The Essential Need for Dietary Interventions for Kids
by Janice Carlin, PhD, CHHP, CHNP, CNHP
Copyright © 2017 Janice Carlin
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For any parent who is interested in providing natural ways to support their children’s learning, health and healing, it is essential to implement dietary interventions. The beautiful and empowering thing about doing this is that it is within every parent’s ability to be able to accomplish from home. You do not need a special certification or degree to do this. The dietary interventions you will read about here go beyond eating a “healthy diet.” These are necessary ways to support and accomplish healing without the use of medications.
Food is a physical element, just like medication is. The ingestion of certain foods can cause unwanted side effects that you may not realize are directly related. The reason that many parents do not know about this is because the information in the mainstream media and health systems are not providing it in a clear and direct way. These systems are pharmaceutical company funded, so it does not benefit any of them financially to share that it is possible for medications to be avoided when using food correctly.
Think of food as medicine itself. Of course, you want for your children to feel calm, focused, centered, healthy, non-aggressive, and happy. What you must be fully aware of is that there are certain foods and food additives that upon ingestion cause exactly the opposite behaviors and conditions to show up in your children. The previous statement is fully supported by scientific studies, which again, can eliminate the need for medications, so you probably have not been exposed to many of them. I personally discovered these studies when my son was young, and I was intensely searching for ways for him to be healthy, calm, and as highly functioning as possible in his life. It took me a decade to figure everything out, and afterward, I earned a doctorate degree in Holistic Natural Health and Nutrition, as I had developed a true passion for the subject, especially after witnessing his impressive improvements.
The essential, underlying concept to know is that if your child is having difficulty with functioning to his or her highest potential of physical and emotional health and success in life and school, he or she can be sensitively reacting to elements that are either in the environment or in the diet. These sensitive reactions cannot be understated in their effects, and if the exposures do not stop, the child will continue to spiral downward. A sensitive reaction is like an allergic reaction that does not kill a person immediately, but the effects can be very severe. Every person is different, but there are commonalities for all children who are reacting. Here, I am focusing on food and the diet, but be aware that there are toxins in the environment that you can also control their exposure to in order to ease their bodies of the burden of constant reactions.
When the body is constantly having sensitive or allergic reactions, the person is unable to function to his/her highest capacity. The body is a whole system where each part affects other parts. Therefore, the food that enters the digestive system can have direct effects on the brain and other parts of the body. Yes, foods do have a direct effect on behavior. Additionally, toxins that the child has been exposed to either through their environment, foods, medications, vaccinations, or in utero can cause damage not only to the brain, but also to the gut. When the gut is damaged, molecules can leak through the lining of the intestines and enter the bloodstream. In sensitive children, this will cause an autoimmune reaction where the immune system goes into overdrive to attempt to combat or rid the body of what appears to it to be harmful invaders. And when certain particles, such as gluten that you will read about below, cross the blood-brain barrier, more problems result for the child.
So what exactly is it that you need to know to be able to implement the dietary changes that your child needs? I’m going to target the most important pieces of information in a concise way. If you would like to research more about any of them, it is vital that you check your sources carefully. This list is not in order of hierarchy – every piece is vital.
CHEMICALS: FOOD ADDITIVES, PRESERVATIVES, PESTICIDES, HERBICIDES, AND GMOS
The body is natural; chemicals are not. The body is designed to process foods and substances that occur in nature, not that have been synthetically designed and produced by man. There are dietary protocols, such as The Feingold Diet[i], that eliminate certain chemicals. However, many offer incomplete guidance to parents. In order to achieve the highest possible outcomes for your child, it is necessary to target as many chemicals as possible and remove them from his/her diet.
Chemicals in foods and drinks exist in the form of additives, such as artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners, preservatives, herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides. I will start with additives. Many of these can be found on package labels, although you might not recognize them by name. Be aware that the term, “natural,” has no limitation for use in marketing in the United States, and many companies place it on food packages and in commercials to confuse consumers. MSG, a neurotoxin flavor enhancer, is added to processed foods to fool the brain into thinking that the food tastes better than it actually does. MSG is hidden under many names.[ii] Preservatives consumed in conjunction with food additives have been scientifically proven to result in hyperactivity and ADHD behaviors in children.[iii] There is so much misinformation told to people about artificial sweeteners. Here is the truth: No, they do not help you to lose weight, and yes, they are toxic to the body.
I know that it is upsetting as a parent to discover that the Gatorade you have given to your child in order to accomplish the hydration that it has promised to provide has resulted in unwanted behaviors in your children. It can be a devastating feeling to realize that so many of the food products marketed toward children have a direct effect upon their behavior and wellbeing. I encourage you to cry or yell if you need to and then to immediately take that all of that energy and put it toward making immediate changes in your children’s diets. We cannot change what we do not think is a problem. It is not your fault that you were not taught this information before, so please be kind with yourself. You are doing the best that you can.
Buying organic food can be a financial burden. However, if you focus on purchasing the foods that have been tested to contain the least chemical pesticides and herbicides, you can eliminate a lot of toxins from your children’s diets. The Environmental Working Group shares information to consumers on their website that includes the Clean Fifteen (foods with the least chemical residue) and the Dirty Dozen (foods with the most chemical residue).[iv] Remember that these chemicals cannot all be washed off; they are incorporated into the foods, as are the chemicals fed to animals that are consumed as meat, dairy, and eggs. In the last thirty years, as genetically modified foods, or GMOs, have entered our food system, more and more heavy loads of herbicides have been applied to these plants, which have been synthetically designed to withstand them. GMO corn actually contains insecticides inside the kernels of corn, so you cannot wash them off. There are no long-term studies about the health effects of GMOs, so it is important to educate yourself about them as much as you can from sources that are not financially involved in selling them.[v] Sixty-one countries in the world, not including the United States, have restrictions or complete bans on GMOs being sold or produced in their countries. If you live in the US and are listening to mainstream media about GMOs, you are receiving biased information because the companies that produce and sell them are controlling the media and the laws. The book I wholeheartedly recommend is the one that began my education about GMOs and other chemicals in foods that affect children’s health: The Unhealthy Truth, by Robyn O’Brien.
Genetically modified foods include corn, soy, canola, cotton (including cottonseed oil), papaya, sugar, apples, and salmon. Because the US does not require GMOs to be labeled, nor has any ban upon them being produced or sold, the only way to avoid them is to purchase organic foods. Almost all processed foods sold in grocery stores will contain some GMOs. Read the labels so that you can spot the ingredients that are genetically modified unless they are organic or are certified to be GMO free.[vi]
Gluten-containing grains are one of the most misunderstood issues in diet today. Here is the statement that you must carry within you at all times (I will justify it below): Absolutely any child who has any type of behaviors or conditions in line with ADD/ADHD, autism, Tourette Syndrome, OCD, ODD, sensory integration or processing disorder, allergies, digestive problems, learning disabilities, sleep issues, aggression/violence, or obesity needs to consistently keep gluten-containing grains out of their diet. Every element I am discussing in this article should be kept out of these children’s diets, however, gluten is the one that I have observed to be the most confusing to parents.
Gluten is contained in wheat, rye, spelt, and barley. It is also found in oats that have been processed along with those grains. You can purchase certified gluten-free oats.[vii] The simple and true reason why these children must consistently keep gluten out of their diet is because gluten acts differently than other grains. Gluten has the ability to penetrate the intestinal walls and enter the bloodstream. Once it does this, the body treats it as an autoimmune response – it is an invader that is not supposed to be there, and so the immune system goes into overdrive, resulting in inflammation. But there is more to the story of gluten. Gluten also has the ability to cross over the blood-brain barrier. Once it does, its effect is similar to having taken a dose of opiates. Thus, it affects behavior, thinking, and is addictive. Some kids also experience brain fog, difficulty concentrating, and fatigue when they have gluten in their diets. One of the most comprehensive explanations about wheat and its health effects (and good recipes!) can be found in the book, Wheat Belly, by Dr. William Davis.[viii]
In addition to these intense effects, be aware that wheat (and oats and beans) is desiccated with heavy amounts of herbicide chemicals before harvesting. So when your child consumes pasta, bread, cookies, or crackers, it is a double whammy of toxic effects on their body.[ix] All of this causes inflammation, and chronic inflammation results in not only physical illness but emotional and mental problems. In short, with the consumption of gluten, your sensitive child is not going to be able to function to their highest capacity.
Watch out for products labelled “gluten free.” This is simply another confusing marketing ploy. Many processed food products that contain this label are full of GMO ingredients like corn and sugar, and a large amount of simple carbohydrates, which act like sugar in the body upon consumption and contain little or no nutrition at all. You are better served to buy nutrition and protein-packed breads and crackers made from almond flour or coconut flour, or to eliminate breads. I have been making almond flour breads and cookies for my son for years and he loves them!
The benefits of avoiding of sugar are widely known. However, there are two concepts that are most often missed by well-meaning parents. The first is consistency. When you make the decision to keep sugar out of your children’s diets, stick to it. Like gluten, sugar also acts like a drug and causes inflammation. You want them to feel calm and stable, and experiencing the blood sugar highs and lows that accompany sugar consumption is not going to lead to this.
The second concept involves having awareness that whatever the child consuming along with the sugar makes a difference in how they will process and react to the sugars. For instance, if a child eats a cookie made of white wheat and corn syrup or sugar, they are essentially ingesting more sugar because the sugars in the simple carbohydrates of the wheat are multiplying how much sugar the body has to process. Candy that contains artificial colors and flavors along with sugar and corn syrup results in a more intense reaction in the body due to the synergistic toxicity of the combination of chemicals being consumed. You have to be aware that it is not just candy or just a cookie to these sensitive kids. Eating these things can result in all kinds of behavior issues and health issues for them. When they eat these, they are literally taking drugs that alter how they feel and think. Additionally, sugar made from sugar beets is genetically modified in the U.S. and other countries that do not regulate GMOs. That makes more toxicity for the body to have to process.
When it comes to sensitive kids, there is no level of moderation of sugar intake that is all right. So it is beneficial to know how to make substitutions for sugar in the diet so that sweets can be enjoyed. Sweeteners to consistently avoid include white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, turbinado, cane sugar, powdered sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial maple syrup, and all artificial sweeteners. Pure stevia is a sweetener that that is safe to consume and does not have the same types of adverse physical, emotional, or mental effects as sugar (It does not cause blood sugar level spikes). You can also try monk fruit and erythritol as non-glycemic sweeteners. There are some natural sweeteners that are safer than sugar to consume occasionally, which include pure, raw honey, and pure maple syrup. Fruits like applesauce can be used to sweeten baked goods. There is always a way to create a dish that will not harm the child, but that he or she will still enjoy. Recipes are readily available for free in blogs online.
Grains are carbs, and carbs are processed as sugar in the body. We need a certain amount of glucose to fuel our bodies, but not nearly as much as most kids consume. Corn is another food that is beneficial to eliminate for several reasons: It is a common allergen, difficult to digest, mostly GMO in the US, and is not a low glycemic food. White rice is essentially like eating sugar, as is white wheat. Choose brown rice and whole grains over processed ones not only for the higher levels of naturally occurring nutrients but also because the fiber will slow down the blood sugar spikes of consuming grains. Sensitive children who are struggling with their health will often benefit greatly from following a diet free of grains and sugar, such as Paleo or GAPS diets.
Never should a child who is struggling with their wellbeing and learning consume soda or sweetened drinks. In fact, just a plain juice box alone can have over twenty carbs, and without the fiber from the original fruit, this juice raises the blood sugar just like consuming candy. If you see a juice drink that is low in carbs, it is most likely sweetened with an artificial sweetener and diluted with water.
To help your child avoid the high and lows of consuming any sugar, including fructose in fruits, make sure that they do not eat the fruits without some kind of protein or quality fats. The protein or quality fats will slow down the body from experiencing blood sugar spikes. Milk actually contains sugars called lactose. If your child does drink milk and is not overweight, then drinking whole milk can help to slow down blood sugar spikes due to the fat content. Quality fats include: Olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, avocado and avocado oil, nuts and seeds. Even a smoothie made from organic fruits with no added sweeteners is full of fructose, so be sure not to give one to your child without a source of food protein (not protein powder).
Not everyone is sensitive to dairy. However, it is a difficult element for most people to digest and process. If there is any type of health condition going on, whether it is mental, emotional, or physical, remove all dairy (casein) from the diet. People tend to be aware of the concept of lactose intolerance, which can produce digestive issues. However, the reaction to casein in dairy products simply does not always take this form. Many sensitive children’s reactions to casein show up as behavioral problems, which can be severe. By consistently removing the dairy, you are giving your child a chance to feel stable.
Dairy products come primarily from cow and goat milk sources. They include milk, yogurt, whey, and cheese. Some sensitive children can tolerate dairy from goat more easily, especially goat yogurt that is fermented 24 hours as is part of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.[x] You have to read food labels to know if dairy products are included because many processed foods, candies, and even supplements include them. Give your child a high-quality calcium supplement along with Vitamin D if you remove dairy from his/her diet.
IMPLEMENTING THE DIETARY CHANGES
When you make the decision to remove these foods and elements from your children’s diets, be aware that some children will experience some detoxification reactions. The body has to rid itself of the toxins and return itself to a state of homeostasis and this can take time. Although the detox reactions are not fun to go through, they are short-lived, especially as compared to the suffering and struggles that your children and the rest of your family will go through if you leave the foods in the diet. Reactions to watch for can include: Rashes and hives, sleep disturbances, emotional upset, flu or cold-like symptoms, fevers, fatigue, and headaches. Most people know that when caffeine is removed from the diet, a headache that lasts around a week ensues. It is nothing to panic about and it is clear why it is being experienced. This is the same thing.
Case in point: I once knew a parent who, upon being advised by a nutritionist to remove gluten and dairy from her diagnosed ADHD son’s diet, rushed directly to his pediatrician when he broke out in a rash. The doctor told her that the dietary advice was worthless and gave her a prescription to take care of the rash and another for the ADHD symptoms. The child lost his appetite as a side effect of the medication and would not eat, so she gave him the wheat and dairy he craved to at least get something into his body. None of this helped the underlying cause of his behaviors, nor supported him in being a healthy child.
It is quite shocking to realize how addictive even other grains can be to some sensitive children. Grains are carbohydrates and to children who are sensitive to sugars, they are processed like sugar when consumed. I experienced this first-hand when I removed rice from my son’s diet when he was six and we began the Specific Carbohydrate Diet for him. It was a horrible thing to witness as he begged me for the grains, but I remained steadfast and his withdrawal symptoms ended within a few days. Eating grains and sugars do not allow for the digestive system to heal, so it is essential to remove them if you are going for true healing.
There are some simple things that you can do to help your children move through the detox period with more ease. Place a cup or two of Epsom salt into the bathtub and have them soak for at least twenty minutes. Epsom salts pull toxins out of the body in a very gentle way. They may feel sleepy or tired after the bath, so allow them to rest and to drink plenty of pure water. Another good idea is to make the dietary changes when they are on vacation from school so that they can have several days just to rest and go through the process without having to worry about school. Be as understanding and compassionate as you can. If you remove sugar and grains from your diet, and you feel your body craving sugar and carbs, you will have more empathy for your children as they go through their own process. If they are truly hungry, provide them with more quality protein to eat.
I mentioned earlier that you can find plenty of free recipes online. Be willing to spend some time searching and modifying the recipes you like to meet your children’s dietary needs. Searching for recipes that adhere to the Paleo Diet or Specific Carbohydrate Diet is a good place to start to avoid gluten, dairy, and sugar. There are always substitutions that can be made for ingredients in recipes. It is much easier to make paleo bread than it is to make “gluten-free” bread from recipes with a huge list of ingredients as you will find in typical gluten-free recipes. Focus on using the whole forms of foods, and plan to make recipes ahead of time to save yourself time during the week.
The most important thing to remember is that you can do this. It takes no previous special skills, only some knowledge and a strong desire. You will become more comfortable the longer you do it. Believe me, I could not cook or bake at all when I began working with food to help my son to thrive. Now, I only eat foods that I have prepared in my own home. Your whole family will benefit as your children become able to live to their highest potentials of health.
Resources to learn more are basically unlimited online these days. Use strong discernment when you look for sources. In my journey with my son, I found a lot of pieces of the picture along the way and had to work very hard to put them all together in a way that made sense and worked. I hope that the parts of the information I have shared here with you are helpful along your family’s journey.
Here are three wonderful, inspirational books to empower you right now:
Melillo, Dr. Robert. Disconnected Kids Nutrition Plan. http://drrobertmelillo.com/books/
O’Brien, Robyn. The Unhealthy Truth. https://robynobrien.com/the-unhealthy-truth/
Davis, William, MD. Wheat Belly. http://www.wheatbellyblog.com/
Also, you can refer to my book, The Foundations System, for the natural self-healing modality I developed for sensitive kids and adults.
The following websites can be very useful in your own research and learning. I highly encourage you to take a look at them.
[i] The Feingold Association of the United States: http://feingold.org/
[ii] Truth in Labeling, The Truth About MSG: http://www.truthinlabeling.org/
[iii] Southampton Study – Food Additives and Behavior in Children: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/psychology/research/impact/food_additives.page
[iv] The Environmental Working Group Food News: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/clean_fifteen_list.php
[v] GMO Awareness: https://gmoawareness.org/gmo-facts/
[vi] Non-GMO Project: https://www.nongmoproject.org/
[vii] Gluten Free Harvest: http://www.glutenfreeoats.com/
[viii] Davis, William, MD. Wheat Belly: https://www.amazon.com/Wheat-Belly-Lose-Weight-Health/dp/160961479
[ix] Ecowatch, Why is Glyphosate Sprayed On Crops Right Before Harvest: http://www.ecowatch.com/why-is-glyphosate-sprayed-on-crops-right-before-harvest-1882187755.html
[x] Gottschall, Elaine. Breaking the Viscious Cycle: http://www.breakingtheviciouscycle.info/