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When parents hear “nutrition matters for baby” or “kids need a good breakfast”, what does that really mean? There are plenty of vague platitudes out there filling parenting web and print media, cereal box side panels, and TV ads. But how important is this, really?

Even before pregnancy, what we moms eat and what toxins we are exposed to affect our unborn children. Whole foods organically grown in healthy toxin free soil without genetically modified seeds or feed grains will safely nourish you and your kids – and it really does matter. For example:

–  Vitamin D status before and during pregnancy may affect growth of the fetus, length of pregnancy, and immune function for baby after birth. Babies may be at more for risk intrauterine growth retardation in moms who are vitamin D deficient. Even adult outcomes for mental illnesses may be impacted by mom’s vitamin D status during pregnancy.

– Ideal iron status – not too much, or too little – is crucial for normal fetal development. Iron can cause lasting damage to fetal organs and brain tissue, if the wrong amount is on board.

– Toxic exposures for you now may influence whether your grandchildren get cancer.

– Ultrasounds may damage DNA expression in your baby’s brain. Limiting exposure to these while pregnant may be safest.

– Missing folic acid, a single simple nutrient, can have catastrophic outcomes for baby. Taking it before you conceive may prevent birth defects.

– Unvaccinated babies have fewer allergies, ADHD, and chronic disease than vaccinated children. Toxins in vaccines along with early and aggressive exposure to injected antigens may be making our children more chronically ill. This bolsters the need for strong nutrition to support strong immune response. Even vaccinations taken by mom prior to pregnancy may have a negative impact too.

– Breastfeeding is as or even more powerful than vaccination at preventing infectious diseases – so powerful in fact, that the CDC has promoted cessation of breastfeeding to keep natural antibodies from negating those in vaccines! Score another point here for nutrition solutions over pharmaceutical ones.

– Genetically modified organisms in food crops (GMO) are linked to increased allergies and organ damage. These foods are unlabeled in the US – so that means you’re probably feeding them to your family. Look for foods that tell you they contain no GMO ingredients. Livestock and farm raised salmon are typically fed GMO corn. Splurge on organic meats to avoid this when you can.

These are just a few bullets from the staggering amount of information on nutrigenomics – that is, how nutrients (and toxins) impact gene expression and outcomes for our babies. But one fact is too often overlooked for parents nowadays: Nutrition really matters, and it’s up to us to engage it. Your child’s immune system depends on a steady flow of toxin-free nutrients and foods, and a well functioning digestive tract, in order to mount a vigorous response to fight infection. Your child’s brain needs the same, to grow and function to potential. Nutrition is an ensemble piece if there ever was one. Nutrients and foods work together, relying on each other in cells and processes in the body, to create a hale and hearty human. No pharmaceuticals – vaccines included – do these jobs. Food and nutrients do this.

Despite this old wisdom – documented by decades of nutrition science and practice – pediatrics today pays little due to helping parents build kids’ nutrition. Nutrition studies are not part of your pediatrician’s training. Emphasis is heavy on pharmaceuticals, a shift that has happened in the last generation. As a child, I visited the pediatrician very rarely; I have not a single memory of me or any of my four siblings going to the doctor with an illness. We each passed through the rites of chickenpox, mumps, and measles; we never got ear infections; we very rarely got colds or flu. My friends came from families of three, five, or even six or seven children. I knew no one with asthma, allergies, diabetes, epilepsy, or other conditions or disabilities. With all the pharmaceuticals now given to children beginning from birth, we must ask if these are making kids less well, and more debilitated. Over half of US children now have a chronic disease or disability – obviously, using more pharmaceuticals has not improved health for our children.

Pay as much attention as you can to real food for your family. Cooking from scratch is a lot of work, but start – somewhere. Even a few more whole food meals or snacks a week will give your kids fewer toxins, more minerals, varied protein, and essential fats and oils – all key for brain and immune function. Even busy families can begin with these ideas:

–       Trade processed fortified breakfast cereals (infamous for delivering too much corn syrup, sugar, additives, or even too much iron for some children) for whole grain oatmeal, eggs, or additive-free organic breakfast meats

–       If cereal is non-negotiable, transition to organic brands that use whole grains. Add raw nuts and seeds like cashew, sunflower, or pumpkin seeds.

–       Once a week, try a session with your kids of making your own cereal. Use whole oats, nuts, seeds, cinnamon, honey – any granola recipe can do.

–       Trade sugary GMO concoctions like Ensure, Pediasure, or Carnation Instant Breakfast for power shakes made from organic almond, hemp, or coconut milk; add whey powder, nut butters like tahini, honey, and ripe banana. Let your kids experiment with ingredients, within your parameters of fruits, seeds, nut butters, cacao nibs.

–       Stuck on Cheezits and Goldfish crackers? Rotate in crunchy nut and seed mixes, Justin’s Nut Butters, raw young asparagus, or crisp bell peppers. Add dips like guacamole or hummus. If all else fails, offer nut butters and dips rich in brain building fats with the crunchy cracker favorites.

–       Is Friday pizza night? Give your own homemade a try, and let your kids in on the project. If making your own dough is daunting, purchase an empty pizza round from your grocer’s freezer section and build from there. Use organic cheeses. Experiment with toppings like olives, fresh basil leaves, raw tomato slices, scallion, or barbeque chicken; let your kids spice the pie with fresh minced oregano, raw minced garlic, or  fresh hot pepper.

–       Use a crock pot once a week for a home cooked meal. Meatballs and sauce, meatless minestrone, pot roast and vegetables, and lentil dahl are just a few meals that cook themselves and offer protein, minerals, fats, and oils.

What I usually hear in my nutrition practice is this: The more families get into preparing real food, the more they get into it. It grows on you. And the best part is seeing your children become healthier and happier, from the inside out.

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