Curcumin (which comes from turmeric root) has garnered more and more attention for its many healthful effects. Dubbed the “Solid Gold” of India, it’s one of the preferred tools for kids I work with too, because most of them have chronic inflammatory conditions like asthma, eczema, autoimmune problems, or food allergies. One of curcumin’s standout properties is that it is a potent anti-inflammatory, so it helps my patients with these conditions improve. It also has broad anti-microbial action, and can kill some bacteria, viruses, molds, and even cancer cells. It became a darling of the autism community a few years ago when it emerged as a key part of supplement protocols for kids on the spectrum. At least one study showed it could improve social behaviors in rats poisoned to trigger autism-like features. Curcumin also reduced repetitive, obsessive behaviors in the rats. Another study showed curcumin can reduce oxidative stress in the brain and exert a protective effect against certain toxins – two problems frequently found in children with autism. It boosts glutathione levels in the body, which is a powerful antioxidant that our own cells make to protect against toxins and infections. Glutathione itself shows benefits for autism features as well. And, it is an excellent source of iron, zinc, and manganese.
When curcumin pills and powders starting pouring on the market, these were objectionable for some of the kids and parents in my practice. They were hard to swallow, or tasted too pungent. Apex Energetics makes a tasty liquid version, which gives 420 mg standardized curcuminoid extract per teaspoon in an easy to administer suspension. This works well and kids love it – but it’s expensive.
The good news is that you don’t have to make your kids swallow a bunch of costly pills or buy expensive supplements to get enough curcumin and turmeric daily. All you need is a lot of high quality organic turmeric spice and/or some fresh organic turmeric root. It actually tastes good in a lot of foods besides your favorite curries – which you can liberally add more turmeric to as well. I’m currently eating about 2-3 tablespoons daily of turmeric powder, and fresh root when I have it. The root is softer and less stringy than fresh ginger root, which makes it easy to add to smoothies.
If eating turmeric isn’t appealing for your child, I recommend the Apex product mentioned above over powders, pills, or capsules. You can find it via health care providers like me, or through web-based supplement sellers. It’s very easy to administer, formulated for easy absorption (with medium chain trigylcerides and vegetable glycerin), and it’s easy to control the dose. It will work to correct oxidative stress in the body. Caveat: Dosing this too quickly can cause your child to feel worse, if they have entrenched inflammation from conditions like asthma, autoimmune problems, or autism. It’s best to start with a lower dose (~100 mg) and work up to at least 420-500 mg daily. Many children do well on about a gram (1000 mg) of curcuminoids daily, with slow ramping up.
If you’re using turmeric powder to get curcumin’s antioxidant benefits, you’ll need to eat somewhere in the range of 1-2 tablespoons of turmeric daily. Powdered turmeric spice has about 3% curcumin in it by weight. To reach a beneficial dosing range for curcumin (400 mg or higher daily), eat powdered turmeric by the tablespoon! Curry powders, which are spice blends that contain turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, and other spices, don’t deliver as much curcumin – but that’s no reason to pass on curry dishes, which are just plain delicious with loads of nutritional benefits. You can also add extra plain turmeric powder to any curry dish to boost curcumin in it.
What about fresh turmeric root? I have not yet found analysis for fresh root versus powder, but it’s likely that any whole, fresh food has more nutrition value and active phytochemicals than a powdered dried form.
Fresh turmeric, powdered or raw, has a fruity essence that pairs well with unexpected flavors. Here’s a few ideas – and if you need help purchasing supplement items mentioned in this blog, contact me.
Tumeric Raspberry Salad Dressing: Whisk with a fork or immersion blender, makes enough for 2-3 salads:
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1-2 teaspoons sesame tahini
- 1 Tablespoon turmeric powder or 1/2 inch minced, peeled fresh root
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (cherry wood aged balsamic vinegar is really good here)
- 1 teaspoon raspberry preserves
Cocoa Turmeric Power Packed Smoothie: Place all ingredients in a blender, blend until smooth. Adjust liquid to
Odd bedfellows merge to make a rich, fruity-chocolate flavor
- 1/2 cup crushed ice
- 6 oz unsweetened organic almond milk
- 2 Tablespoons sesame tahini or nut butter of choice
- 1 scoop Apex Glycemovite (my favorite for taste and nutrient profile), Thorne MediBolic, or Systemic Formuals Chocolate Metaboshake protein and multivitamin/mineral powder
- 1 scoop organic grass fed whey powder such as ImmunoPro
- 2 Tablespoons turmeric powder or 1 inch peeled fresh root
- 2 Tablespoons organic unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 Tablespoon organic flax meal
- dash organic stevia powder or 1/2 teaspoon raw honey
Mild Thai Red Curry Sauce Over Salmon: This recipe is adapted from At Blanchard’s Table: A Trip To The Beach. Prepare this sauce while your fish is baking, and enjoy with wild caught (not farmed) salmon, ahi, haddock or any firm fish. Rinse the salmon and lay it on aluminum foil on a baking sheet, skin side down. Pour the sauce over the salmon. Bake at 400 degrees for 9-15 minutes (depending on size and thickness of the fish) til just flaking but not dry. Remove from oven and wrap the foil to enclose the fish lightly. Let it rest for 2-5 minutes and serve.
- 1 TBSP coconut or olive oil
- 1 TBSP toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 cup chicken broth (best if it’s your homemade stuff, or use organic full fat broth)
- 1 can unsweetened canned organic full fat coconut milk (not So Delicious coconut milk in carton)
- 1 Tablespoon gluten free tomato puree
- 1 Tablespoon Thai Red Curry Paste
- 2 Tablespoons turmeric powder or 2 inches peeled minced root
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika (more if you like it hotter)
- 1 teaspoon coconut sugar
- 1 teaspoon peeled minced ginger root
- 1 teaspoons gluten free tamari sauce
Heat the oils gently and add garlic and ginger, cooking x 1 minute. Add the turmeric, cumin, curry powder, curry paste, and paprika. Stir and cook for 2 more minutes.
Raise the heat to medium and add the tomato puree, tamari, coconut sugar, coconut milk, and chicken broth, whisking well after each addition. Cool for about 10 minutes, stirring often – don’t let it boil. When edges are gently bubbling, pour over fish and bake.
With balsamic and ghee glazed beets and cauli-cilantro “rice”
It can be easier than you think to give your kids a hearty, healthy breakfast starter without opening a box of processed cereal… which isn’t really food. Who knew? I grew up reading the backs of breakfast cereal boxes every morning, munching on my favorites: Cap’n Crunch or Frosted Flakes. As a teen it was Cracklin’ Bran and Cheerios, which were actually thought of as healthier. In those days, we didn’t yet have high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the processed sugar noted for its mercury content and penchant for driving obesity in children. There was no such thing as genetically modified ingredients either. In a small way, those cereals were less toxic than the same brands today. Parents believed they were healthful products. But they were still plenty sugary, and full of colors and preservatives.
The addition of HFCS and GMO grains into these products has not improved their image, or made them healthier, to say the least. Click here for why I tell my patients to avoid GMO foods and here for why to avoid HFCS. Families are wising up. Bloomberg Businessweek recently featured a horrified Tony the Tiger on its cover. He’s wearing a gas mask and recoiling from a glowing green bowl of Frosted Flakes. Bottom line: Sales for Kellogg are off, way off, as parents realize what’s in that stuff – but the weird part is, Kellogg doesn’t seem to be getting the memo, as it promises new products like …peanut butter and jelly pop tarts – ?
You don’t need that. Neither do your kids. And you don’t need to wait for a Big Food corporation to tell you what to feed your family. Here are a few items that give a stronger start for your child’s brain and body. Some come together quickly in the morning rush, and others can be made ahead so they are ready to pull out of the fridge when your family is leaving for school.
Eggs Any Way, of course. Healthiest if you can get eggs from chickens who are not GMO grain fed, but who can peck and eat their usual fare of bugs or feed that is organic. Scramble, fry, or hard boil some ahead of time and eat them as an instant protein and fats boost in the morning. Here are some grain-free ideas for sides with eggs:
– Chop green pepper, onion, and leftover potato or French fries and toss in a hot skillet with olive oil, coconut oil, salt, pepper, and paprika or red pepper. Cook through and serve with egg on top. You can chop these veggies the night before as part of your dinner prep, and set aside for morning.
– Crack an egg into half an avocado, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a dash of turmeric. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes or til yolk is firm to your liking. Eat right out of the avocado rind with a spoon!
– Toss leftover hearty vegetables like roasted Brussed sprouts or cauliflower into a hot skillet with olive oil or coconut oil. Add pine nuts or pumpkin seeds. Sear til hot, serve with your over-easy egg on top (my favorite). Got leftover pesto sauce? Stir that in as you reheat your vegetables and coat them well.
– Hearty greens seared with a soft boiled, over-easy or gently fried egg are delicious, if not a bit sophisticated for kids palate – but you might be surprised. I often set aside greens washed for dinner to use some the next morning. Kale, chard, baby bok choy, arugula and a few spears of asparagus work well. I quickly sear these in coconut and toasted sesame oils, with fresh minced garlic if I have time, and good quality garlic salt if I don’t. Spinkle in sesame seed or pumpkin seed for protein, fiber, minerals and healthy oils.
Breakfast Meats – Go with organic, non-GMO fed animals here if you can. Side of fruit chunks or veggie hash, or even reheated quinoa or rice from last night. Breakfast meats go direct from freezer to skillet, with a small amount of olive oil and chicken or beef broth, simmer covered til done.
Grains? Many of us are minimizing or cutting out grains altogether. But if you’re not there, there are a few options for breakfasts. If you need to skip gluten but your kids like toast, gluten free bagels and breads (and waffles and English muffins and so on) are everywhere, and if they aren’t in your neighborhood, you can order them. Warning: These can be as sugary or starchy as any other processed breakfast food, but they can be a bridge piece when kids are leaving behind processed wheat and dairy diets and moving into a broader-palate.
– Gently heat an organic corn tortilla (skillet or microwave if you must) and wrap it around a scrambled egg. Add some salsa, fresh cilantro, and cheese (if allowable) to your child’s liking; add mashed ripe avocado if cheese is a no-go. You might succeed with a cheese substitute based on pea protein called Daiya for kids used to cheese with tortillas.
– Rice is a usual accompaniment to eggs, in Pacific-Asian eating styles. Have some on hand to reheat for morning – brown, black (“royal“) rice, or white if nothing else can satisfy your child for now. Serve with hot sauce or salsa.
– Gluten free pancake mixes can be had from Bob’s Red Mill or Pamela’s, available in most supermarkets. Both take moments to prepare. If you have a little more time, mix these up instead: Pumpkin Pancakes – a grain free and hearty starter with protein, nice fats, and nutrient-dense, grain-free carbs.
Lunch Meats with Fruit – If you don’t have time to cook anything, this cold combo works well (for school lunches too): Salami or pepperoni that is gluten free and minimal for additives or even organic is a hearty starter. Side with honeydew melon, water melon, pineapple chunks, raw whole almonds, or goat cheddar, if dairy works for your child. Try a lime aioli with this for dipping the fruit (use honey and no garlic, with lime instead of lemon juice). Assembles quickly with an immersion blender – make ahead and keep in fridge to use for dips or salad dressings.
Hot Porridges: Fast, easy, and grain free: Try Cashew (or Macadamia) Coconut Porridge by blending all these in a pot and heat gently, and enjoy:
2 TBSP almond butter
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1 TBSP ground flax meal
1/4 cup finely chopped raw cashews or macadamia nuts
1/3 cup full fat canned coconut milk
1/2 cup canned pumpkin or sweet potato puree
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon raw honey (or maple syrup)
For grains, you can cook your own oatmeal (gluten free or not) or hot brown rice cereal. Some kids like coarser, crunchier textures in hot cereal; some don’t. For the crunchers, add chopped nuts or sunflower seeds. For the smooth kids, oatmeal can be turned into quick oats either buy buying it already finely ground, or by putting it in a food processor yourself, so it is nearly a powder before cooking. If oats don’t fly, whole grain brown rice cereal may be an option. It’s coarser than the infamous Cream Of Rice cereal, with more fiber. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners love to recommend congee, which is brown rice cooked slowly for days, with water added often, until it is a soft, broken down, easy to digest porridge. If you have the opportunity to keep a pot of this on your stove, some kids will do better with this option. Add coconut oil and an gentle sweeteners like pear puree, a small amount of maple syrup, coconut sugar, or lucuma powder.
Either way, hot cereals are perfect for enhancing with healthy fats and extra protein. Stir in ground flax meal, ground cashews or almonds, sesame seeds or tahini, ghee, butter, coconut manna, or whole canned coconut milk. Chopped nuts or raisins are obvious add-ons too. Sweeten to taste with a little maple syrup (the real deal, not the processed fake stuff), coconut sugar, raw local honey, or stevia drops or powder for a no-sugar option. Cinnamon rounds out the sweetness while also exerting a beneficial modulating effect on blood sugar.
Hot Drinks: Hot chicken broth, especially if you have roasted a chicken this week and made your own, is a good choice for kids with tender stomachs and low appetites in the morning. Heat and enjoy plain or stir in gentle digestive aids like a fresh ginger root slice, some chopped cilantro leaves, scallion pieces, or baby bok choy leaves. Hydrating and nourishing with minerals for adrenal glands, and soothing fats for the brain.
A heftier option is to make cocoa – here is my recipe for a dairy free version, which uses sugar, or not.
Smoothies: The possibilities here are almost endless. Most kids I work with must avoid certain proteins – dairy, gluten, soy, egg and so on. There are many products that can go into a smoothie to add protein, without using those sources. Check out my smoothie recipe page here. Products I use often to boost protein in these are Apex Glycemovite, Thorne MediBolic, UltraCare For Kids, Systemic Formulas Metabo-Shake, ImmunoPro organic whey powder, or free amino acids. Be creative – anything goes. For example, turmeric powder (a great anti-inflammatory) with unsweetened cocoa (which adds antioxidants and zinc) create a fruity, fragrant flavor that is more than either item alone. Add your own sweetener to taste!
Leftovers: Did your kids love last night’s dinner? Nothing says it can’t be for breakfast. Reheat and enjoy.
There are so many ways to eat differently in the morning besides opening a box of processed, sweetened grains with questionable ingredients. Build a routine that works for your family. It doesn’t have to be hard. Once you’ve got the new routine down, you might be surprised how easy it can be.
If you think it’s challenging to argue with a four year old about what they should eat, wait til that kid is sixteen.
Teens need strong nutrition as much if not more than four year olds. Entering puberty, kids are entering an explosive growth spurt second only to what is experienced in utero. Not only are pre-teens and teens hitting the steepest part of the growth curve (just look at a growth chart), they are building out organs, tissues, brain capacity, and muscle mass that will carry reproductive, physical, and cognitive capacities for them as adults. You’ve got the vagaries of hormone changes and growing so fast that it can literally hurt, at the same age that kids yearn for independence and lack foresight. One of the easiest ways to express that is through food.
Like never before, teens with some independence have unprecedented access to the emptiest foods. Processed fast food full of high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated or trans fats, simple starches, additives, colorings, and genetically modified dairy, meats, and grains are in everything they may grab. Think pizza dough, tomato sauce, burgers, fries, soda, frappucino’s… or not eating at all as they rush out the door.
Strike a happy medium. Don’t make food a battleground. Your teenager may have all the ferocity s/he did as a toddler for being stubborn and oppositional, but with the mobility and freedom of a young adult. Here’s how to make it work a little better:
1 – Cook real food meals at least twice a week, or as often as you can. Eat together. Make your son or daughter’s favorite meal. Make this a comfort zone. Don’t tackle heavy topics or bicker over homework. Your teen will come back to it, time and again. Though they may never express it, this will build nourishment as well as a sense of safety and security. It will also support their palates for better food than they can buy out with friends.
2 – Make sure breakfast is an option, and include protein. Many kids rush out of the house without any food, once in adolescence. But even a small amount of protein in the morning can help regulate thyroid function, adrenal function, and brain readiness for school (or driving to school, if your teen is doing that). Starchy starts will not prime these pumps as well, so have protein rich snacks or easy to make foods ready for them to grab and eat, or carry:
- Have a pot of hot cereal on the stove like whole grain brown rice, pumpkin with almond flour, or gluten free oatmeal. Add flax meal, ghee, butter, or coconut manna, plus ground cashews, raisins, or macadamia nuts. Cinnamon and stevia or a dash of maple syrup or honey can be plenty of sweetener. Avoid sugary, processed instant versions of hot cereal. For faster cooking, use the blade attachment on an immersion blender to grind whole oats or brown rice cereal to finer texture before cooking. Most of us can’t do this every day, but even once a week is a helpful measure.
- Eggs take seconds to prepare. If even this is too time consuming, hard boil eggs ahead of time so your teen can pack one walking out the door.
- Toast, bagels, or English muffins work best when eaten with some protein. Spread with any tolerated nut butter, add cream cheese and lox, or spread with butter and add cheese. Gluten free versions of all of these are available. To replace cheese, use raw goat milk cheddar or chevre (often tolerated when cow’s milk cheeses are not). Proscuitto slices or spreads with salads made from ham, salmon, turkey, or chicken will fuel the brain and endocrine system better than just grains alone.
- If power smoothies are appealing, you’re in luck. Have ingredients on hand to mix a shake of choice – for your liquid base, use any tolerated milks, including whole canned unsweetened coconut milk, unsweetened almond or cashew milk, or coconut water. Add a healthy fat with ripe avocado, any tolerated nut butter (sunflower, peanut butter, cashew, almond, sesame tahini), a high quality olive oil, coconut manna or oil, or BulletProof Brain Octane (purified MCT oil from coconut). And of course, include protein! My go-to protein powders are grass fed collagen (BulletProof, Zint, or Josh Axe to name a few), ImmunoPro organic grass fed whey protein (if dairy is okay), Apex Glycemovite, Thorne Medibolic, and Systemic Formulas Metabo-Shake or Orgain powder (vegan or dairy based – but this brand does have more sugar than all the others). The goal is to give a morning protein boost that is hypoallergenic, and easy to digest and absorb, with a strong amino acid profile to fuel focus and attention chemistry in the brain. I skip soy protein altogether in my practice; it is problematic for many kids. Fats give this staying power. Fruit-and-greens-only smoothies are less supportive, so always add a fat and a protein to these blends.
- Broths live on my stove at least once a week, when we have finished a roasted chicken or have a ham bone. You can buy bones to cook delicious stocks, or even buy high quality finished broth. Simmer for a day or more (see instructions here) and ladle out a soothing hot drink in the morning that will replenish minerals, some healthy fats, and even a little protein. Drop an egg into hot broth and cook for a minute or two, for an extra boost. Delicious with chopped scallion, cilantro, and a few fresh spinach leaves too. This is a fast food way to get strong minerals, protein and fats.
- There’s always leftovers. If last night’s dinner still sounds good, reheat and eat. No rules about what to eat when, as long as it nourishes and supports.
3 – Support sleep pattern with real food. In adolescence, sleep patterns shift (in case you haven’t noticed!), often in direct conflict with school schedules. “Sleep is food for the brain” – and your teenager’s brain needs food for sleep. You may not be able to get your teen to sleep before 10:30 PM, but you can have light snacks available in your home in the evening. This can support a good night’s sleep rather than fitful sleep, and can ease the brain toward better melatonin production.
- Avoid sugary treats near bedtime like processed breakfast cereal with low fat milk. These will spike blood sugar and disrupt cortisol rhythms during the night, and can trigger wakefulness.
- Hot cocoa may work fine if sweetened with stevia (not sugar), and if a rich milk blend is used instead of low fat milks. Try this recipe, and add a scoop of whey protein or collagen. If not, add a snack of raw almonds, cashews, or even pepperoni slices. Cocoa does have some caffeine!
- Build a sandwich with protein (nut butters, meats, hummus, pesto spread), or have a second (third?) helping of dinner, as long as it offers some protein and is more than just a bowl of noodles. Stir in some meat, egg, quinoa, or frozen peas.
Many supplements can support sleep, but if blood sugar is on a roller coaster during the night either from too little food or too much starchy-sugary food, the only answer may be to change what is eaten during the day and in the evening. Another sleep disruptor is food opiates. Yes, you can make opiates from food! These have many negative effects, from mood disorders to aphasia, insomnia, and constipation. A simple urine test can screen for this problem, and simple diet changes can solve it. See my e book on Milk Addicted Kids for more info.
Food has as big an impact on functioning, learning, sleep, mood and behavior in adolescence as it does for babies and toddlers. Engage interest by appealing to whatever is high on your teenager’s list. From clearing acne, to playing a better soccer game, to getting better grades, to improving anxiety, depression, or fatigue, nutrition can be dramatically supportive. As always, I’m here to help. Contact me to set up a plan for your budding young adult today.
“Flu Is Not A Season.” That’s a quote I saw recently at the Fearless Parent website. It sums up exactly what I’ve been thinking. If you’re fortyish or younger, this may sound like saying the world is flat.
The over-forties out there probably remember growing up without annual flu mania. Particularly nasty flu viruses have appeared intermittently at least since the 1500s, but the ritual of terror tactics about flu every fall is recent. My own experience as a kid demonstrates: There were five kids in my house. I don’t recall any of us getting flu, or any of our friends dropping to flu either, ever. Once we had marched through the obligatory childhood infections of the day – chickenpox, measles, mumps, and maybe a stomach bug or two – we were done. It seemed that we just didn’t get sick. We were vaccinated, but at the time, that did not cover any of the infections I just mentioned. It included polio, tetanus, diphtheria.. but not flu. There were no flu shots.
How did we all escape getting flu, or dying from it, in a world without flu shots? It’s easier than you think.
Flu is not so much a season as a perfect storm of factors that drop your immune system, leaving it open for business on flu. Ever notice? We can be exposed, but not get sick. Others may only get symptoms so mild, they barely notice. Still others get flu shots, only to get the flu anyway. Since the advent of flu shots in 1976, flu has become more prevalent and concerning, not less. Whether your family takes the shot or not, use nutrition and food to boost your child’s chances of mild or no flu this year:
- Vitamin D. Still haven’t heard? Get out more often! Literally, get some sun. Vitamin D has multiple and complex roles across all tissues; it is more hormone than simple nutrient. Genetic mutations on the gene that expresses our vitamin D receptors are common. This can mean different amounts work best for different people. One of vitamin D’s many jobs is maintaining healthy barrier tissue – that is, the very spaces in lungs, gut and elsewhere in the body where pathogens initiate an invasion. It works to kill infections of all sorts, from tuberculosis to flu, without side effects. A weak vitamin D status can get you sick more often, and can cause lengthier, more complicated illnesses when you do get sick. Blood draws are unpleasant for any kid, but if your youngster is sick often, indoors a lot, has an inflammatory or autoimmune condition (asthma, diabetes, allergies), or is always slathered with sunscreen, it’s time to check vitamin D level. Keep it above 55 or 60 with sunscreen-free, non-burning sun exposure, cod liver oil (1/2 to 1 teaspoon/day), salmon, egg yolks, or supplements containing vitamin D3 (not vitamin D2). Supplement dosing will depend on your child’s vitamin D status, but typically ranges from 1000 to 5000 IU daily to maintain healthy levels in darker, colder months of the year.
- Healthy fats and oils: Feed rich sources from fresh (organic) foods: Eggs, meats, poultry, wild caught (not farmed) salmon, bacon, scallops; nuts, seeds, and their butters; ghee (clarified butter), coconut milk or coconut oil, fish oils and cod liver oil, avocado, chia seeds, olive oil, sesame oil or sesame tahini. Fats and oils are integral to cell walls and barrier tissue, making them as healthy, discerning, and flexible as intended. They carry essentials like vitamin A, D, E, and K into cells too. Pass on the processed food fats, fast food, or packaged foods with hydrogenated oils or trans fats. Use fish sparingly or source as cleanly as you can: Wild caught or farmed without GMO soy and corn.
- Cod liver oil: A half teaspoon to a teaspoon daily replenishes omega 3 fatty acids (which have anti-inflammatory and mood benefits, to name just two); vitamin A (a key immune modulator); vitamin D; and other fatty acids. Is fermented best? Many go this extra mile, but I have observed success with non-fermented cod liver oil and fish oils supplemented for children in my practice for fifteen years. This may be because I use Pharmax brand. While not fermented, it is also not chemically processed either. Like fermented oils, Pharmax fish oils rely on enzymes – not chemicals or alcohol – to concentrate beneficial fatty acids and remove odor. Use brands that self-impose stringent purity testing for toxins like PCBs or metals. Skip these brands named in a recent lawsuit for having PCBs in them.
- Find a healthy weight: Pediatricians have noticed for decades that overweight or obese kids are more prone to upper respiratory infections. But it is also unhealthy to be too thin, which is a common problem in my caseload. When a child’s body mass index drops below the fifth or tenth percentile, succumbing other infections is more likely. Encourage outdoor time, omit processed sugary treats except for special occasions (yogurt tubes are my favorite example), omit soda, and reduce or omit fruit juice for heavy hitters. For the featherweights, ample fats with nutritious carbohydrates are helpful: Sweet potatoes (shredded for pancakes, chopped for fries, baked, mashed, or added to smoothies); pumpkin (baked into treats, pancakes, or bulking up smoothies again); parsnip (slice into coins, coat with melted ghee and salt, and bake x 15-20 minutes); adzuki beans (plain or paste), green beans, wax beans; hummus, garbanzo beans, or dips with white or refried beans; cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, broccoli or broccolini can all work deliciously with roasting, mashing, pureeing into soups, tossed into pasta dishes or rice salads, or just plain steamed. For veggie variations, visit recipe blogs like BalancedBites.com or PaleoPlan.com. You don’t have to be Paleo-committed to enjoy these recipes!
- Boost immune-critical nutrients: Besides healthy fats, the right total calories for your child’s best weight, and standouts like cod liver oil, a robust immune system will use zinc, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, and protein to do its job. This is true whether your body sees an invader via a vaccine or via natural infection. I help all my client families choose the right mineral-rich multivitamin for their children, which are helpful insurance, but whole foods are still necessary. Nuts, seeds (sunflower, pumpkin), and their butters are good sources of zinc and some iron, as are beef, lamb, pork, and eggs. Just low iron status alone will invite more frequent and more severe infections for a child. Vitamin C will help iron absorption, so enjoying C-rich fruits and vegetables is an obvious go-to here. Oral supplements of C are reasonable too, to oral tolerance when sick, and to at least 100-200mg daily when well.
- Take probiotics: Several clinical trials have demonstrated that probiotics elicit a protective effect against upper respiratory tract infections.
Despite all the best efforts, your kids may still get sick. Normal. Not normal: Back-to-back illnesses and infections, or needing one antibiotic after another. This signals a nutrition deficit that the immune system cannot overcome. Support your child’s body during illness with fluids, homemade bone or vegetable broths, healthy whole foods, little to no sugary foods, and rest rest rest. If an illness kicks in, there are many natural anti-viral substances that have shown promise, from olive leaf to goldenseal. Stay tuned for my next blog on using these for children down with flu.
Smoothies? What’s not to love? If you have a kiddo who likes the idea of a personal power shake, you can make a functional food smoothie on the regular. You can even let your child experiment with favorite flavors, concoctions, or who knows what (my son once made us “green spaghetti” for dinner when he was six. It was GF spaghetti in water with green food coloring. Whatever! He was happy.)
I often work up concoctions for kids in my practice who can’t drink stuff like Pediasure to gain weight or can’t use dairy, soy, or other proteins.
And they’re not just for kids. Here’s what happened to me. Smoothies helped me get back on my feet:
In 2011, I abruptly fell very ill, three weeks after a physical in which my doctor deemed me fit as a fiddle. In that three week time span, something bit my ear. A spider? We’ll never know, but whatever it was packed a punch – and I didn’t realize it at first. Within a week, my legs were collapsing out from under me with shooting pains; I was dizzy all the time; my heart raced; any water I drank left me in greater amounts than I took in (over four liters/day urine loss – they measured); my blood sugar fluctuated (I once walked in for a blood draw after a good breakfast and showed a blood glucose level of 48, after it had been 135 fasting that morning); I constantly felt short of air. But, no fever, no rash, no clear clues.
I snapped this picture of a 3″ long female wolf spider carrying eggs on its back on a trail near my house. Nasty if they bite
I stumped one specialist after another. My entire endocrine system had lost itself, as did my immune system. I fell to multiple ordinary infections that my body couldn’t fight, and had inexplicably low white blood cells, beta cells, and neutrophils. Long story (including an old, unknown, untreated exposure to Lyme disease), but I’m still digging out, and into my third year of recovery. I can now drive again, work, stand up without reeling into dizziness, walk and trot, and ski (for short spurts). I can do yoga. I can travel by air again after being grounded for the first 18 months, as long as I have supplemental oxygen and a face mask (weird looking… but at least people steer clear of me and I get more room). I can get up in the morning and function, and even usually sleep again at night, mostly.
Anyhoo, after a year of rotating through many doctors, hospitalizations, near-death moments (literally), medications, herbs, supplements, and treatments, I had more stability in my endocrine system, but was still too weak and sick to return to work, do the athletic things I loved, or care for my family. I was still disabled, and still dependent on a home health aid. This, after spending all the prior fifty years of my life being healthy, physically active, and busy. At this point, I finally had a team of smart people vetted and assembled, after much poking, blood giving, X-rays, electrocardiograms, a tilt table test, and other trials and errors on me.
Just some of the prescriptions I was given, few of which helped – but changing what I ate became as essential to my recovery as finding effective medicines
Hours out of hospital, Christmas 2011. Still wearing an ICU bracelet and glad to be opening gifts at home.. but very sick with no answers.
Then one day one of my docs looked at me and said, “You have to do this with food. Your liver can’t take more medications for these infections.”
For the first time in my life, someone was telling me how to use food for health, instead of me telling them.
I’d already spent fifteen months as a disabled person, and that was enough. No hesitation. I already ate cleanly and was gluten free (easier in my house, with my 17 year old son being gluten intolerant since age 22 months). But I became even more strict about eating only organic and GMO free foods, went Paleo per the doc’s orders, and added all kinds of blended and juiced foods to ease my liver, kidneys, and adrenals back into health. Within two months, I felt markedly better. It was the beginning of my return to normal. I still have needed some medications here and there, and still rely on many glandulars, herbs, and food based supplements that my providers choose for me. But most of all, I have to eat really good food. It’s a lot of work every day, but my alternative option is.. not happening!
Pre-sick, I’d often start my day with no food at all. Maybe some green tea. Further back a few years, just black coffee. I’d eat light and gluten free but still ate grains. A dietitian friend asked me how much protein I ate in a day, and I was surprised to notice that it was less than half of what I really needed. Oops.
Now it was a new ball game. I had to start each day with a strong protein and healthy traditional fats meal. I was unable to exercise and was fearful that I’d balloon in weight. It turned out that my new foods didn’t do this to me, but some medications did. I included lots of lamb, red meats, bacon, coconut milk, and eggs, but my weight remained steady. My total cholesterol climbed, but my doctors were not concerned, because my level of healthy cholesterol was good. In fact, they unanimously interpreted this new lipid profile as protective against inflammation and infection, something I really needed. I ate a lot more vegetables and greens, less fruit, and zero store bought juice. Sweets and grains were out. Gone. Of course, I had already completely cut out alcohol and coffee.
The stretches when I needed longer term antibiotics were the weight gain moments. Antibiotics, I noticed, made it harder for me to avoid grains. They drove cravings for grains and sweets, increased my appetite, and I needed constant support to avoid fungal load in my body when I use them. This I don’t like, and I’m looking forward to having even more energy back so I can become more physically active again.
For a long while, to rebuild my kidneys and adrenal glands, which were not working well early in this illness, I juiced greens, celery, ginger, and apples. This felt like a salve in my body – soothing and restorative! I ate seared kale, chard, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, parsnips, and broccolini for carbs, instead of grainy snacks. For at least six months, potatoes were off my list too (a few are back in, and not causing trouble). Nuts and seeds figured in also – raw almonds, raw cashews, raw pine nuts, pumpkin seeds. That felt good. Once I was a little stronger, I could do liver purges, with water, olive oil, whole lemon, and whole garlic, or sometimes, with strong prescription herb blends that I drank as tea. This also felt really good, better than medications. I slowly, steadily gained strength.
Though I couldn’t tolerate these early on, eventually, I could put together a blender full of helping foods, protein, and supplements in the morning. This is my current morning blend, below. I love the orange-cocoa-sesame flavors. Each item here has been approved for me by my team (Tasmin Cordie DC, Jill Carnahan MD, Daniel Kinderlehrer MD). When it was my turn for help, I was deeply grateful for these smart people. I hope you can also find doctors and providers who know the power of food, and have the skill to choose supplements wisely – just as I do for the kids in my own practice.
I still have a ways to go. My goal is to be able to jog again, play soccer again, or run fast again, and just enjoy life. Even though I ate healthfully for the most part before, I wasn’t eating enough of the foods that really heal, restore, and regenerate. Eating this way takes more work, definitely costs more, but feels good. It doesn’t cost more than the health care expenses I rung up just in the first year that I was sick (nearly $60,000, only half of which was covered by insurance). I slip up some with a gluten free sweet here or a potato chip there, but it doesn’t toss me into a physical tailspin anymore when I do – a sign that my strength is continuing to build. Still, I won’t be going back to my old ways soon: Even with all this good food replenishing and rebuilding me from the inside out for the last 18 months, I have needed infused human immunoglobulin to kick start my flat-lined immune system.
Getting hooked up for my 2nd human immunoglobluin infusion. Two down, sixteen to go.
So, if you want to try a kick-butt morning smoothie, here’s a recipe (sort of) for what I’m liking this month. This one leans on more than the usual number of supplements, all of which come from whole food, and all of which I also use in my practice. I always start with crushed iced at the bottom of the blender for this one. Otherwise, I have a centrifugal juicer that is great for citrus, celery, apples, and firm veggies like carrots. For greens like kale, mint, or basil, I use my blender.
Vitamix is cool but this does the job too
Then I add a “milk” of choice. This can be entirely whole coconut milk (rather heavy); cut that with half unsweetened almond milk or just use almond milk (never sweetened). Today I treated myself to grass-fed organic cow’s milk (a rarity in my case); if I chance on raw goat milk from a neighbor or friend, that will be in for sure.
Next I add…
Apex Energetics Glycemovite ~1 scoop (pea based protein with additional amino acids, minerals, and herbs for blood glucose support). I used this for a while, but now am liking grass-fed collagen peptides even better. Kids who can’t tolerate many food proteins often do well with this.
Organic plain whey powder ~ 1 TBSP (GMO free, non-denatured whey protein high in immune modulators)
Klaire Labs Galactommune (prebiotics to support healthy gut microbiome; with beta glucans to support innate immunity, which I had mostly lost). Go even further for a depleted immune system with hypoallergenic, oral immunoglobulin support. This is another ingredient that has worked wonders for many kids in my practice too.
Organic flax seed meal (NOW brand is my current pick; adds fiber and omega 3 fats). Another top functional fat is C8 oil, aka caprylic acid, which is a medium chain triglyceride that is in coconut oil. The pure C8 oil is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and liquid. It has antiviral, anti fungal, and antibacterial action, and it is a fast, easy fat to absorb. You may have seen it sold as Brain Octane Oil or Dr Mercola’s Ketone Energy. This stuff feels good and can help kids with difficulty growing, gaining, and repairing gut tissue.
Organic sesame tahini ~1 TBSP (for flavorful creaminess, more fats, more protein, a little calcium, folate, and iron. Favorite brand? Once Again Tahini). Pick any nut butter your kid likes.
Next.. I rotate about a teaspoon of one item from this crew, for some omega 3 fatty acids, turmeric, or vitamin D (I don’t put them all in one smoothie!). All of these are flavored with orange oil: Apex Energetics Ultra D 5000, Apex Energetics Tumero Active, Pharmax Finest Pure Fish Oil or Cod Liver Oil. I use the Ultra D 5000 when my vitamin D levels are dropping below 50. The Tumero is a boost for anti-inflammatory help; this product is the best way I have found to get this very beneficial supplement into kids. It is a liquid that comes with a plastic oral syringe, so you can easily squirt the right dose into the mouth directly. It tastes good enough to do that. It can also blend well and will impart a strong orange flavor that goes well with other flavors kids might like, like cocoa, vanilla, or other fruit.
Unsweetened pure cacao powder, no added sugar
If you or your child still has a need for some sweet, options include stevia, in as close to its original plant form as can be had – beware strange blended products like Truvia that add chemicals and other ingredients. Or add 1/3 ripe banana, a small blob of raw organic honey, a dash of real maple syrup, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or 1/8 cup leftover baked sweet potato. Those on GAPS or strict Paleo will pass on those options if they like. But, I have found after fifteen years in practice with some very picky eaters that it can be a winning strategy to pick your battles and celebrate the little victories. A homemade smoothie chock full of organic ingredients and healthy supplemental brain fats is way better than Pediasure, even if it does have a little stevia or sweet potato in it.
Even though my passion for food, health, and nutrition began about forty years ago – when I was a teenager and first read Diet For A Small Planet – and even though I have spent many years learning and enjoying how to help others heal with food and nutrition – this experience has been a life changing one for me. I now know on a deep, physical and personal level how crucial food really is to owning and experiencing health. I had always been a healthy person who ate mostly clean and well, but once I was close to dying, only going full bore into even better food was what put me back together. The dozens of prescription drugs I was given weren’t saving me. It has taken over a year of rebuild from the inside out. That is what our bodies can do, given the right tools. I would be lying if I didn’t say that meditation and prayer didn’t also figure in. But now I feel even more delighted to help parents work with their kids to replace unhealthy foods that are processed, genetically modified, artificially flavored and colored, altered with strange additives new to human livers with wholesome, real, and hopefully organic food. For our youngest, most vulnerable family members, it might matter more than you can know.
Gratitude: Back on the slopes at Winter Park, Colorado, April 2014