Easy Ways to Transition Children Off Junk Food.
Have you been advised that you need to make changes in your child’s diet?
The reasons may be due to a multitude of factors and this article will help anybody that needs to make more positive transitions for better improvement of their child’s health.
Being a mother that has had to do just this, I know the feeling. One of the biggest challenges of changing a diet is doing it with a child that is a picky eater to begin with.
The diet of a child plays a MAJOR role in their behaviour. Although many publications have tried to debunk this, I have seen time and time again with both clients and my own children that diet is crucial in the management of not only behavioural issues but also cognitive function, concentration and academic performance.
If you work with a health practitioner that is taking a biomedical approach, one of the first things we do is clean up the childs diet. A child’s growing body requires essential nutrients to function, this is especially true for brain function. More often than not, a child will present with a diet high in processed carbohydrate, dairy and sugars.
So what do I mean when say ‘clean up the diet’.
Remove Processed Foods
Removing processed food is the first step that I recommend for clients. When I get people to give me an honest list of the foods their children consume in a regular day, often the parents are themselves shocked at the amount of processed food that has made its way into their household.
There are several issues with consuming these foods.
Processed foods are stripped of life giving essential nutrients and enzymes. When consuming processed foods, the body will then have to take nutrients from its own reserves to break down this food, therefore depleting the body further.
Give Additives The Boot
Chemical and artificial additives used in food have been shown in many studies to have effects on brain function and also to play a big part in disruptive behaviours such as hyperactivity, low attention spans and cognitive deficits.
I think it is crucial that parents learn to read labels in order to understand additives therefore being able to make better choices. Not all additives are created equal, so it is important to be able to scan a label and make a choice before you buy. A great source of information is Fed Up, a website devoted to education about food additives and what they can do to your health.
Based on my clinical observations, children with Autism, ADHD and other neurological/behavioural issues generally appear to have lower zinc levels than other children that are the same age. A child that has a low zinc level will tend to be a picky eater. Picky eating will then further exacerbate the nutritional issues and creates a negative cycle.
I always recommend Zinc Level Testing as one of the first parts of treatment. Having a baseline is crucial, not only that, it is always important to determine a deficiency before supplementing. Contact your healthcare provider for testing. Blood tests are my preferred method of determining levels.
When food is processed, synthetic supplement such as iron and folic acid have to be added back in by law. But, this seemingly benign process could have impacts on certain individuals health. The impacts may be seen with a person who has the MTHFR gene mutation, something you may be familiar with if you have a child on the spectrum receiving biomedical treatment. Studies have shown that people with this mutation cannot metabolise folic acid efficiently and an excess consumption leads to high blood levels of folate. Recently some scientific journals have published concerning studies of an excess of folate and it’s detrimental effect on the immune system.
There are just too many variables and processed foods should be eliminated completely.
This comes under the umbrella of removing processed food but I think deserves a category all of its own.
Children today are consuming ridiculously high levels of sugar. You only have to look around at malls, movies, theme parks and beach days. Small children with drinks that look like a pulverised unicorn in a cup size that is bigger than their head. Refined sugar contains no nutrient value therefore stripping the body of its stores to be able to metabolise it.
When a child consumes sugar their blood sugar level get a kick up sky high… and this comes at a cost. A child’s little pancreas then scrambles to release insulin in order to bring that blood sugar down so it does not damage the body. This blood sugar reaction then creates a low blood sugar and the child feels hungry again as the body signals the brain that it needs to bring the blood sugar back to a safe level. Both high and low blood sugar can cause changes in a child’s behaviour.
Even if it’s the first step at least – eliminate all processed sugar. If you are new to these changes it means learning to read labels and identifying hidden sugar in foods.
Get educated !
Learning about food can be a daunting process. There is so much information out there that can end up being extremely confusing, in the beginning it all seems too hard..
Like any skill, it takes time to learn. My biggest tip is…..
START SLOW!!…. pick one battle, it may be starting with a mission to find hidden sugar, or perhaps learning which additives can set your kids behaviour off the charts. Once you get skilled at one thing then you can move onto another.
Let’s face it.… nobody wants the house in chaos by suddenly taking away all the undesirable foods. If you do this it can backfire as it is not do-able or sustainable straight away.
Eventually you will get to the pantry with no junk in it!
An example of this transition might be if the child eats four pieces of bread per day – cut down to three and replace the fourth with a suitable food. If the child has a soft drink with dinner, cut it to half for a week then a quarter then switch to plain water of soda water.
In future blogs/videos, I will help you find suitable replacements for foods if you are going gluten free/dairy free/additive free and sugar free.
The feedback I get a lot is that there are just no good replacements. Sometimes the foods we have grown with and have been used to are not good for our health and have to be eliminated. sometime there may not be a ‘yummy alternative’. Bread is the most common. Finding a replacement for bread is tricky. I generally do not recommend gluten free bread unless you have thoroughly read all the ingredients. Sometime these concoctions are just as processed as regular bread and therefore not good option.
Get Creative...and Sneaky
Be creative with food is important.
As the diet get cleaned up , it then gets easier to add nutritious ‘extras’ into a meal that your child will already eat. Examples of this include adding fermented coconut yogurt to a curry, grated vegetables into spaghetti and basically anything into a smoothie for the morning.
It can be done, I have seen the proof many times over!! The end result, happy mum, happy kids and a healthier future!
Heidi Dahlenburg is a Registered Nurse and Naturopathic Clinician with 19 years in Professional Health Care. With a passion for preventative health, Heidi is continually immersed in studying and keeping up to date with the latest research on important health matter. Spending 13 years in the hospital system pushed Heidi to begin speaking and writing on the topic of preventative health, patient education and integrative healthcare.
Always seek the advice of you doctor or other qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.