As an Osteopath, a Naturopath, and Father, I try to pay close attention to what my family are eating on a daily basis. One of the first questions I ask my wife and daughter after a day apart is “what have you eaten today?”. Most days I know because I usually prepare their lunches and dinners! Unfortunately, like many parents, I struggle to feed my 5 year old daughter all the foods on my wish list, and have to engage in a daily battle of attrition, creativity and covert tactics to include as much nutrition in my daughter’s daily diet as possible.
Kids are Sweet Enough Without Sugar!
Observing my daughter’s eating habits has brought it home to me just how powerful our desire for sweet tasting foods can be. It is believed that our instinctive orientation towards sweet tasting things may have developed as a way of us detecting both safe and energy rich foods, as well as protecting us from consuming poisonous berries and plants, which are often bitter in taste. Plants can’t run away from us so they develop their own bitter tasting chemical defences in the form of toxins and poisons.
Sugar is regarded as an addictive substance, and is associated with characteristics such as cravings, hazardous use, tolerance and withdrawal. It is known to hijack the reward centres of the brain, causing surges of dopamine in areas associated with motivation and reward. It also stimulates the release of chemicals that can actually reduce pain and cause a rush of pleasure.
Check out this short video to learn how sugar affects your brain
Many if not most of the foods we feed our children have sugar in them and most parents underestimate the amount of refined sugar they feed their children. Research has shown that parents underestimate the amount of sugar in yogurt by an average of 7 sugar cubes! This underestimation is strongly associated with a greater risk of their children being overweight or obese.
A Few Good Reasons to Hold your Ground with your Kids Nutrition
I imagine many parents, myself included, feel that trying to avoid added sugar is a losing battle at times. You’re definitely not alone, but it is worth sticking in the fight simply for the consequences of turning a blind eye!
Approximately 20% of children 10-11 years old are now classed as obese in the UK, and the link between sugar consumption and mental health is now becoming much more established. Research suggests that a diet high in sugar increases the chance of chronic mood disorders such as depression, and is also now being considered in the onset of attention-deficit disorder.
A risk of mental illness, serious dental bills and obesity (and all it’s complications) are enough motivation to keep me in the fight, and I hope it helps make you more resolute as parents!
Essential Nutrition for the Growing Mind
Now, when it comes to what to feed my family as opposed to what to avoid, I have a bit of a thing about Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s), aptly named because these highly important fats cannot be made by the body and must come from the food we eat. These EFA’s are based on linoleic acid (omega 6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega 3).
The human body can produce all the fatty acids it requires apart from these two. Both omega 3 & 6 are important components of cell membranes and help to regulate blood pressure and inflammation amongst many other things.
Unfortunately, the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in our typical western diet is a little one-sided! At around 16:1, omega 6 fatty acids far outweigh our consumption of omega 3.
This unhealthy imbalance is primarily due to the changes in our food supply over the last 100 years. Feeding animals with grains instead of their more natural diet of grass, and the huge promotion and production of vegetable and seed oils, has significantly increased the amount of omega 6 fatty acids in the human diet, which is thought to have evolved with roughly equal amounts of omega 3 and 6.
Simply put; a high intake of omega 6 fats increases the likelihood of obesity and chronic inflammation, 2 of the last things we really want in our children’s or our lives!
3 is the Magic Number!
Omega 3’s on the other hand help to reduce inflammation, improve heart health, support mental health and the development of our children’s brains. Mothers supplementing with omega 3’s during pregnancy may also protect their children against allergies.
Research performed on healthy people demonstrated that supplementing with four grams of fish oil per day for 35 days reduced anxiety, depression and anger states, as well as improving reaction times and sustained attention. I’m sure you would agree that there are a few good reasons to try sneaking a little fish oil into your child’s dinner!
I try a number of routes to get as much omega 3 fats into my daughter’s diet as possible, including supplements such as Nutri Advanced Eskimo-3 orange jelly splats, omega 3 enriched eggs, and salmon. I have already pushed my luck too far by trying mackerel, herring and sardines, so I take the small wins where I can!
Make Fatty Fish a Daily Dish
Fish and fish oils are really our best sources of Omega 3. If your kids won’t eat fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines or herring you could try a supplement such as a chewable, which hides the fishy taste, but ensure that that the majority of the omega 3 content is in the form of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), rather than alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Without getting into too much jargon, when we eat ALA, the body then has to convert it into DHA and EPA, which it can do but only in small amounts.
I have even resorted to squeezing a capsule of fish oil into my daughter’s baked beans (low sugar variety of course!), which does wiff a bit to me but she doesn’t seem to notice so that’s a win! Omega 3 fortified or proper free-range pasture raised eggs are a good source of omega 3 for the growing mind and an all- round super food for kids that is packed full of nutrients.
Eggs Give you Legs- Nutrition of the Gods
Whatever you do DON’T bin the yolks!! As a parent I see some funny habits such as cutting skin off apples, and taking the yolks out of eggs. These parts are the most nutritious, so get into the habit of including skins and yolks were possible because by being over particular with foods at a young age we are conditioning our children to avoid the nutritionally dense and fibrous parts and just value the sugar, starch and overall less nutritionally dense parts.
Many parents worry about eating eggs on a daily basis because they contain cholesterol, but the myth about eggs increasing serum cholesterol levels has been scientifically challenged over and over again in recent years. In addition, the whole story of high cholesterol causing heart disease has also been blown apart, so my sound advice would be make some good quality eggs a regular addition to both yours and your children’s diet.
Big Fat Lies & Poor Nutrition Advice
It is important to understand that fat has been systematically demonised by food industry, medical doctors, government and popular health media over the last 50 years, based on flawed science and powerful food industry interests. Despite our over exaggerated fear and reductions in saturated fat consumption, heart disease is still, by far, the leading cause of death worldwide and we are fatter than ever before!
We are now realising the disastrous effect that reductions in fat and increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugars, such as cereals, pasta, white bread, sugar sweetened beverages etc are having on our health.
If you have fat phobia take a look into the work of these 2 pioneers who are challenging mainstream scientific, healthcare, and popular media misinformation, and improving the health of thousands of people by doing so.
So, the take home from this article/soap box rant is to be very mindful of the accumulation of refined sugar in your children’s daily intake by simply reading a few food labels of things such as yoghurts and tinned foods. Remember that foods such as fruit, most bread and pasta and white potatoes will quickly increase blood sugar levels when digested!
Also, be mindful of how many essential fatty acids (EPA and DHA) your children are receiving in their day to day diet, and if it isn’t much, consider a quality supplement.
This review HERE should help you make a more informed choice on what supplements to look for.
Here are a Few More Basic Food Tips to Improve the Nutrition of you and your Family
- Don’t be afraid of feeding your child lots of good quality dietary fats. The brain is approximately 60% fat and essential fatty acids (DHA in particular) are absolutely essential for brain and visual development during both the fetal and post-natal period. Brain growth is completed around the age of 5-6, so ensuring both mother and child are eating good sources of omega from conception until 6 years should be a strong dietary consideration.
- Get rid of all seed and vegetable oils, such as sunflower, canola, vegetable, rapeseed etc and exchange for extra virgin olive oil, coconut or avocado oil.
- Get rid of margarine or butter spreads that are mixed with vegetable oils, and replace with butter (kerrigold is made from cows that are predominantly grass fed). For more scoop on decent butter, read HERE
- Eat oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, anchovies) regularly.
- Consider a good cod liver oil supplement for both omega 3 and vitamin d.
- If fish isn’t your thing, eat walnuts, flaxseed, linseed, chia and hemp seeds to increase intake of omega 3 but remember these are an inferior source of omega 3 to fish. The omega 3 (ALA) in nuts, seeds and vegetables is converted in the body to EPA and DHA, but is only done in small amounts.
- Eat good quality, grass fed beef and eggs from chickens that are pasture raised, or that have been enriched with a diet containing omega 3
- Track the amount of refined sugar in your child’s daily food intake and then make some substitutions were possible.
The world of nutrition is a minefield, and with so much conflicting information available, we often don’t know what to trust or what is right for us as individuals. By combining established scientific principles with ancestral wisdom, The 31 Day Health Transformation Programme provides the knowledge, support and strategy to help you transform your diet and your health in as little as 31 Days. So if you, or anyone you know, wants to improve the way they feel, look, and perform, get in touch for a life changing experience.