We all love our children and want the best for them… but when it comes to healthy kids it’s hard to navigate all the information regarding what is good, or not so good for them… and of course how do we get the good stuff into them anyway?
In this article I will explore the fundamentals of what is needed for children to grow and prosper. In subsequent articles I will explore the range of health conditions children commonly experience and how to naturally navigate these conditions – ideally without medications.
- The first and most fundamental concept to understand is that our bodies have the capacity to heal themselves… and in children more so than adults. Children traditionally respond faster and more dramatically when you give them the right internal environment (biochemistry) and the correct choice in remedies.
- It all starts with what you put in their mouths. Don’t expect children to flourish if you reward their sweet taste buds or tendency to dairy foods. Children need to eat what you eat (hopefully this is healthy). It discourages fussy eating which is one of the gifts you can give children to take into adulthood which is inquisitive tastebuds. We train our children’s taste buds. For example, Indian children have no issues with spices and chilli. So there is no reason not to be experimental and give children exotic tastes. At the same time eating clean and natural tasting foods allow their taste buds to develop and appreciate natural flavours. Children also adopt into adulthood a philosophy of eating healthily if the culture is created in the household.
- Children need a variety of foods, which are unprocessed as much as possible. Unfortunately our food chain has been adulterated to the point where all packaged foods contain additives which act as neuro-chemicals for children, triggering a range of behavioural issues and weakening the immune system. Many processed foods also contain genetically modified foods and pesticides which disrupt children’s microflora. More on this later. I know its difficult to always prepare fresh, home-cooked food for children however with preparation there is no harm in cooking 3x the meal size and freezing it for another time. Then its just a matter of adding fresh vegetables and salads to give it variety and nutritional content.
- I touched on it before, however will again. Sugar is one of the prime enemies for children, yet our reward systems and foods for children are all aimed at pleasing children’s craving for sugar. It is natural kids will want sugar. It’s a natural inclination but how much sugar we give children is our responsibility. It is important to understand the degree that food manufacturers disguise sugar in foods and its not accidental. Sugar is addictive and the more you have, the more you want. Our heavy dependence on sugar has lead to a generation of obese children and children with disrupted microflora in their GUT leading to a range of health conditions. Sugar needs to be limited to a rare treat and you need to be vigilant in looking at the amount of sugar children are consuming in simple things like breakfast cereals and drinks.
- But why is sugar so bad for them? Well many reasons but the primary issues is it instantly depletes the immune system. Within minutes actually of ingesting sugar. So if your children are prone to constant colds and flu’s, this is your first point of reference check. Second sugar feeds unhealthy GUT bacteria. This leads to sugar cravings but upsets their hormone production and endocrine balance leading to behavioural and mood disorders. Third, high sugar consumption leads to fatty liver development. Children as young as 10 are now being found to have fatty livers and young adults are being diagnosed with fatty livers despite never consuming alcohol. And finally we all understand the effect of sugar on teeth but it runs deeper into weakening calcium balance and bone formation.
- I have alluded to GUT health several times and honestly, in 20+ years in the health industry and centuries of naturopathic philosophy, health starts and finishes in the GUT. Mood, immunity, skin, inflammation, nutritional levels, learning and energy all are directly influenced from GUT health. And what start do we give children’s GUT health? Several courses of antibiotics in the first few years, a sugar laden diet, GM foods which disrupt GUT health and a sterile environment where their natural GUT ecology cannot develop. It’s no wonder when you wander into a childcare centre it looks like a mucus marathon. Kids need a wide and varied range of good, healthy bacteria and these are developed through a healthy, plant based diet, fermented foods and beverages, and in certain cases probiotic supplementation. BTW our kids develop their GUT microbiology through contact especially with the mother during birth, breast feeding and general contact with parents and family. If our GUT is not balanced, then children pick this up as well. Studies show that children who have healthy GUT flora are 5x less likely to get sick.
- Food intolerances. As I mentioned our food chain has become so adulterated and removed from how nature intended, along with the GUT microbiome imbalances, has lead to many immune reactions to food. Some known, but many unrecognised and unknown. Wheat and dairy are the two most common reactions leading to reducing immunity, over production of mucus and upper respiratory tract issues, especially ear infections. Behavioural disorders are also equally linked. Skin conditions such as eczema and rashes are equally linked to food tolerance issues. The remedy lies in removing processed foods and offending foods and allowing the GUT to re-establish itself naturally and reducing systemic inflammation levels. But this is another subject to discuss in depth in other articles.
- Fevers. Now this is a difficult one and I expect some questioning remarks, however we treat children’s fevers and immune responses too quickly with analgesics and antipyretics(panadol and aspirin). No parent wants to watch their children suffer but as long as a fever is not at dangerous levels, i.e above 38 then caution should be exercised. The immune system is developing and fevers are a natural part of this process. I have seen children clinically that have been given antipyretics at the first sign of a fever and subsequently they develop frequent very high fevers, simply because the immune system has not been allowed to develop naturally. I suggest to be careful with the use of antipyretics and and use them when necessary and indicated. The same for antibiotics. In most cases antibiotics are not necessary and you are doing more harm to their long term development than good. Im not suggesting to self prescribe but have the discussion with your health practitioner when they are really needed. Not as a standard prescription for common colds. The aim here is to allow children’s natural defences to develop themselves.
- Electronics. It’s very easy to overstimulate children and electronics can become addictive. It’s a different world nowadays and it is part of the new generations development however we must be aware of the impact of long term use. Electronics can be great babysitters and give parents time to themselves, however please moderate their use, otherwise, like sugar you are creating a rod for your own back. At the same time children need regular movement and exercise. Electronics take away from normal child’s play and they should be limited to special occasions.
- Sleep. Children need sleep. Try to establish regular sleep patterns and at least 10 hours per night. We all know the effect of a child who has not had enough sleep and its our responsibility as parents to ensure they get regular sleep. Its about creating discipline and boundaries. Once a week to stay up later is fine, but be aware sleep is so critical for their development as many of the body’s rhythms are rooted on the circadian or sleep cycle. If children are not sleeping, then look deeper at GUT health (serotonin our sleep hormone is made in the GUT) and also at what hidden stimulants are in their diet. No child for example should ever consume caffeinated beverages but many do.
This is a very short list that needs to be explored in each and every point in more detail, however it gives a simple and good basis to start questioning where your children sit. This in no way whatsoever is meant to make anyone feel bad. Being a parent is tough and trying to understand what is best for our children is even tougher. This information is the basis for the platform of what children need to develop healthily and happily. What goes in their mouth influences heavily the behaviour and happiness of children. Sometimes it takes a tough approach for the longer term benefit of children.
Take this information and start to implement it in bits & pieces. Children and their body’s don’t like change. It needs to be gradual and with intent. It needs to be balanced and put into context. Learn from our private support group and do what you feel is best for your children. We all make mistakes and it’s a journey.
Here is the link to our private group: HappyKIDS