organic foods if you can afford them; support your local farmer’s market it you have one; or even grow a few things yourself. This year I am working with an outfit called PersonalFamilyFamers.com to help us grow more of our own food this year.

What are sources we can trust for information on safe and beneficial foods and supplements? The organic label is one help. It’s not perfect, but hopefully your grocer is honest and sourcing with integrity. I encourage buying organic, and that includes meat and eggs as well as produce. Organic foods are non-GMO foods at least in intent; pollen from GMO crops can drift into organic crops, but there is no knowing for sure right now if this is happening. Knowing your growers and grocers is another step, and this is catching on more and more around the US. Use this map to find what’s in your area in this regard. As for supplements, Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free devotes a chapter to picking reputable supplements. These can be just as fraught with contaminants, unwanted metals or chemicals, and toxins as food can be.

What do you consider that most critical changes that need to be made? The biggest need I see is waking up the medical community on this. I would love to train pediatricians on the role of nutrition in conditions like adhd, autism, learning disabilities, conduct disorders, and depression/anxiety in children, and the potential for helping these children, without prescription drugs.  Right now the pediatric community seems to be asleep at the wheel. A generation of children has slipped through their fingers, fallen victim to chronic disabilities and diseases, and they aren’t doing anything about it. I include a chapter in the book on working with other providers, if you’ve become too frustrated with your pediatrician.

How can nutritional changes reduce the need for prescription drugs? Nutrition impacts learning, sleep, cognition, mood, behavior, and development in children. Most kids I encounter are not eating diets that support those in a normal fashion, and/or, they have problems absorbing their diets that no one has ever assessed or treated. You can’t fix nutrition problems with psychotropic medications, reflux meds, inhalers, or steroids…. You have to identify, sort and prioritize the nutrition puzzle pieces. It’s not unusual for parents to tell me after we’ve had a few months with nutrition care process that their child no longer needs a medication, is using less of it, or has found a totally different one that works much better. We remove the confounding of nutrition problems from the whole picture.

How can school lunches be made healthier? The short answer is money. Schools need money to procure healthy whole foods and prepare them on site, rather than buy packaged food prepared elsewhere that is laden with additives, sugar, salt, trans-fats, and GMO ingredients. Boulder Valley School District is extremely lucky to have professional chef and whole foods advocate Anne Cooper – aka “Renegade Lunch Lady” – directing our Nutrition Services. She has made incredible progress in reducing processed and sugary foods in our school lunches, and bringing in as much organic and locally sourced food as the district can afford – which is a big accomplishment in Colorado, a state that is notoriously weak for funding for education. Ann is a strong national advocate for healthy school lunches – rightly so, since ample data illustrate how crucial nutrition is to better student outcomes.

What is “Splash”? This is a medical food made for children with intestinal inflammation, Crohn’s disease, or multiple food protein allergy. The protein source in it is ready to absorb, that is, it is made up of individual amino acids, rather than whole or partial protein molecules that require some digestion. I first used it for children with autism in my practice about 12 years ago. It was clear that in some cases, it made a dramatic difference. I wanted to know if replenishing the brain with the amino acids would help them progress. The formula is not made for this purpose; it is made to avoid allergic reaction, and to help the gut wall heal. But children with autism may not digest proteins very well; besides causing allergy for some of them, I wondered if this could leave their brains bereft of neurotransmitter ingredients, which we get from proteins in our diets. I noticed that kids in my caseload whom I placed on special diets and who added this formula progressed more for language and reduction of autism features than kids who didn’t add the Splash formula. There is great potential here. Caveats too; the formula has some ingredients that I don’t like; but I do think a subset of kids can do well with this tool or a similar approach, no matter what the developmental diagnosis is, if there are certain deficits in their diets or GI function.

Can you describe some examples of improvements you’ve personally witnessed in children that you’ve worked with? First, kudos to these parents, because they were the boots on the ground. I do the work teasing out the problems and crafting the care plans, but the most success happens when the parents roll up their sleeves and work it. I have seen children move far away from an autism diagnosis; from needing an aide to not needing one; from facing a feeding tube and missing school due to physical weakness, to gaining weight and playing, learning, living again. I’ve seen kids leave behind debilitating eczema or asthma symptoms, and reverse poor growth and gain, after being told they were going to be stunted for life and need growth hormone injections. I have witnessed a teen who was suicidal, nearly non-verbal, constantly bullied, and disengaged while on SSRIs turn into a happy, talkative, engaged, and successful youngster without medications – by successful I mean getting a varsity letter on a sports team when engaging in sports prior to nutrition care was out of the question; getting a job; and making frinds.

What do our children need that they’re not getting from doctors? We need our doctors to stop regarding children with diarrhea, constipation, shiners, bloated bellies, chronic illness, frequent infections, anxiety, insomnia, and developmental disabilities as healthy enough. I would like to see doctors recover their curiosity: Why did they become doctors in the first place? Hopefully it was to do more than hand out prescriptions for Prevacid, Adderall, Amoxicillin, Miralax, and Albuterol, after jabbing a young patient with multiple vaccines at once. This isn’t health care; this is drug-pushing. It may be common now, but it isn’t normal for children to live on polypharmacy. And, though I have a masters degree in public health, I do not believe children need all the vaccines they now get. We have forgotten the role of nutrition in infection. It needs to be re-engaged. I do think we are over-vaccinating infants and children, and that it is causing more harm than good in the US at this point. The polypharmacy-and-hypervaccination approach hasn’t helped our kids, who are more chronically ill and disabled than ever before. We can’t slip into this as a New Normal. In fact, in Vaccine Epidemic, that is the dilemma I wrote about in my chapter.

Are your protocols strictly for “special needs” kids? Nope! I tried to convince my publisher to title the book differently to reflect that, but they felt parents weren’t ready to hear that this affects everybody’s kids. I don’t agree. I sense every week how frustrated parents are with what is happening to their children, and how they feel so unheard and unhelped by the medical community. Maybe in my next book!

Snack Ideas For Kids With Food Allergies

Snack Ideas For Kids With Food Allergies

I recently saw this: “25 Healthy Snacks for Kids” from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). Not to be all sour grapes about it, but this seemed a tad out of touch. Millions of US children suffer from food allergies, which have skyrocketed in the last two decades. Every item on the ADA kid-snack list has wheat, gluten, dairy, peanut, or other nuts in it.

None of the kids in my practice can eat those snacks. Some have nut allergies ranging from life threatening (as in, even proximity to nuts may trigger hives or breathing problems) to annoying (stomach pain); others have gluten sensitivity, celiac, or allergies to myriad foods, from corn and soy to dairy and sesame seeds. Needless to say, this advice from the AND – which goes out to tens of thousands of dietitians in clinical practice – won’t do much for them, or the 8-10% of kids in the US with food allergies.

Part of my job is coming up with what kids can eat, and helping families transition to new options. It’s a challenge when a child has many disallowed foods at once. In my practice, I work to keep as many foods as possible in a child’s rotation. I also use gut health supports liberally, which may help a child tolerate more foods eventually, either without ill effects or with much-reduced ill effects. I pick probiotics that best suit a child’s situation (there are dozens of brands, blends, potencies, and strains to choose from), liposomal glutathione or glutathione boosters (a healthy intestinal wall is rich in glutathione, a powerful antioxidant; while an inflamed gut can be depleted of glutathione), and supplemental, non-inflammatory protein sources as medical foods. All these tools and more can enhance gut wall tissue repair. But kids still need to eat. So, in that spirit, here are some snack suggestions for kids with food allergies:

1. Hummus (chick pea, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt; add tahini if sesame is tolerated) to dip into with crisp bell pepper strips or cucumbers, rice crackers, celery, or carrot. Add extra olive oil for kids needing to boost calories from healthy fats/oils. Allow corn chips if tolerated too.

2. Other non-dairy dips: Babaganoush (baked eggplant dip, similar ingredients as above; available pre-made like hummus for busier families), white bean dip with crumbled bacon (recipe in Special Needs Kids Eat Right), healthy refried beans with minced olives and scallions. Use for dipping or roll in soft corn tortilla or soft rice flour tortilla.

3. This can be a meal, snack, or dessert: Gluten free crepes with cooked fruit fillings, or savory vegetable fillings, or scrambled egg and Daiya cheese with salsa. Gluten free crepes are easy to make as long as your child tolerates eggs. A hand blender tool makes this job simple. The Gluten-Free Italian CookBook by Mary Capone is my favorite source for this recipe – and many others! If you have time to peel and saute apple slices with ghee (clarified, casein free butter), cinnamon, nutmeg, and a little sugar, fill crepes with this for a delightful special treat. If not, look for high quality, organic juice-pack canned fruit, organic if possible; heat gently, spice to taste, and fill crepes. Savory items that kids often like in crepes are breakfast sausage (minced) with cheese (see Daiya cheese substitute above; or try goat milk cheese, which many children tolerate over cow’s milk varieties); zucchini sauteed with onion, tomato, oregano).

4. Stir honey, coconut yogurt (plain), dash of vanilla and a spoonful of tahini together to a smooth consistency for dipping. Add a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg. Dip in fresh fruit chunks of melon, banana, celery, or avocado.

5. Guacamole and gluten free bread for dipping. Bakeries like Udi’s, Rudi’s, and Outside-The-Bread-Box are just a few among newly emerging ones specializing in gluten-free sandwich breads, bagels, and pita breads. A local favorite for Boulder is Kim and Jakes baguettes – which are taking our restaurants here by storm. A panini press can help kids transition to GF sandwich bread. Make their regular favorites into panini’s, and they may like the new taste. Spray bread lightly with olive oil, stack with your child’s favorites, and press.

6. Gluten free oats make the same delicious oatmeal cookies as regular oats. Use a gluten free flour blend, hemp or rice milk, and Earth Balance margarine for kids with dairy and nut sensitivities. Add raisins, dates, sunflower seeds, or even dark chocolate chips.

7. Soften corn tortillas and fill with leftover baked chicken, minced and heated in garlic, olive oil, and lime juice. Add a dash of sugar if you like.

8. Pick up some fresh vegetable sushi from your local grocer. Many supermarkets now make their own. Avocado, carrot, cucumber or cooked crab roll are often kid favorites. Use wheat free tamari instead of the pouch of soy sauce that comes with it (this will contain wheat).

9. Power shake: Fresh or canned organic peaches (unsweetened), teaspoon Pharmax Finest Pure Fish oil or cod liver oil (orange flavor),  a local organic egg (drop it in raw, from a source you know and trust), ripe cantaloupe melon chunks, 2 ounces whole coconut milk. With or without crushed ice.

10. Power shake 2: Half a ripe avocado, 2 scoops So Delicious chocolate ice cream (coconut based, dairy and soy free), vanilla almond milk 4 oz (hemp, coconut, or rice milk if necessary), 1/2 scoop Ultra Care For Kids powder (rice-based medical food for kids), dash gluten free vanilla. If you’re willing to make it a mocha, add 2 oz black decaf coffee. Skip sugar entirely by using unsweetened cocoa powder (2 TBSP) and a dash of stevia powder instead.

11. Blend 1 tablespoon Barlean’s Omega Swirl with 1 teaspoon coconut oil and 1/4 cup apple, orange, or pineapple juice. Toss over berries, cantaloupe, banana with shredded coconut, sunflower or sesame seeds, and chopped figs.

12. Gluten free toaster waffle (like Van’s) spread with sesame tahini, or any tolerated nut butter (cashew, almond, macadamia), and raw honey or fruit spread. Make it a sandwich and add banana slices in there too. Gluten free quick bread, like the pumpkin bread recipe in Special Needs Kids Eat Right, can be baked in 1-inch muffin tins for packing into lunch boxes. Corn bread, chocolate zucchini bread, or berry-filled muffins are other ways to sneak in calories, ground flax seed, or gluten free oats for added fiber.

13. What’s not to love about avocados? Cut soft ripe chunks into a bowl and toss with lime juice, olive oil, and salt. You’re done, eat it. Or make it more hearty: Add leftover salmon or tuna (if you eat these), sunflower seeds, and chopped cherry tomatoes. Toss  with more olive oil, citrus, and salt to taste.

14. A more allergy friendly trail mix: Dark (dairy and gluten free such as Enjoy Life brand) chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, chopped dates, coconut shreds, dried pineapple, dried mango, raisins

15. Rice Crispie bars made with whole grain brown rice cereal. A good recipe for this can be found in the Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook, along with many other health promoting and delicious recipes that are free of gluten, dairy, and egg.

16. Last but not least: Sometimes pudding is just right. Rebecca Reilly’s Gluten Free Baking has a fast chocolate pudding recipe for kids who can manage soy but not dairy. It uses soft tofu, honey, fruit syrup, and cocoa powder. See the Silk Pie recipe on page 143, and just pour the pie filling into pudding cups, chill, and serve with fresh raspberry on top.

17. Visit two of my favorite recipe blogs for kids (or anyone) with food allergy and sensitivity: Renegade Kitchen and Food Sensitivity Journal. Both of these were created by professionals – one a chef, the other an attorney – with food allergy themselves, and both offer inspiring strategies for eating well. More favorite recipe hangouts for me are PaleoPlan.com and BalancedBites.com.

Is Toxicity Overwhelming Our Kids? Make Sure Food and Supplements Are Helping, Not Hurting

Is Toxicity Overwhelming Our Kids? Make Sure Food and Supplements Are Helping, Not Hurting

In my pediatric nutrition practice, moms often ask: Is it worth it to spend the extra money on organic foods and pricier supplements brands? My opinion is yes. I often witness how children respond to different foods and supplements, to cheaper brands versus brands of supplements with stricter purity standards, to shifting from processed to more whole foods.

CNN recently reported on a study published in the journal Pediatrics about children with ADHD: They found that children with ADHD were twice as likely to have higher levels of a common pesticide than children who did not have ADHD.  In other words, pesticides commonly used on fruits and vegetables may contribute to ADHD prevalence in the US. Are chronic, small pesticide exposures enough to trigger ADHD in a child? Meanwhile, as any parent who has seen success with a Feingold diet knows, food colorings and preservatives of all sorts have long been suspected of triggering hyperactivity or other problems in children – see this list of 9 additives in particular that have been linked to ADHD.

That is one reason why I encourage families to buy organic foods when possible, even though they cost more. Buying locally from a trusted grower is even better – because you can actually visit or talk to that grower if you want, to see if their methods comply with organic guidelines. Another reason is because – back in 1988, when I was in graduate school – I wondered: Do organic foods have better nutrient profiles? It turns out they often do. Grain crops raised organically may have better amino acid profiles – which means that though they may have less total protein than a conventionally raised version, the protein is of better quality and more nutritious. Fruit crops show more vitamin C and antioxidants when raised organically.

Next on the list of much talked-about toxins are heavy metals like lead, mercury, arsenic, or hexavalent chromium. These are ubiquitous in our environment. Mercury now taints many foods we eat, from high fructose corn syrup to fish. One study found that a serving of high fructose corn syrup contained half a microgram of mercury (0.5 micrograms), and estimated a potential daily mercury intake from foods at about 28 micrograms for Americans. Children and teens may eat as many as 7 tablespoons of high fructose corn syrup daily, from soft drinks, condiments, processed foods, candy, and chewable supplements. This can mean a mercury exposure of about 10 micrograms daily, just from high fructose corn syrup.

By comparison, a flu shot contains about 25 micrograms mercury; and, the EPA guidelines suggest we limit mercury exposure to 0.1 microgram per kilogram body weight daily. For a 60 pound child, that means encountering less than 3 micrograms of mercury daily. For a pregnant woman, this may mean no more than 5 micrograms of mercury exposure daily. We haven’t even talked about coal burning power plants – another mercury source – and it’s easy to see that how easy it is to surpass mercury exposure limits, depending on what we eat.

Lately the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics have had renewed interest in lead screening for children. Over the years, the level of lead in blood deemed acceptable by these agencies has repeatedly dropped – meaning, there is no safe level of exposure to this neurotoxin, second only to mercury on the list of heavy metals with potential for neurotoxic effects. Lead is a common contaminant in supplements. This is an especially big concern for children who have poor iron status, because those children will absorb more lead than kids in healthy iron status. These metals compete for absorption, and lead is readily taken up by the body in lieu of iron, when iron is not adequately situated in cells and tissues that need it. Lead exposures early on can permanently impair IQ and learning ability.

What about arsenic? From chickens and eggs to playground equipment, arsenic has been found in places our kids go and foods they eat. It may contaminate supplements too, along with pesticide residues and a form of chromium called hexavalent chromium, or Cr-6 for short. Chromium in its “trivalent” form is essential to humans – without it, we can’t regulate blood sugar normally. But in the hexavalent form, it’s highly toxic and known carcinogen, as anyone who has seen the movie Erin. A Consumer Labs review of some supplements found hexavalent chromium contaminants.

Just like the food industry, the supplement industry is challenging for the FDA to adequately monitor, and may not have purity guidelines as strict as parents would like. It often falls on the manufacturer to self-impose strong standards for a product’s purity and potency. But you do have the ultimate power, in your wallet. Buy only what you feel is best for your family’s health and well being. Compare purity standards among supplement manufacturers. If you’re not sure, ask for info from the manufacturer. If you’re not satisfied, move on. In Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free, I devote a chapter on “Know Before You Buy” to help families understand differences in purity standards for supplements. Now that I’m done giving you the bad news, here’s the good news on what you can do:

1 – Know your growers. Eat organic and locally sourced meats, eggs, dairy, fruits, and vegetables when possible, given your budget. Check LocalHarvest.org for an organic grower near you.

2 – Grow a garden this year. Start planning now for your kitchen garden, whether it’s herbs on your windowsill, cherry tomatoes in patio crocks, or more in a small patch in the yard. Easy crops for beginners are lettuce, pole beans, bell peppers, carrots, or herbs.  You’ll know exactly what you’re eating!

3 – When buying supplements, demand the best. Compare purity standards, which vary based on a manufacturer’s commitment to quality. For example, fish oils should be strictly mercury free; calcium supplements should be rigorously screened for lead and other contaminants; probiotics should guarantee potency; any supplement should be free of pesticide contaminants, and fillers with no function.

4 – And, just because a supplement is costlier, it may not be better. Ask the manufacturer what toxins they screen their products for, and how. Transparency is the key – if you are told this is proprietary, it may be wise to choose another product.