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

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

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

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

Salmon with saffron sauce and chick peas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Coconut chicken curry with sweet potato over rice

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

Adding lemon slices while cooking chicken picatta makes it even better

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

…Kale calzones with brown rice green pea salad

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Vaccines: Will The 83 Canaries Make Them Obsolete?

Beyond Vaccines: Will The 83 Canaries Make Them Obsolete?

When we have our babies, we feel safe because we have vaccines. We regard them as no less than life-granting elixirs of modern times, the dividing line between a safe and secure health trajectory for our kids, and certain death from diseases of yore.

But cracks in that comfortable veneer have surely formed, giving a sense of the inevitable to what was once inconceivable. Have we tapped out the usefulness of vaccines? Are they more harm than good, as we now use them?

Pharmaceutical industry scientist Helen Ratajczak recently spoke out – “I’m retired now. I can write what I want” – about how the MMR vaccine could in fact plausibly induce autism. CBS News recently proclaimed that the vaccine debate is far from over. Despite relentless “vaccines are safe” mantras from talking head TV doctors and government officials, parents now express more concern about vaccination than anything else at pediatric visits. In defiance of a rash of studies insisting no link exists between routine childhood vaccines and disastrous brain injuries or autism, scientists determined to be heard continue to publish findings that vaccines do cause trouble: Stuff like this retrospective that found boys were nine times more likely to end up with developmental disability when given newborn hepatitis B vaccination. Or this particularly chilling one – a prospective case controlled study in monkeys – showing the US schedule of vaccines, as is now given to our children, inducing neurological and gastrointestinal injury akin to that seen in autism, in the entire test group. Yet another chink in the vaccine armor was this analysis showing worsening infant mortality with increasing doses of vaccines.

None of these studies quibbled about mercury or aluminum, toxic heavy metals routinely added to vaccines. Both metals have checkered pasts that link them to autism and Alzheimer’s disease. Debunking efforts have stumbled here too, once the public understood that Paul Offit, poster-doc for the vaccine industry (and patent holder on vaccines himself), was touting data on kids given mercury-containing vaccines against kids given aluminum-containing vaccines. The incidence of autism in both groups was comparable – which doesn’t prove vaccines don’t cause autism, as Offit has misled millions to believe. It may simply mean that aluminum is just as potent a neurotoxin as mercury. Meanwhile, most parents (or pediatricians) don’t realize that vaccines are never tested against placebos at all. They are tested against other vaccines, an industry-friendly oddity permitted nowhere else in all of medical scientific methodology.

Adding insult to injury, one of the investigators on the CDC’s crown jewel study – commissioned to disprove the MMR-autism link – was just indicted by a federal grand jury for fraud and money laundering with funds intended for this very project. This came to light after many a harsh rebuttal to the study for its flawed methods. Last but certainly not least came the news that this study was a fix all along: E-mail communications emerged showing collusion between the CDC and study authors to obfuscate true increases in autism occurring with more mercury exposures from vaccines.

Then: In August 2014, a CDC scientist named William Thompson who reviewed data for the CDC’s “there’s no problem here” masterpiece study said this: “I’ve stopped lying.” He admitted to data manipulation, crafted a decade ago, to hide findings that autism risk more than tripled in African American boys receiving MMR vaccine on the recommended schedule.

And now this. A cluster of parents who managed to survive Vaccine Court – a little known corner of hell reserved for those whose children are injured or killed by vaccinations – have banded together to speak out. Vaccine Court is where you end up if you know enough to file a claim for a child’s vaccine injury. Since the pharmaceutical industry won itself total freedom from liability for vaccine injuries or deaths in the 1980s, and since the Supreme Court solidified this protection by removing parents’ rights to pursue civil court appeals just this year, families are left to make claims with the government when the unthinkable happens to a baby or child who is dutifully submitted for shots. For twenty-five years, a tax added to the sale of each vaccine has paid into a fund to take care of these children. That is, if parents know of and pursue their rights, and if they prevail in this court system.

For years, at the same time we’ve heard assurances that vaccines are safe, the federal government’s Vaccine Court has quietly paid millions to families whose children suffered devastating brain injuries from routine shots. “Quiet” is the operative word here, as parent Sarah Bridges, who holds a PhD in psychology, explains: She was advised “very routinely” by her lawyer to “be careful talking about this” lest her son’s custodial funds evaporate. At risk of losing their hard won compensation, parents are now speaking out, and revealing that their children were the canaries in the coalmine. Ms. Bridges’ son for example, who is now seventeen years old, has mental retardation, epilepsy, and autism thanks to infant vaccinations, and lives in a care home wearing a diaper and a helmet thanks to the compensation program paying for it all.

This is bad news for anyone who feels unsafe without vaccines.

I don’t feel afraid without vaccines. Even with a master’s degree in public health, and years of university training in health sciences, I am relieved to see what may be a tipping point here.

Truth, ethics, and transparency have been lacking in our vaccination program. According to the review released today, there is much more carnage from vaccines than we acknowledge as a society. And now it’s plain, transparency is lacking in the program that compensates our injured children too. Besides the unstoppable worries about whether vaccines are safe, we add the question: Are they really necessary? Which ones? How many? Maybe vaccines have done less than we think – and haven’t actually prevented disease much at all, as we have so enjoyed believing for almost a century.

About my training in nutrition science and practice, and public health: I noticed it sometimes fell at odds with itself. In one class I’d listen to a lecture by an epidemiologist (with a PhD) explain how fabulously successful vaccines have been in eradicating disease (I believed what I heard). In the next, I’d listen to another expert (a PhD nutritionist and registered dietitian) present how intricately connected nutrition and immune function are, especially in the first years of life. Decades of data illustrate how small shifts in a baby’s nutrition status can set up a deadly cycle of infection and more malnutrition. Plenty of pedigreed work exists to show how effective breastfeeding is at combating infectious disease exposures for infants. The stellar performance of breastfeeding for beating diarrheal diseases in infants – a top killer in the developing world – is legend in public health nutrition circles.  Do we really need vaccines for this? When vaccines trigger more in chronic disease and disability than they prevent for acute infection, the risk benefit ratio has moved in the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, more integrative medicine strategies evolve every year – tools that rely less on drugs and surgery and more on whole organic foods, reduced toxins, nutraceutical strategies, or other modalities. Witness the success of vitamin D in preventing and shortening course of flu, for one small example out of hundreds, that illuminate the potential of pharmaceutical and toxin-free strategies to minimize infectious disease.

These strategies tend to be unpopular with the medical press and our government health agencies. What that means is that if the bloom is off the vaccine rose, they are going to be the last to admit it – but that’s another blog. In the meantime, be a smart health consumer for your own babies and kids. Read alternative views on vaccination, tap providers trained to engage nutrition-focused tools for healthy immune function. If you want to opt out of the vaccine schedule in whole or in part, you can

–  Check your state’s mechanisms for vaccine choice by clicking here.

–  Switch to a family practice physician, osteopathic doctor (DO) or a naturopath (ND), if your pediatrician is coercive about vaccines beyond your comfort level.

–  Read Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free: Nutrition-Focused Tools To Minimize Meds and Maximize Health and Well Being, even if your kid isn’t diagnosed with a special need. See the chapter on avoiding infections, and the section on working with providers to help you through infections when they occur.

We all owe a debt to the 83 Canaries, the children the government did not want you to know about who have been thrown under the vaccine bus. Their parents are speaking out, and according to Mary Holland at the Elizabeth Birth Center for Autism Law and Advocacy (EBCALA), it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Three Steps To Bust A Picky Appetite

Three Steps To Bust A Picky Appetite

This may be the one question I’m asked most often: How can I change my child’s appetite? Picky appetites in kids are common, but not necessarily normal or healthy. If your child has been eating fewer than ten foods for more than a year, something is amiss. Your child is probably not getting all the nutrients needed for optimal growth, learning, mood, and functioning. While a whole industry has evolved around foods just for that limited kid palate, consider what is done in other countries with healthier populations: There is no kid food. There’s just food.

That was the US, not all that long ago. Other than breakfast cereals, which were just getting steam as marketing vehicles for kids when I was growing up, we just ate food. Nobody blinked. It wasn’t because my mom was a particularly fearsome presence at the dinner table, demanding compliance. We liked the food. So we ate it, pretty much.

But times have changed. I know of many kids who are legendary-picky  – kids who eat only noodles or pasta with butter, and chocolate milk, day after day, year after year.  Or just coffee cake, and milk – literally. Some kids venture into as many as four foods – pizza, mac and cheese, grilled cheese, and noodles with butter (which is really just two foods, wheat and dairy).  I sigh a little each time I’m in a restaurant with a gorgeous farm to table menu, but pass by a table with the bowl of pasta, Parmesan, and butter for the eight year old, while everyone else enjoys the cornucopia we are so fortunate to have in the US.

There are myriad cookbooks full of tricks to slip vegetables and fruits into foods your child does like to eat. While you work on those, think about a longer term goal of seeing your child naturally gravitate to a variety of foods. Add these simple steps to trigger some innate curiosity in your child’s appetite. Allow at least two months for these tools to fully engage. It takes time for nutrients to be absorbed into spaces and places where they’ve been lacking for a long while, and get back on line doing their usual jobs.

Step 1 – Probiotics! You’ve no doubt heard about these friendly, helpful bacteria. Microflora, healthy gut bugs, probiotics – call them what you will – but make sure your child is hosting the right bacteria in his gut to support a healthy appetite. Eating a little yogurt every day – especially the squeezable fruity flavored kind – is not enough to do the trick. High daily doses of probiotics are needed to bust a picky appetite. These help digest food, produce nutrients we need, run interference on inflammation, maintain optimal pH for good digestion, and keep pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and mold species (yeast or Candida) under control. These gut microbes eat what we eat, and they eat first. They either leave behind toxins, or good stuff, depending on whether the intestine is harboring healthy or unhealthy microflora.

They also drive appetites. What I’ve observed for years in practice is just emerging in medical literature: Kids who have lost these good “bugs” tend to have either weak, picky appetites with reflux, or appetites that are ravenous but only for starchy foods or sweets. This is often a gut with Candida species (yeasts or molds) in control. Antibiotics kill bacteria but not yeasts or molds, so with each antibiotic dose, yeast microbes will flourish anew in the gut. As they crowd out the good bugs, they change gut pH over time so that digestion weakens, and can trigger reflux, constipation, or malabsorption. Yeast desperately needs simple carbs (as anyone who has baked with it will know), and this makes for fiercely rigid appetites in children whose guts are overly yeasty. Children may or may not show any other signs of yeast overgrowth besides that rigid appetite, so this often goes untreated. Confirmatory signs are large or painful-to-pass stools, constipation, ringworm patches, relentless red itchy diaper rash or rash at groin, urine or stool incontinence, bloating, a history of thrush in infancy… and, a penchant for bread, bread, sweets, pasta, bread, pizza, bagels, and bread.

What to do: Buy a high potency, high quality probiotic and have your child use it daily for at least three months. Look for a potency guarantee; a potency of 20 billion colony forming units (CFUs) per dose or more; mixed strains of Lactobacillus and Bifido species; and, no fillers. Many probiotics contain ingredients like inulin, which are added as food for the probiotic cultures – this is optional. Others have dairy ingredients, which are best avoided. There are many probiotic products out there – some of the best are only available on line or through health care providers. For more information about purchasing and administering these, see Special Needs Kids Go Pharm Free.

Sidebar: Kids whose guts are not colonized early in life with healthy microflora have more asthma, allergies, and problems with growth, feeding, and stooling. Besides taking antibiotics, kids can also lose these healthy microflora colonies if they were born via C-section delivery, if mom was given antibiotics while breastfeeding, or if they needed time in the NICU after birth.

Step 2 – Replenish zinc. This mineral has a big impact on appetite and power to improve a reluctant eater’s habits. Like most minerals, it is usually lacking in picky eaters’ food intakes. Most kids’ multivitamins don’t have enough zinc to overcome a poor eating pattern. Kids who have oral tactile sensitivity, who balk at varying food textures, who fall apart and stop eating if they encounter a novel texture, taste, or color in their food are often candidates for zinc replenishment. It’s a make-or-break nutrient for growth and onset of puberty too – so if your child seems later than expected in starting that pubertal boost, and has an appetite limited to starchy foods and milk, then there may be too little zinc in the mix. Besides a faint or mercurial appetite, other flags for low zinc are frequent infection, poor wound healing, skin that cracks near nails, white dots on nails, hypersensitivity to smells (and eventually, loss of sense of smell), or low taste acuity.

Zinc can be found aplenty in nuts, pork, dark meat poultry, cauliflower, eggs, some fruits and vegetables, and even pumpkin seeds. If this variety isn’t cpart of your child’s menu, add a chewable zinc lozenge or tablet (there are many on the market) that gives 15-20 mg zinc per lozenge; use it daily with food for 6-8 weeks, then check progress for appetite or other signs that describe low zinc. Your doctor can always check zinc status with a blood test too. 15-20 mg of zinc is a bit higher than the government’s dietary reference intake for healthy kids with good diets, but is workable because zinc has substantially lower toxicity than minerals like iron, and we’re talking about restoring a depleted status. I’ve dosed zinc to as high as 50 mg/day safely for children in my practice, but this is a path to take with professional guidance. Too much zinc can drive iron status downward, so don’t go overboard.

If a daily lozenge is a battle: Metagenics Zinc Drink (15 mg per teaspoon) is a tasteless colorless liquid that vanishes in juice, water, or any liquid. Available at many on line supplement sites or through health care providers.  Other liquid preparations abound; many of these add magnesium and calcium too. Use these only at the lowest effective dose. Questions? Send me an e mail through my contact form at NutritionCare.net, or check with your doctor.

Step 3: Restore iron. This crucial nutrient is overlooked for kids, more than you might think. Iron deficiency anemia is not uncommon in American children; many more may have marginal iron status, a condition that precedes outright anemia that your pediatrician can discern with a blood test for ferritin, a protein that stores iron. Though pediatric reference ranges for ferritin drop as low as 10 (depending on the lab doing the test), a ferritin level below 30 usually coincides in my experience with some compromise in learning, attention, behavior, sleep – and appetite. Kids with weak iron status or anemia may put non-food items in their mouths often, to chew on or even try to eat: Ice, snow, dirt, dirty snow, sand, pebbles, wood, fabric, plastic toys, pencils, paper, or other objects are typical choices for a child in poor iron status. Other signals for poor iron status are pallor, irritability, insomnia, dark circles at eyes, outright lethargy and breathlessness with little exertion, or recurring infections. If this describes your child, tell your pediatrician so your child can be screened for iron status. The most informative testing includes ferritin, serum iron, hemoglobin and hematocrit, total iron binding capacity (“TIBC”) and perhaps a blood cell count (CBC).

Examples of some iron rich foods are lentils, kidney beans, chick peas (garbanzo beans) red meats, liver, sesame seeds or sesame butter (tahini), eggs, or dried prunes. Wheat breads and cereals (not the gluten-free versions) are often fortified, but I have encountered children with weak iron status who were eating these fortified items daily. Picky kids usually shun the other iron rich foods, or eat them too infrequently for them to keep up iron stores.

Restoring good iron status is easy to do with gentle, low doses of supplements or herbs (licorice, nettles, dandelion, thyme).  Iron in good stead can help your child’s appetite broaden, and may trigger other benefits.  If your child isn’t using an iron supplement, you can add one – but don’t give doses above 5-7 mg of iron daily, without your doctor’s guidance. You can also check if your child’s multivitamin has any iron in it. If it has only 5 mg per dose or less, your child may need more. Check with your doctor. Given to excess, iron is toxic and even fatally poisonous so don’t use iron supplements without guidance.

What to do: Two easy tools to supplement iron when necessary are VegLife chewable  iron tablets (18 mg per tablet) for older children who weigh more or for children with very low ferritin, and Floradix Iron Plus Herbs liquid (10 mg in 2 teaspoons) for younger kids who need a daily reliable iron source. These are low dose and well tolerated by children in my experience.  The Floradix liquid vanishes well in dark berry juices. I prefer food based forms or gentle supplemental forms like ferrous bis glycinate. Ferrous sulfate (the form usually prescribed by doctors for anemia) seems to trigger more stomach pain, constipation, and nausea than food-based forms or ferrous bis-glycinate.

Give these three steps three months to work for your child. Changes will be gradual, so consider a pre and post log book on what your child is eating. Check in with your doctor if you’re not certain for dosing supplements.  If your child’s appetite hasn’t budged after these steps, I’d like to know about it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nutrition Solutions You Didn’t Know: Being A Pharm-Free Kid

[/caption]We’d all nod in agreement if asked, “…does nutrition matter for babies and kids? Is it important that they have enough to eat?  Does it make any difference what they eat?” I bet any pediatrician would too. So why don’t we tap that when it comes to helping special needs kids thrive to their potential? After all, these kids are at higher risk for nutrition problems than typical peers – problems that often go unnoticed, and have the power to impede progress.

We can, and this is what I have done in my pediatric nutrition practice for over ten years, working with kids who have asthma, severe food allergy, autism, Down’s syndrome, arthritis, growth failure, feeding problems, ADD or ADHD, clinical depression, and more. On top of that work, I’ve written Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free – because even after a decade working with kids, I am surprised that parents still have so little reliable information on how to leverage nutrition-focused tools for a child with a chronic condition or disability. Just as they can for any child, nutrition tweaks can make or break the difference between staying well or getting sick a lot, succeeding versus struggling at school, growing as expected or being stunted, and relying on symptoms-only drug treatments versus ditching the drugs altogether to feel and function even better.

Pharmaceuticals are not a bad thing. But our health care system may be stacked to make these too much of a good thing for our children.  For example, prescriptions to young children for stimulants (like Ritalin) and proton pump inhibitors (reflux medications) – just two types of drugs – have skyrocketed in recent years.  Children are now more medicated and more immunized than ever before – but are more chronically sick and disabled too.  Between 1980 and 2000, a 57% increase occurred in the rate of children with disabilities served by government programs.  In our public education system nationwide, about one fourth of learners are served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) – and the increase in number of children served under IDEA has grown at twice the rate of the general pediatric population.  In the same time frame that Americans have used more medications than ever, our overall health related quality of life has declined.

What this means is that our children have become more sick and disabled in the last thirty years, not healthier, and that prescribing more medications may not be helping. Physicians aren’t trained in non-pharmaceutical strategies for disease management in the US, as they are in several other developed countries.  Controversy continues regarding the influence the pharmaceutical industry may wield here on medical training, clinical trials, even medical journal publications – making good information on strategies like nutrition almost invisible.

Gluten free noodle bowl and gluten free pot stickers. No sweat.

I’m not sure how to eat these. Anybody? Beuller?Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free to the rescue. Affected children are often assumed to be presenting in a certain way because of the condition or disability itself, rather than because of a fixable, nutrition-related impairment.  Here are just a few examples of how nutrition can impact a child with a learning difference, developmental disability, or chronic condition. More examples with strategies to address them are found inSpecial Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free. These spotlight nutrition problems that have been linked in myriad clinical trials and public health data to learning deficits, growth or developmental impairments, insomnia, psychiatric disorders, or behavior problems in children; others abound in my case files:

–        Children with Down’s syndrome may have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease more often than typical peers. Even in the absence of celiac disease, untreated gluten sensitivity in itself may impede growth, stooling, and functional abilities for a child with Down’s syndrome.  A gluten free diet may help a Down’s child make unexpected leaps.

–        Over a third of boys with Asperger’s syndrome tend to be clinically underweight – that is, their body mass index (BMI) is <10th percentile.  This is a growth pattern deficit that may impair infection fighting, sleep, continence, and cognition.   The only correction: More food!  Healthy fats, easy to absorb proteins that are not inflammatory, good carbs – and plenty of them all.  In some cases, specialized formulas or custom made smoothies can help too.

–        In puberty, low BMI in boys is linked to low total cholesterol.  This is inversely related to testosterone level, meaning that testosterone will rise when cholesterol is too low. Low total cholesterol has been linked to psychiatric disorders, suicidality, and aggression.  Excess testosterone has been noted in about a third of boys and girls with autism; aggressive or obsessive compulsive behaviors showed improvement, in early work treating high testosterone with medication in these children.  Keeping a child’s BMI above 20th percentile, plus allowing ample daily healthy organic fats and oils, are nutrition measures that may help.

–        Any child with a self-limited diet (eats just a few foods) or mechanical problems with feeding (tube feeding, swallowing disorders, oral tactile defensiveness) can quickly become depleted for minerals like zinc, which allows normal appetite, growth, and immune function; magnesium, which helps nerve cell function; chromium, which helps control blood sugar; and selenium, a key antioxidant.  Children with Down’s syndrome in particular should be screened for zinc status.  While a high potency supplement can help, so can slow cooked stews and broths, chock full of vegetables and gluten free carbohydrates like quinoa (a grain that is also high in protein), black rice (higher in iron than regular rice), lima or kidney beans (to add zinc, protein, fiber) or breadfruit and potato (great for potassium).  Adding grass fed beef or free range poultry – organic if you can afford it – will further up the mineral, protein, fat, and calorie content of a crock pot meal.

–        Any child with a self limited diet or chronic inflammatory condition like cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, food allergies, or asthma may have sub-optimal iron status – which will make them more susceptible to infections, more cranky, hyper or irritable, less able to focus at school, and less likely to sleep well.  Entrenched iron deficiency (anemia) can leave your child tired, averse to exertion or typical play activities, showing shiners at eyes, and prone to eating non-food items.  Have your pediatrician screen serum iron, ferritin, transferrin, hemoglobin, and hematocrit.  If a supplement is needed, use one that is gentle and well absorbed, like ferrous bis glycinate instead of ferrous sulfate – but only with supervision, as iron quickly becomes toxic to children.

–        Copper is a metal we need in extremely small amounts, and a potent neurotoxin, if too much circulates in a free, unbound form.  High serum copper level has been linked to several psychiatric diagnoses.  Some children with autism may need treatment to reverse copper toxicity and should avoid copper in daily multivitamins; special formulations are available for this purpose.

–        Several studies have documented the presence of opiate-like polypeptides from poorly digested food proteins in autism; these have neurotransmitter effects that can impede language, pain tolerance, stooling, cognition, sleep, and behavior.  Special diets or digestive enzymes that target these proteins have shown promise.

–        Children with autism were found to have four or more GI issues, including histological changes, diarrhea, reflux, constipation, and abnormal endoscopies, about 40% of the time, compared to 5% of the time for their neurotypical siblings, in a study published in Pediatric Gastroenterology.  While some studies countered this finding, debate centers on methodology weaknesses in those studies that “bury” evidence of gastrointestinal problems in these children. In clinically standard nutrition screening in my own practice, I routinely find these problems in children with autism. If your child has a picky, weak, or rigid appetite, vomits undigested food, is dependent on medications for constipation or reflux, has undigested food in stool, can’t move bowels at least three times a week, has more than three loose or foul stools/day, or often presses his stomach on pillows, knees, or furniture for comfort – these signal atypical digestion and absorption that may mean lessened health or functional ability for your child. Several nutrition interventions may eradicate these uncomfortable symptoms and improve the flow of crucial nutrients to your child’s brain, muscles, bone, and organs.

–        Food allergies and sensitivities may go undetected in kids with Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, autism, asthma, or other conditions.  Help can be had with correct screening for these, plus plug-ins of hypoallergenic formulas, special diets, or supplements to diminish inflammation.

–        Children with seizure disorders may improve with dietary measures beyond the traditional ketogenic diet.  Lessening inflammatory foods, avoiding neurotoxic trigger ingredients like glutamate, glutamine, phenols, or colorings, or treating undectected bowel infections for Candida or Clostridia are measures that have helped children in my practice with seizures.

Changing how your child eats, using a special diet, or adding targeted nutraceuticals may be a long term commitment for a person with a chronic condition or disability.  But it is a critically worthy one, if it means a child can improve beyond expectations, attend a regular school with no aide, avoid residential care or placement as an adult, have independence or have a job, and contribute to society in what ever way their unique talents and gifts allow.   I have witnessed all of these outcomes in persons with disabilities because of nutrition interventions.  This is not new, not novel, not even alternative – it’s simply engaging what we already know to be evidence-based in child nutrition. Any parent can start tapping these tools anytime, with Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free.

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