I’m a pediatric nutritionist with long experience, and I wish you’d stop talking so much about food and nutrition with your kids.
That sounds crazy, I know. Food and nutrition are absolutely pivotal for your kids’ brains, behavior, growth, mood, learning… everything. No wonder then that food, recipes, and nutrition talk are all over the internet and mom blogger universe. From how to make killer bento lunches to keto for kids (mistake, BTW, unless under certain circumstances), everyone has something to say.
The good thing about this is that we are all woke now on the importance of what we eat, where food comes from, and how we grow it, whether it’s chickens, chocolate, or chard. We really are what we eat. We eat, and we turn the food into us – hair, bones, teeth, mood, and all. Period. That’s pretty much it (though a lot can go wrong along that path.. fixing that for kids is pretty much what I do).
But… there is a HUGE downside, and it’s bad for kids. It creates undue anxiety, stress, and overwhelm for kids, young ones and teens alike. It really stresses moms out too. I run into this often in my clinical practice, and I can tell you that it has gotten worse as our (justified!) enthusiasm for whole, healthy foods has exploded in the last 10-15 years. You’ll want to avoid these pitfalls with your kids. Here’s my list of Fail vs Fabulous, when encouraging healthy nutrition and food habits in your family.
It’s so easy to label a food “good” or “bad”. There’s plenty of junk out there, including organic junk. Obviously, it isn’t what kids should live on. But don’t drill these labels into your kids’ minds. What they need to learn is discernment – and they will. Eventually, ideally, when they’re out and about on their own without you, those “bad” foods should be neutral to them.
What do I mean by “neutral”? I mean that the idea of eating that food doesn’t provoke anxiety. It isn’t even compelling, because it was never forbidden in the first place. It doesn’t elicit judgment or shaming for themselves, or toward friends and peers who eat those foods.
As long as there is no safety or egregious comfort issue – as in, needing an Epi Pen, or a vomit-to-shock (FPIES) reaction, hives, migraine, nausea, bloating, burning diarrhea, disabling gas pain – then let kids have forays into junk. Not daily staples or regular snacks, mind you, but occasional dabbling.
Instead: Provide treats for special occasions (or every so often for no reason other than it’s fun) with no discussion about whether it’s “good” or “bad”. Again, safety issues and food allergens or triggers aside, simply make or buy some fun food, and let your child enjoy, care-free.
My one exception: Spoiled food. This IS bad and dangerous and kids need to learn that too. So, tell them.
2 – Don’t Expect A Young Child to Have Discernment (or even care)
Speaking of discernment, forget needing your four year old to have it. That’s your job. Children do not need to know what organic is, or glyphosate, or MSG, colors, additives, gluten or what have you. They shouldn’t care either. They’re little and they have much more important stuff going on in their little worlds. Please stop walking them through the supermarket and asking them to pay attention to labels or what you’re buying. Believe me, they are observing. They don’t need the specifics, and this will only be information overload that can lead to anxiety or meal time control battles. They need you to be chill, in charge, and happy that you’re with them (most the time). That’s about it.
Instead: Lead by example. Say less, do more. If your child accompanies you shopping, let them day dream and leave them alone; if they love chatter, join them in the randomness of it. Your child doesn’t need every moment to be teachable!
If they see something truly junky or sugary or processed that they pitch a fit for (and they will, because supermarkets place colorful cartoony packaging at your child’s eye level on purpose), that’s your call. Sometimes we can get away with floating to the next aisle with a soothing “Hmm no I don’t want to do that today” (and refrain from giving a reason why). Other days, you know the both of you don’t have it in you to make it home without giving in. Up to you, but avoid each supermarket trip rewarded with a junk treat.
If you’re in servitude to your stove or kitchen and miserable making all this scratch beautiful food, guess what – your kids know. Even your baby can tell. The most important thing here is that you get to be happy and enjoy food. Even if there are stressors, including big ones, about what can be safely eaten in your household, endeavor to find the joy in some of it. Joy is, above all else, why we’re here.
3 – Stop Explaining Everything and Stop Feeling Sorry For Your Kids with Diet Restrictions
You’re in charge. You’re the adult. If you know your child does poorly with a particular food, and they are fiendish about getting it and asking for it constantly anyway, oh well! You know best and have decided that they’re not going to have that food, period. Remember: This goes for foods that are a known danger or debilitating to your child – not for foods that are imperfect, but harmless.
Explaining and justifying your parenting choices to a young child (or even a teen) is, um, a bad idea. Doing so engenders entitlement in your child, which can make their opposition and protests even bigger. In little ones, expect tantrums, anxiety, and meltdowns when you try the “here’s why” route. In teens, expect impressive arguments, brooding, and door slamming. Most of all, don’t expect or need your kids to agree with you.
Instead: If a child asks for a reason why, offer it in the most developmentally concrete way for that child’s age. Refrain from volunteering comments like “it’s bad for you” or “will make you sick” or “your body can’t have that.” Don’t label the food or your child’s body as defective or bad.
Younger kids can be redirected with “there isn’t any more of that at the store so I found this one instead” or “I think this will feel really good in your tummy. Let’s try it and you let me know.”
Teens are reaching a point of practicing discernment on their own. Experimentation and screw ups are par for the course at this age. Let them experience the discomfort of eating the wrong food. You will decide when you have had enough as a parent: “I realize this isn’t what you want, but I am the one taking care of/rescuing you each time you feel sick from eating xyz. So, that food is no longer going to be in the house, and I won’t buy it anymore. If you eat it on purpose outside of here, I won’t be able to help you.” And then there’s always “..because I am the one buying the food, and I said so.”
4 – Stop Feeding Your Kids Like They’re Gwyneth Paltrow (or expecting them to like it)
Oh dear. How many, many food diaries I have seen that look this beautiful: Green smoothies, pumpkin seeds, sprouted Einkorn homemade bread, kombucha, fermented kvass, homemade dosa, coconut flour pancakes, avocado toast, bone broth… Or, a list of light veggie snacks all day long: Carrots, celery, nori, cucumbers, and apple slices with a few cashews. Or, a food diary that shows me 120 grams of protein and less than 60 grams of carbs (a nearly ketogenic intake).
Those are beautiful foods. Some kids really love this stuff. But, usually, it turns out this is a little dysfunctional. There are too many food rules in the house, and it’s causing tension to comply so stringently with eating only organic, perfect whole foods.
I’ll also usually discover that in these households, kids are falling off their growth patterns, experiencing stunting, or underweight. What tends to happen here is kids end up low for total calories, low for carbohydrates, and high for fats and protein. This is a great eating style for adults (who are not growing), but it can cause stunting and underweight in children.
Here is a common anecdote from my practice: I began working with a mom whose child was eating an overly restricted diet. Mom removed all processed foods entirely, based on the belief that any of them, at any time, are bad. Her child also happened to be a picky eater and refused many textures, limiting her choices more. On top of this, based on a misinterpreted blood test for a food sensitivity panel that the mom had somehow done on her own prior to our meeting, the child was only allowed to eat 7 foods, and had been eating this very restricted diet for years. She was not growing, had miserable behavior and sleep problems, and was trending toward anemia.
It turned out, right off the bat, the child could eat many foods that mom had wrongly assumed were trouble. A shift in view point on the good vs bad food mythology helped a lot. The child’s behavior improved immediately and she gained some much needed weight. Finally, her brain and body were getting replenished.
But even after a few sessions, things didn’t sound quite right. So I asked for an updated food diary. Mom shared a usual day food intake of small quantities, throughout the day, of raisins, peanuts, maple syrup, rice, potato chips, and a brownie. That was it. That was a usual day of food. This explained the re-emerging problems: No protein, no good fats or oils, too little food over all, a grazing pattern, and few micronutrient rich foods (for vitamins and minerals).
Mom said this child would sometimes eat chicken. So I asked – what if you gave a chicken nugget, would she like that, or try it?
A big silence followed. Mom was stunned. She had never done that, and wouldn’t, “because, you know, they’re so junky.” We agreed to give it a try after a quick search gave us some brand options she could live with. There are ready to heat and eat versions of this stuff that aren’t so terrible, or are gluten free too.
Instead – This child was already eating a junky poor diet. It didn’t matter if the peanuts and maple syrup were organic. Those alone don’t make up a whole foods diet. So, toss in some fun. Find some ready to serve, heat-and-eat stuff so you don’t have to work so hard cooking it all from scratch. If you hit on something, then you can make your own scratch version even better if you like.
Let kids be kids. They need different diets than adults. They shouldn’t be eating they way you do, most likely. Peruse my blog for more ideas and tips on how kids eat, what they need, and some recipes to try.
• 5 – Baby Led Weaning Is Great… For Babies
No, babies and children don’t know what they need all the time, and don’t necessarily have a keen inner wisdom that they can tap at a moment’s notice. Some babies wean because they feel eager and ready to move on. Some can’t get there, and won’t, even when it is safer and healthier for them to do so. Don’t pressure your young child to know everything. I’ve met many toddlers way past the day they needed to wean, and mom is still waiting for permission to do so. Nope nope nope. You’re in charge, mom.
Likewise, toddlers and kids need direction too. Weaned or not, presenting food all day long in a parade of choices is often just plain overwhelming and frustrating for little kids. It’s too demanding to expect that they will know what to do. This strategy can create anxiety in young kids, while mom or dad get super frustrated by the poor growth and picky appetite that this can often trigger too.
- Don’t expect them to guide you in making their food choices. Sure they will have their preferences, but it is your job to feed them.
- Don’t expect that they will always know or verbalize when they’re full or when they’re hungry. Especially when kids have used reflux medicines, appetite and its cues will be weakened over time. If you need help with this, contact me or speak to your pediatrician.
- Don’t chatter about how important food is. Just make or buy something you love to share and enjoy with your family.
- Don’t allow non stop grazing. Toddlers and young kids grow, sleep, and behave better with distinct snack times and mealtimes.
- Don’t limit texture options to just pincer grasp foods and pouches. Kids can be rigid. The longer you wait for them to reach for a new food, the longer you may be waiting. I’ve met several four and five year olds who don’t know how to chew. It’s ok to rock their world a bit and expect them to progress much earlier on.
Instead – Make food a benign or pleasant background piece. At snack or meal times, it’s just there, beckoning. Allow a choice between 2, maybe 3 foods at most. Present mixed textures and novelty, including foods that might be messy or that require mastery of a utensil. Let your child feed himself or get messy. Good help can be had with a pediatric occupational therapist if need be – let your doctor know you’d like help, and get a referral, if feeding is so stalled that your child isn’t growing or gaining well.
I really meant it …
…when I said that the most important reason why we are all here is joy. Eating and food are great paths to create it, share it, grow it. More than anything you say or do around food in your household, making food a generally positive, inquisitive, and expansive experience is what will create good self care and eating habits in your growing family. For extreme picky eaters, you may have other problems afoot that need tackling. Check out my e book here for more details on how to redirect that too.
Can you even remember not knowing the word “covid”? We’ve spent most of 2020 locked down, wearing masks, avoiding travel, skipping the gym, refusing social contact, learning and working from home (if you still have your job), deferring doctor’s appointments and health care, and cooking at home all the time. We’ve lost loved ones, some of whom have died alone due to strict covid lockdown rules. We’ve lost connection with our communities.
So why is this virus still here, and apparently, flourishing? Didn’t all this effort matter?
I recently asked a colleague to assist me with a regression analysis to examine how states with the earliest and strictest lockdown measures fared, in terms of their death rates from covid. Did more lockdown measures mean reduced death rates?
What we found might surprise you – it sure surprised me!
We used data (compiled here) that gave each state a ranking for its lockdown measures. We plotted this against covid death rate by state. Here’s what we found, as of mid October 2020:
Each dot is a state, and you can see that the states are pretty well scattered around. This implies that the correlation between restrictions and death rates, if there is one at all, is probably weak, and that other variables are in play. But, we needed the regression analysis, to show for sure if this was true.
Here’s what happened: The red line shown in this graph is where the regression analysis fell. A weak correlation was found, showing that more restrictions were weakly correlated with higher death rate.
In other words, states with more restrictions had higher death rates – the exact opposite of what we expected!
This analysis brings up a lot of questions: Did tougher lockdown measures create more collateral deaths? Or were they not strict enough? Is this why covid is making a comeback right now? If we depend so completely on lockdowns and nothing else, this analysis suggests we may continue to lose the fight against covid.
This analysis does not evaluate cause, only correlation. We all know correlation is not cause. And it is by no means the only analysis we should be performing.
But it begs the question: Are we moving in the wrong direction?
The costs of unilateral masking, lockdowns, restrictions and quarantines have created unsatisfying results, to say the least. Every day, we are bombarded with reports of covid cases on the rise. But little information is reported about death rates (which are not cases, and are also not the same as the numbers of deaths). There is some hopeful news on that score – look at this from California – we can all appreciate this bright spot that deaths are not necessarily increasing as the case number rise, as they did last spring.
When this happens, one possibility is that the virus has mutated to a less lethal form. Another is that treatments may have improved. Surely other possibilities are in play. The frustrating piece for me – as a clinician, and as a professional with public health training – is that no one seems to be asking these questions.
Many of us are stuck in the fear-narrative. Even my scientist friends – geologists, oceanographers, climatologists, engineers, computer scientists – people who pride themselves on being able to understand complex problems – can’t seem to leave the news narrative behind, and embrace some hard facts about this virus and how it behaves in our population.
Once the brain is in fear, it literally can’t reason, or listen. Fear creates distraction. Once we are entrenched enough in fear, we are no longer capable of critical thinking. And it seems this is where the media narrative has led many of us.
We have been told that masks, lockdowns, and closures are all we’ve got to stop the virus, until a vaccine shows up. Fines, arrests, and public shaming have become routine for those who question lockdown strategy. Is this right?
The economic losses, isolation, mental health crises, suicide in teens, loss of loved ones who died alone due to restrictions on visitation; not being able to bury our lost loved ones, or process their deaths, with funeral gatherings prohibited; collateral deaths from lack of access to health care; reduced health from losing access to fitness facilities … the devastation and toll of covid has reached every corner. This is not to even mention the economic losses from lockdowns, staggering in themselves. We have all been affected. I know virtually no one who has not personally experienced loss, tragedy, illness or extreme stress from the covid crisis of 2020.
If we are going to be putting our society through all these restrictions, they better be working, and it appears they have not done what we had hoped.
Restrictive strategies, no doubt, make sense and are effective in certain places: Health care spaces, closed environments, airplanes and so forth. But imposing them indiscriminately, universally, outdoors, or without criteria for who is at risk has cost society too much, and it has not created the result that we are told it is creating.
We need better strategies to meet this challenge.
If you remember the SARS virus outbreak from 2002, you know that corona viruses are not new – but they do work differently than ordinary seasonal flu viruses once they infect a host, and can become dangerous quickly, in susceptible persons. Corona viruses have the largest genome of all the RNA viruses, so they are especially good at producing new variants (that is, mutating quickly), and this may be what we are now seeing with COVID-19. This makes vaccine development an exceptional challenge. Read more here about some of those challenges.
Another suprising piece of covid news that we analyzed: Flu vaccination correlates with higher death rates for covid. We plotted flu shot uptake by state in children against covid death rate by state. Here’s how it fell:
We found a positive correlation between higher covid death rate and percentage of children who received flu shots. States that had higher compliance for children receiving flu shots also had higher covid death rates. Flu shot data came from this CDC site, while state lockdown score came from here.
Once again, this is a correlation. It does not mean flu shots cause covid deaths. It means that perhaps, getting a flu shot isn’t protective as we have been told it is. It may also be a clue as to why some children who seem quite healthy have died from covid, and at the very least, warrants more research.
Whether a flu shot will help or hurt us in fighting covid is a question that some researchers actually looked at. The findings were not what you might expect: Flu shots increased risk of getting corona virus.
Your immune system depends on nutrition and food to build its components and do its work. Masks and restrictions have not done the job we hoped they would, and may be inadvertently making the crisis worse. Flu shots may not help as much as we would like to think either. These possibilities need analysis and critical thinking, and we can’t access that when we are in fear.
Meanwhile, do all you can at home. Maybe shut off your news feed for a bit. Learn here about how you can support strong immune function in your family with food and nutrition. Leverage these to manage covid better for your family. And, keep a calm, open mind – the answers to this pandemic may come in unexpected ways.
Covid is still here, unbelievably – so what can you do to beat it?
You’ve probably heard about inflammatory cytokine storms that can trip a COVID-19 infection from mild and easily beaten, to prolonged, dangerous, or even fatal. Luckily, so far, it appears this happens to a only small percentage of those who get infected: Mortality (death) rates vary, hovering from less than 1 percent to 4-5%. The Americas are the worst place to be. What are we doing wrong?
The role of background inflammation in making COVID a riskier matter is clear. Persons with diabetes, coronary vascular disease, hypertension, or heart disease show significantly higher risk for hospitalization (asthma was at first thought to elevate risk for complications and death, but newer data have not borne this out). All these conditions have an inflammatory component. Lots of people are walking around with no idea that they have background inflammation, or the nutrition problems that go with that. For example…
- Our health care system is so bad at paying attention to food and nutrition concerns that it can take six to ten years to diagnose celiac disease, a debilitating sensitivity to gluten (wheat) that escalates to autoimmune disease. Just one simple, cheap blood test is all it takes to diagnose celiac disease; add one more to the lab order, and you can capture gluten sensitivity years before it escalates into celiac disease.
- Autoimmune thyroid disorders affect nearly 30 million people in the US, but these can go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years.
- Many times, I have been the first and only clinician to capture elevated calprotectin on stool testing for a child. Calprotectin is an inflammatory marker that typically attends extensive gut dysbiosis or inflammatory conditions like Crohn’s disease. It is a biomarker for colitis, enteritis, and even rheumatoid arthritis. Prior to my screening, no one knew these children – who were suffering and symptomatic – had background inflammation.
I believe undiagnosed background inflammatory conditions or processes are part of why some die so quickly from covid, including children, or young strong adults. Was there an unknown, undiagnosed background piece for inflammation that elevated that person’s risk?
Few of the kids in my pediatric nutrition practice ever had screening for inflammation, or for nutrition concerns, before working with me. This is a problem, because your immune system depends on nutrition to function.
In kids, this is very important. The lower a child’s nutrition status, the more likely that child is to get sick more often, have more complicated and longer illnesses, or even die, from infectious diseases. In fact, the single most predictive measure of how a child will fare through an illness is nutrition status, a fact that has been understood for decades. This means that a lot of folks including kids and seemingly well young adults are walking around with the ticking-time-bomb, double-whammy set up of background inflammation plus a dearth of the nutrients you need to manage inflammation and infection!
Besides finding weaknesses for critical immune-supporting nutrients (iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D, protein ), nutrition screenings can pick up inflammation signals on routine bloodwork. I screen for this stuff and fix it in my pediatric nutrition practice. Parents are often pleasantly surprised when, after working with me, their kids rarely get sick (and they have more energy, sleep better, and are happier too).
I believe that part of the variation we are seeing in covid infections and deaths is directly related to nutrition. Nutrition assessment is not part of routine pediatric care, and advising families on how to navigate nutrition concerns for kids certainly isn’t either! When was the last time your pediatrician told you what to make for dinner, or how to pack a lunch your picky eater would actually finish? Lol. Never. Here are five ways to build a strong immunity-foundation for your kids:
1 – Feed Your Kids – Lots! The one factor that most determines how a child weathers an illness or infection is nutrition status. And, the single most important nutrition parameter for a child is growth pattern. This is the single most important nutrition parameter for a child, period. Not whether they eat fermented food, follow a GAPS diet, or never eat sugar. Nope. In children, when it comes to fighting infection, it’s all about body resources and nutrient stores. So, make sure that your kids maintain a healthy weight before illness strikes. Underweight children as well as overweight kids are more likely to get sick more often, stay sick longer, and have more complications than children in normal weight status. This fact is based on decades of global data on childhood illness and child mortality. Because the immune system pulls on stored nutrient resources during illness, and because some of those resources are stored protein and energy in our own tissues, even slightly underweight children can have higher risk for infections and poor outcomes. Your child does not have to be visibly emaciated or even below the 5th percentile for weight for age, in order to be clinically underweight. Your doctor may not have noticed a growth impairment, so visit my blog on underweight in children to see if your child falls in this category.
- Don’t fear carbs or over-restrict them. Instead, load up on healthy vegetable source carbohydrates like sweet potato fries, plantain chips, squashes, chick peas, berries, apples, mango, carrot, pea pods, cassava tortillas (if corn is a fail), sprouted grains or seeds, or legumes; or allow whole grains and GF grains as tolerated. Carbs help kids gain and grow, and a healthy gut will readily and comfortably use them. Recipes from my blog that fit the bill: Portuguese Kale Soup, Spicy Chick Pea Curry, and Pumpkin and Lentil Dahl.
- Too much protein can be as ineffective as too little protein in a child’s diet. Generally, children need anywhere from 35 grams (toddlers) to 50-60 grams (bigger school age kids) or as much as 70-80 grams (big high school athletes with rigorous work outs) of protein daily, depending on their growth status and activity levels.
- During illness, protein losses can increase. Use two extra servings daily for protein rich foods like bone broth, collagen, fish, legumes, meats or poultry, any safe nuts/seeds or their butters.
- Immune (and lung) helpers like vitamins A and D need to be eaten with fats or oils, to be absorbed and stored. Let your kids eat plenty of healthy fats like olive oil, grass fed butter or ghee, organic grass fed meats, coconut milk or oil, egg yolks, avocado, nuts/seeds and their butters, or fish oils.
- Eat mineral rich foods for zinc and iron; both are immune-critical helpers that are often low in kids’ diets and are readily spent when we get sick. Go for nuts, seeds, vegetables, legumes, juiced greens, bone broth, egg yolks, pork, lamb, or beef; unsweetened cocoa or dark chocolate is zinc rich too! If some of these don’t go in your kids’ mouths every day, use a supplement. 30 mg zinc daily is a start; kids may need more depending on their status. Iron is toxic at high doses, so ask your doctor what dose to start with in your child’s case. Fun fact: A clinical sign of poor zinc status is losing your sense of taste and smell. Sound familiar? This is also a key feature of covid infection, indicating that the body is ripping through whatever zinc it has on hand to fight.
2 – Probiotics Help Lungs Too
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Lactobacillus reuteri, and Bifido lactis have been shown to help lung tissue protect itself from invading pathogens. If a probiotic isn’t in your child’s regular rotation, consider adding one that includes these strains, such as Allergy Research Group Lactobacillus or Klaire Labs Therbiotic Factor 6.
3 – Use Antioxidants During Illness
- Vitamin C as sodium ascorbate in high doses is a strong antioxidant that may help beat viruses. Use doses in the multi gram range, not milligrams, eg a 50 lb child can use 5 grams of Vitamin C daily if this doesn’t upset stomach. Split doses throughout the day for better tolerance.
- N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) is an amino acid we use to make glutathione, our body’s top go-to for detoxification and antioxidant actions – especially for lung tissue. NAC also helps break down mucus in lung tissue. In my practice, I have used 600-1200 mg NAC daily in school aged children. It can be used in multigram doses as well (a common support for anxiety or OCD).
4 – Use Immune Modulating and Virus-Killing Herbal Supports
- Houttuynia cordata herb (available as drops from Nutramedix) showed anti-corona virus activity in this animal study from 2016.
- Cilia are tiny hair like cells that beat debris and mucus up and out of our lung tissue. Corona viruses target these delicate structures, causing more fluid and debris to build up. Protective herbs for cilia include olive leaf extract and berberine. See Barlean’s Olive Leaf Extract liquid and Core Berberine from Energetix; you can also use a glycerite based goldenseal tincture as a berberine source.
- Corona viruses attack by attaching to a key protein on cell surfaces called ACE-2, which has the important job of regulating vascular constriction. Once ACE-2 is disrupted, fluid can enter the lungs more easily… and fast. The body responds with strong inflammatory cascades, but this can make the infection worse. Chinese Skullcap, horse chestnut, elderberry, cinnamon, and licoriceroot make it harder for the virus to attach. Resveratrol can reduce inflammatory cytokine response. All of these products are available in various formats easy to give to children (tinctures, drops, powders, and in some cases, chewables).
5 – Give Direct Immune Support
- Immunoglobulins are immune proteins that we make to protect ourselves. They are found in breast milk and in colostrum, and are quite effective at protecting newborns and babies! You can also now purchase a dairy free, hypoallergenic, bovine serum derived immunoglobulin supplement and use it daily to boost immunity. See Orthomolecular Research brand for SBI Protect. I use this often in my practice for children of all ages, with good results. This is a tasteless powder that mixes readily in soft foods or liquids.
We may be facing the reality that there is no safe or effective vaccine for covid for a long time, if ever. As we learned before from the SARS virus, corona virus vaccines are exquisitely challenging to create.Two-thirds of those polled expressed that they would not take a covid vaccine, due to safety concerns. In the meantime, take action to support your kids’ immune systems so they can be as ready as possible. Bonus – they may breeze through winter with no colds or flu bugs at all!
I’ve been in pediatric nutrition practice for some 20 years, but these health and nutrition myths just won’t quit. They can keep kids sick when they could be enjoying better health. Here are 7 myths I encounter week after week. They’re powerful enough to steer your kids away from health and into being more sick, more often. Change your mind about these myths, and your kids may enjoy more health, more often.
Myth #1 – It’s normal for toddlers to be sick all the time …Um, not quite. Common? Yes. Normal? No. A toddler who rides a roller coaster of colds, infections, stuffy noses, coughs, diarrhea, or malaise every month, for more than 5 or 6 times a winter, with or without fevers, or who needs antibiotics over and over before age 2 or 3, gives me pause. So does a child who never gets a fever, but isn’t thriving either, and is often fatigued. Kids should not be sick more often than they are well. Yes, little tykes are vulnerable; their immune systems are developing, and if they were not breastfed, they haven’t been given that powerful foundation from mom’s immune system to protect them.
A cold or virus with a vigorous response – like a fever to 103 or so – that drops your child for a few days is a healthy and necessary challenge for the immune system to develop. But toddlers should bounce back, and resume a hearty eating pattern to restore depleted nutrients burned up during illness.
Nutrition and food make it possible for the immune system to work. When we’re sick, we make big withdrawals out of our nutrition bank accounts. For growing toddlers, this is especially costly – like borrowing money on a 25% interest rate! They need a lot of strong nutrition for growing, and for fighting illness, when they’re sick. We store nutrients for these occasions – especially iron, zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin D. We also use our own protein – which we store in functional structures like our organs, bones, muscles and flesh – to help fight infections. So if a child has a weak growth pattern to begin with, or is even just a little bit underweight, there won’t be much to work with if illness keeps knocking him down. A downward spiral of malnutrition and infection can ensue, and this is dangerous for tots.
PSA: Here we go with everyone’s favorite topic… The shot schedule. My 2p? It’s overloaded, fails often, and creates opportunity for mutation into more virulent strains of the bio-material in the shots (and here is another example of genetic drift from vaccination that may be infectious). Vaccines can also cause the infections they are meant to prevent, such as in this case.
We’ve learned that overuse of antibiotics has caused problems – like antibiotic resistance, and increased likelihood of asthma and allergies later on. Medical professionals have made efforts to cut this back. Not so with vaccines. There is a mania that more are better. Believe me, my public health master’s degree gave me full indoctrination into immunization theory and practice. But after 20 years in clinical practice assessing and monitoring kids, I’ve had an about face. Despite having many more vaccinations than ever, kids are more sick and disabled than ever in US history, and not a single “vaccine preventable” disease has been eradicated. It is not because your neighbor opted out. It is because natural, long lasting, robust immunity from actual infection has all but vanished, and because vaccines can spread infection too.
When vaccinated people shed and spread infection from recent shots, this is called “secondary shedding”. Evidence of this is documented for flu vaccines, chickenpox, measles, polio, and many others. If you’re seeing your kids get sick when school starts (which, BTW, did not happen in my 1960s-70s childhood public school experiences)…. it may be because everyone just got vaccinated and is shedding and sharing infectious material. Here’s an example seen on this sign at a friend’s condo association pool here in Boulder, barring anyone with recent vaccinations:
Dilemma: Your pediatrician’s bread and butter is giving vaccinations, and prescribing drugs. Their training requires little depth in nutrition practice, and this means they may not recognize nutrition problems that drive frequent infections.
If your child is sick more often than well, if colds and infections just won’t quit, what to do? Here are tips to leverage nutrition to support your kids’ immune systems and keep them strong:
- Have your child’s levels of quantitative immunoglobulins checked. Low immunoglobulin means low defenses. Good nutrition and food build this back up eventually, but other special measures may be needed.
- Improve your child’s growth pattern. Are they underweight? Are you sure? Even being modestly underweight may drop immune response and defenses.
- The immune system needs iron. When it’s depleted, infection fighting is harder.Check iron status with a full iron study, not just with hemoglobin (Hgb) and hematocrit (Hct). Hgb and Hct are crude measures that capture only profound anemia. Ask your doctor to do a full iron study to see if your child is pre-anemic. An iron study includes ferritin, serum iron, transferrin, and saturation. Don’t start iron supplements without guidance – iron can be poisonous at the wrong dose.
- Get your child’s vitamin D level checked. It should be well above 30. At our office at Flatiron Functional Medicine, we look for levels in the 50-80 range for good immune protection.
- Get your child’s vitamin A level checked (also called serum retinol). Vitamin A is crucial for immune function, and upper respiratory infections, measles or chickenpox in particular. Unless your child likes to eat liver, cod liver oil, lots of fortified dairy food or grass fed butter, and/or orange and green vegetables, a marginal or even deficient vitamin A level may ensue. Marginal or deficient vitamin A places your child at higher risk for complications from measles or measles vaccine.
- Don’t vaccinate a sick child.
- Breastfeed as long as you can.
- Camel milk is a good source of potent immunoglobulin. Consider using a few ounces daily. If that’s just too weird, consider using a bovine serum derived oral supplemental immunglobulin like this one, or colostrum, if your child tolerates milk protein.
- Keep your child home after vaccinations if they don’t feel well. Avoid recently vaccinated peers just as you would avoid a sick child.
- Balance your kids’ meals and snacks so they get about a third of all their food as fats or oils, about half as clean, non-processed, non-sugary carbs, and about 10% as high value protein. Vary the protein they eat, so it isn’t always the same source.
- Use as much organic food as you can afford. Pesticides in food burden the immune system further.
Myth #2 – Picky Eating Is A Willfull Behavior Choice ….Followed by “your kids need feeding clinic” (maybe they don’t) and “they’ll grow out of it” (I have many kids in my caseload in their teens who …didn’t).
Picky eating is a downstream effect of three things: Gut dysbiosis, mineral imbalances, and exogenous opiate peptide formation from wheat, dairy, soy and pea protein (like Ripple milk, or plant based protein powders). Watch this short video for a fast explanation of what that means.
What sets this up? Reflux medicine, C section delivery, antibiotics (for mastitis, at delivery, during pregnancy, for your child, or a long history of your own yeast infections and dysbiosis prior to pregnancy), early vaccinations… That’s where it begins. This parade of interventions and pharmaceuticals from birth can change the gut biome away from the healthy early profile of microbes we need to begin digesting food as babies, and to protect ourselves from infections. Not only that, these also let disruptive microbes take charge in the gut – things like Candida, Rhodotorula, Klebsiella, Prevotella, too much Staph or Strep, or even Helicobacter pylori. Sometimes I will see a protozoan pop up on DNA screen stool studies too. These in turn usurp minerals out of the diet and make them harder to absorb too, due to subtle shifts in pH in the digestive tract that these microbes create. Ultimately, appetite can drop, the poor diet begets more poor diet, because weak zinc and iron status tend to trigger pickier eating. Next, this scenario also degrades digestion of proteins. When proteins like wheat, dairy, soy and pea are poorly digested, they become “dietary exorphins” or “food derived opioid peptides” that trigger effects on the nervous system.
Once this is in play, your kid is indeed addicted to that white diet (Goldfish crackers, yogurt, noodles, milk, milk, Pediasure, milk, more milk, cheese, pizza, mac and cheese, pasta, bread… and of course sweets). Other foods will be absolutely refused even if you let your child go hungry – because other foods don’t give that opiate-like kick. There is literally addiction chemistry here working against your child. Sure tells that this is happening to your child, besides the fierce picky eating, are hyperactivity, behavioral volatility, dilated pupils after meals, and/or delays in expressive language or socialization.
Breaking this pattern can be done. I’ve helped hundreds of families break it, and it has nothing to do with convincing your child to like something else, or sitting through agonizing feeding clinics where your child is pressed to place different foods to their lips against their will.
One thing that makes a nutrition intervention for this fail is when parents bemoan how hard it is. Sounds silly, but an attitude of being victimized by this strategy will probably lead you to abandon it. Yep, it’s hard! But it can be done through a methodical reboot of your child’s gut environment, with individualized strategies for supplements and new foods. Start with this e book if you want to break picky eating. Spoiler: Probiotics alone won’t fix this.
If your child has mechanical issues with swallowing and feeding, then of they need feeding therapy from a licensed and credentialed speech and language pathologist. For other kids, unless the underlying nutrition and gut biome problems that cause picky eating are professionally assessed and corrected, feeding clinic may not be necessary or helpful.
Myth #3 – Kids Get Constipated Because They Choose To Hold Stool – Gaining potty skills is a process for sure, and some kids do get flummoxed around it to the point of trying hard to withhold stool. In 20 years, I have had one legit case of this. For all the hundreds of other kids, they were constipated because of (a) disrupted gut biome and (b) dietary exorphin formation.
Most of these kids had Candida or fungal microbes flourishing in their intestines. How did we find out? We did urine and stool studies to show it. These are not yeast infections that their pediatricians noticed – because the kids didn’t seem outwardly sick, didn’t have immune suppression, and didn’t even always have white flecks in stool, white or grey coated tongues, flat or concave nails, or ringworm rashes (all tell tale signs of fungal dysbiosis). What they did have were bloated bellies that wouldn’t quit, fierce cravings and picky eating for starchy processed food or sugar, behavior challenges, lots of Miralax in their histories, and, constipation. Some of them also had epic battles with bedwetting into their tween years, which turned out to be a Candidiasis of the urinary tract.
Clearing the dysbiosis can do the trick. This takes thoughtful intervention with probiotics, antimicrobial herbs, or in some cases, prescription anti fungal drugs, as well as some upgrades in what these kids eat. I choose all this stuff based on each child’s history, labs, and presentation.
The other constipation trigger here is the opiate peptide business (See Myth #2). Casein digested into casomorphin, or gluten digested to gliadorphin, are both powerfully constipating – after all, they have opiate-like effects, and if you’ve ever needed pain killers for a surgery, you know the drill. In some cases, the constipation doesn’t quit til those proteins are 100% strictly removed for at least three months. Because soy and pea protein concentrates do the same thing, swapping out milk or wheat protein for pea or soy can fail. Ripple milk, Vegan Orgain, any of the myriad vegan-source protein bars or pastas or breads, and any plant based protein powder may have pea protein concentrate or soy in it and will continue the constipated pattern in some cases. Digestive enzymes may help, but this isn’t as effective as removing the offending foods. If you use enzymes, buy one that has dipeptidyl peptidase IV in it (DPPIV) at a high concentration. After some gut repair and good nutrition replenishment, wheat and dairy may be fine once again, but don’t expect results from a reduced intake of these foods – they may have to entirely vanish to get your child pooping again.
Myth # 4 – If my pediatrician didn’t say so, it’s not real – The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics don’t require rigor with respect to nutrition, for those getting MD degrees with specialty in pediatrics. Only about a third of doctors routinely discuss nutrition at clinic visits, and most report they don’t feel adequately trained in nutrition (they’re not).There are big knowledge gaps for pediatricians when it comes to nutrition. So when you go in with questions about foods, supplements, or special diets, you may come out empty handed at best, or chastised at worst. Don’t stop there, or assume there isn’t a solution, if your pediatrician can’t answer your questions or tells you there’s no evidence that a nutrition measure might matter.
Odds are, there are some very good data on whatever your question may be. Nutrition is a thoroughly pedigreed science that has been around for well over a century. There is so much possibility to engage information, research, and clinical experience from it that your pediatrician may not know about. Naturopathic doctors have more training in it, as does a pediatric nutritionist/dietitian (that’s me). Adding these resources to your care team can give your child better odds for better health.
Myth #5 – Cavities? #ThisIsFine – Cavities are no fun for anyone. Even kids who have good oral hygiene can end up with repeat visits to the dentist, for drilling, filling, capping, or extractions. It may seem entirely usual that everyone gets them. Well, not everyone does, and no, cavities are not a necessary childhood rite of passage.
Cavities are a canary-in-the-coal-mine scenario. They can be thought of as a flag for a disrupted oral microbiome, and/or a shortage of the strong nutrition that helps build teeth and enamel. A healthy mouth will harbor friendly microbes that do a good job of intervening on your behalf, and don’t let an overly-acidic environment erode enamel. And, a baby who gets to breast feed a long time will have a better shot at less crowding of the teeth, and thus less chance for cavities.
If your child has a frequent flyer punch card with your dentist, start with gut. Your child’s gut microbiome may need an overhaul away from Candida, yeast, Helicobacter pylori, or other disruptive species. These are fed by simple carbs, sugary food, and processed foods. If your child is picky, see Myth #2 above, and set a goal to bust that pattern. Ditch the reflux medicine if possible (if you’re using it), because this reduces absorption of both protein and minerals – two key components of teeth. If children have optimal nutrition during the time that teeth develop, they can avoid cavities. Vitamins A, D, K, and C along with healthy fats and protein, with wholesome vegetable sources of carbohydrates, can accomplish this task. For more on nutrition and cavities, visit the Weston-Price Foundation.
Myth #6 – Measles and chickenpox are deadly diseases. The short answer here is, yes, and, no.
So much has been said about this in recent years – most of it counterproductive – that it’s hard to consider bringing this up at all. As a senior practitioner who has been credentialed in my field for over 30 years, I can say the sea change in this has not been worthy. It has not translated into better health for children. The conversations now afloat, where anyone questioning vaccines is pilloried and branded insane, would have been shocking during my graduate studies the late 1980s. We were allowed, and encouraged, to question and investigate, as were our mentors and instructors. This was not forbidden in that day, as it is now. And yes, I studied immunization, epidemiology, and nutrition as a graduate student. Yes, I know of deaths from these diseases. Among my classmates were physicians and health professionals from Taiwan, Indonesia, Africa, Egypt, Pakistan, Vanuatu, Guam, and the like. For our graduate practicum rotations, we were flung to all corners of the globe, including underdeveloped locales where poverty and malnutrition were common. My classmates went on to positions in clinical practice as well as in policy, including for WHO, USAID, and the CDC.
Measles can kill a child in poor nutrition status. So can chickenpox, flu, or a common cold. Here is the lost part of the conversation: Nutrition, not vaccination, makes or breaks this for a child. For decades, the World Health Organization (WHO) has emphasized nutrition protocols for controlling infectious diseases, and for measles in particular (see Table 1 here for just one example and Table 2 here for another). Why? Because the immune system only works if it has nutrients to draw on to make immuglobulin, white blood cells, NK cells, a thymus gland, and so on. It can’t work from just a poke in the arm with a bunch of antigens and toxic adjuvants in it. It needs the body’s nutrients to respond. My classmates in public health knew this, witnessed this, and applied it. They did not go on caterwauling about vaccination, condemning people who deferred, or indulging emotional, religious-fervor, carte-blanche approval to using vaccines without limits. We understood that nutrition status was, and still is, the primary driver of whether or not a child may die from an infectious disease, have complications, or survive it handily. Whether you derive it from an injection or a natural infection, there is no immunity without nutrition to build it – period.
This is now so polarized a topic that effective discussion is impossible. Young parents have succumbed to relentless fear mongering and misinformation from the pharmaceutical industry (via its alliances at the AAP, FDA, and CDC) while actual science has fallen by the wayside. Millenial parents are in lock step out of fear of becoming social pariahs, willingly submitting their children without question, lest they be accused of being “unscientific”. At the same time this generation can grasp that the oil industry has lied about climate change since the 1960s, it is somehow lost on young parents that the pharmaceutical industry may, likewise, be lying to the public about the safety (and efficacy) of its single most profitable sector. As long as pediatricians remain poorly informed on nutrition, they too will readily believe that an ever growing vaccination schedule is the only way to have immunity to anything. It isn’t.
For kids in strong nutrition status, measles and chickenpox are survivable and beneficial infections. Not only do these infections give effective immunity that lasts into adulthood, having had acute fever inducing infections in childhood like measles may lower risk of certain cancers later in life. Strong nutrition status means robust stores of iron, zinc, vitamin A, protein; access to clean whole foods and the appetite to eat them; and a body mass index somewhere between the 25th and 80th percentiles.
Nutrition and infection is a vast and complex topic. Our pediatric physician community is tragically not well versed in it. Hence, we have a nationwide army of pediatricians believing that only vaccines can prevent infection, while at the same time depending on using them in practice for their livelihoods. Like any other pharmaceutical product, this approach may not suit everyone. The strong arm tactics afoot to force vaccination are highly suspect – if a product truly works well, no one would object and no one would need to be forced to use it. In fact, vaccination itself may have loosed more virulent strains of several previously mostly benign infections, besides destroying the natural immunity that humans developed over eons of time.
If your child contracts either measles or chickenpox, consider these guidelines from Mayo Clinic. If your child has been growing well, eating well, and not picky prior to illness, odds are they will have the nutrition reserves to weather this successfully and will be gifted with robust immunity for many years. Vitamin A is crucial for fighting measles. Supplementing it during this illness may be necessary. If your doctor doesn’t know how to do this, see these WHO guidelines (Source – see page 45):
Myth #7 – Elimination diets will make my kid different and there’s nothing to eat anyway – When I became a mom, despite my degrees in nutrition, I knew virtually nothing of elimination diets or food allergy. I soon found myself on a steep learning curve. This was in the mid 1990s. No internet, no online support groups, no other moms in this boat. I was isolated, and cracking into my training, texts, and visiting medical libraries all over again, just like in graduate school. My son needed to eliminate gluten, soy, egg, dairy, and nuts back when nobody did this. Nothing could be bought ready made, including bread (we eventually found Kinnikinnick bakery in Canada, but that was the only one for years). I was often quite unwelcome at school events, family gatherings, or birthday parties because I would show up with “weird” food that my son could eat. I always made enough to share. I always asked hosts ahead of time if this was okay. Eventually, it was …fine.
We didn’t talk a lot about this in my house. We just made food. It wasn’t my son’s problem, it was mine. I was the adult, and it was my job to give him the freedom to eat and feel good, rather than eat and feel sick, like any other kid. If anyone had a problem with that, well, insert expletive here. He gets to be well and happy too. This was my mantra.
This made me learn a lot about food, cooking, and baking that I didn’t know. I learned how to make really good food and really fun and delicious treats for holidays and birthdays. It made me do a better job than I would have, of feeding my family.
If I could do it in the dark ages, you can do it now. There is so much awareness for food allergy now, not to mention thousands of food products out there ready to buy, mix, cook, bake, or just eat. Get to it. If you need help, let me know.