Dilemma in the Kitchen

Posted on in On Our Radar by Michelle Perro

Feeding Our Children

Fat boy flexes him muscle while showing off the apple that made her strong and healthy isolated
Fat boy flexes him muscle while showing off the apple that made her strong and healthy isolated

Figuring out how to feed our children these days by reading labels in the grocery store requires a PhD and a smartphone! Dissecting ingredient lists, certifications, and gluten-free this vs. dairy-free that is a challenge for even the savviest consumers.

Is this level of vigilance necessary or have we succumbed to being conspiracy theorists and food purists?

First, remember that food is medicine and information to run our biological systems. Quality matters as a way to maximize nutrient density and minimize chemical inputs. Then let’s look at where US children’s health in general stands today.

Every schoolteacher and grandma will report that children are no longer as healthy as they were even two decades ago. The rates of all childhood illnesses have risen and our children are experiencing an epidemic of chronic disease to the tune of 1 in 2 kids. Neurocognitive disorders such as autistic spectrum disorder now affect 1 in 58 children, and ADHD affects 1 in 10. Rates of asthma, allergies, eczema, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and liver disease (an incomplete list) are all skyrocketing as well.

What is making our children sick?

Many factors now affect our kids (as well as the butterflies and bees) such as GMOs and their associated pesticides, EMFs, plastics, air pollution, and solvents (to name just a few). Children handle these risks differently from adults. They eat many times a day—think of an infant! And they utilize food more quickly than adults do via rapid cellular turnover, and have greater exposure to toxic substances and less competent detoxification pathways.

So in what ways has our food changed?

Currently 85% of packaged foods contain genetically modified ingredients, mostly in the form of soy lecithin, sugar from sugar beets, and canola oil. In research animals, it is clear that GMO foods and non-GMO foods are not equivalent. GMO foods have been shown to affect the intestine, organs such as the kidney and liver, and immune function. They have also been shown to cause reproductive changes, oxidative stress, and reductions in important antioxidants such as glutathione.

One does not eat a GMO food without its associated pesticides. The most commonly applied is Roundup. (Remember, GMOs were developed to be herbicide-tolerant so that when you sprayed Roundup, the crop didn’t die.) In animal studies, even ultra-low doses of Roundup have been shown to cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, now affecting a shocking 33% of adults and 10% of children.

How can a family avoid GMOs and their associated pesticides?

The best recommendation is to look for the organic label and eat 100% organic food. Unfortunately, according to the USDA, approximately 40% of organic foods have been shown to contain pesticides. And 9% of those foods containing pesticides were over the allowable 5% threshold set by the EPA. It has become very difficult to know whether your purchased food is 100% organic due to cross-contamination of fields, spraying practices in other countries when foods are imported, and contamination and mislabeling of water used for irrigation. This is one of the cogent reasons to shop at farmers’ markets, know your farmer, grow your own, and, in general, avoid processed foods.

Steering clear of pesticides is a must when feeding children. Roundup has been shown to affect the microbiome as an antibiotic, bind mineral nutrients, and inhibit the cytochrome p450 detoxification pathway, and was identified as a probable carcinogen by the WHO in 2015. Industrial agriculture utilizes many pesticides on our crops and no studies have looked at the effects of multiple pesticides and combined toxicants on children’s health.

There is good news on regaining and improving children’s health. Focusing on veggies and fruits is an important first step. Incorporating them into smoothies is a great way to introduce or get more veggies into the diet. Start with the milder tasting veggies like celery and cucumber, or add sweet vegetables like cooked carrots to a smoothie. Also, remember many herbs like parsley and cilantro are packed with nutrients and can be vital additives to the smoothie.

Even the pickiest eaters like tacos and burritos, and beans are great nourishment for the gut microbiome. Children should not only be encouraged to participate in food prep, but also learn the basics of cooking and putting meals together. YouTube is full of great videos teaching basic cooking for the entire family.

Fermenting foods together is an economical and healthy way to feed the microbiome, now a star player in maintaining health. (It’s the first line of detoxification before your liver steps in, produces many vitamins such as folate and K, and plays a major role in immune function.) Think pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt … lots of easy, delicious possibilities.

Do children need a multivitamin?

Unfortunately, even the nutrient density of organic food has declined over the decades so we need more food to supply us with the essentials. This may be more food than a small child can easily eat. So an organic multivitamin and mineral supplement may be the best idea for many kids.

Paleo? Keto? GAPS?

Children with certain health conditions may benefit from elimination diets or decreasing their consumption of carbohydrates, for example. But parents may need guidance from an integrative health practitioner or holistic nutritionist. If you suspect your child could benefit from dietary alterations, I recommend working with a professional.

Michelle Perro, MD, DHom, is a veteran pediatrician with nearly 40 years of clinical experience. She recently coauthored a book with Vincanne Adams, PhD, What’s Making Our Children Sick? How Industrial Food Is Causing an Epidemic of Chronic Illness and What Parents (and Doctors) Can Do About It (published by Chelsea Green) and is the executive director of the website www.gmoscience.org.

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