Junk Food May Limit Children's Intelligence and Learning Ability

There is a clear impact of nutrition on the potential development of Alzheimer’s disease and other late-life cognitive disorders.  Green vegetables, berries, and other plant foods reduce risk, whereas animal products and processed foods increase risk.1-4  However, the damaging effects of unhealthy foods on the brain occur throughout life.  Research now suggests that the typical American childhood diet including burgers, pasta, pizza, chicken nuggets, french fries, processed sweetened cold cereals, sweets and soda negatively affects school performance and learning. Overall math performance in the U.S. lags far behind many other developed nations5, and it is likely that the nutrient-poor American diet is a significant contributing factor.

French fries. Flickr: stu_spivack

We as parents are strongly committed to supporting our children’s academic achievement. We want the best for our children, and we take an active interest in their schooling; we do everything we can to make sure that they will be well educated and able to compete as working adults in our increasingly technological world. However, how many parents think about the impact of the foods they give their children on their academic performance?

Early childhood:

Parents must give their children’s brains the right raw materials with which to learn – and start early. Breast milk provides a DHA-rich foundation for a healthy brain, and when solid foods are added, their nutritional quality is of paramount importance for the brain’s continued development. Several studies have now found that dietary patterns in early childhood affect IQ scores years later. In one study, greater consumption of fruits and vegetables upon introducing solid foods was associated with higher IQ and better memory skills when at 4 years of age.6 Similarly in another study, children who regularly ate cookies, chocolate, other sweets, soda, and chips during the first two years of life showed decreased IQ at age 8 compared to children who did not eat these foods. Nutrition during this formative period has a meaningful long-term effect, providing building blocks to construct the growing brain.7 The brain is highly susceptible to oxidative stress, so a healthful, antioxidant-rich diet is especially beneficial for the brain and is likely involved in this link between natural plant foods and higher IQ scores.

Teenage years:

Young children who are fed processed, nutrient-poor foods are likely to become unhealthy teenagers, and eventually unhealthy adults. Now twenty-three percent of teens in the U.S. are prediabetic or diabetic, 22% have high or borderline high LDL cholesterol levels, and 14% have hypertension or prehypertension.8

A recent study tested cognitive abilities and performed brain MRIs on teens with and without metabolic syndrome, a combination of at least three diet-related metabolic abnormalities among a list including insulin resistance, high triglycerides and hypertension. The teens with metabolic syndrome had lower spelling and math scores, lower IQs, and reduced attention span. Their brain MRIs showed a smaller hippocampus, especially in those with insulin resistance – extremely important since the hippocampus is a part of the brain involved in learning new information.9  This means that our American obesity-promoting, diabetic promoting diet actually can cause parts of the brain to shrink.  The researchers concluded that insulin resistance and other components of the metabolic syndrome, as a result of a poor diet, may impair teenagers’ academic performance, and maybe even their learning abilities throughout their lifetime.

The time to feed your children healthfully is now. A diet rich in greens, berries, other fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds is the only way to ensure that children get the array of phytochemicals, antioxidants, fatty acids and other micronutrients to adequately supply their growing and constantly learning brains.  Junk food is not for kids.

 

Image credit: Flickr - stu_spivack

References:

1. Otsuka M, Yamaguchi K, Ueki A. Similarities and differences between Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia from the viewpoint of nutrition. Ann N Y Acad Sci 2002;977:155-161.
2. Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, et al. Dietary fats and the risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Arch Neurol 2003;60:194-200.
3. Joseph JA, Shukitt-Hale B, Willis LM. Grape juice, berries, and walnuts affect brain aging and behavior. J Nutr 2009;139:1813S-1817S.
4. Devore EE, Kang JH, Breteler MM, et al. Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Ann Neurol 2012.
5. University of Southern California: U.S. Education Spending and Performance vs. the World. [Infographic]. http://mat.usc.edu/u-s-education-versus-the-world-infographic/. Accessed October 12, 2012.
6. Gale CR, Martyn CN, Marriott LD, et al. Dietary patterns in infancy and cognitive and neuropsychological function in childhood. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 2009;50:816-823.
7. Smithers LG, Golley RK, Mittinty MN, et al. Dietary patterns at 6, 15 and 24 months of age are associated with IQ at 8 years of age. Eur J Epidemiol 2012;27:525-535.
8. May AL, Kuklina EV, Yoon PW. Prevalence of Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors Among US Adolescents, 1999-2008. Pediatrics 2012;129:1035.
9. Yau PL, Castro MG, Tagani A, et al. Obesity and metabolic syndrome and functional and structural brain impairments in adolescence. Pediatrics 2012;130:e856-864.

 

 

Rising numbers of new mothers breastfeeding

Baby. Flickr: storyvillegirlAugust is National Breastfeeding month, and the CDC has released some encouraging news: between 2000 and 2010 the percentage of new mothers who chose to nurse their babies has climbed. In 2000, 35 percent of new moms nursed for six months, and 16 percent nursed for at least one year; in 2010 those numbers rose to 49 percent and 27 percent.1 This is excellent news for the health of our nation’s children, as it is well known that breastfeeding is associated with a multitude of health benefits for both the child and mother.2 Breast milk is the ideal food for infants, a naturally complex combination of nutritional and immunologic factors that cannot be replicated by formula.

 

Benefits of breastfeeding for the child:

  • Development of the immune system:

The immune system is not yet fully active upon birth, and children are especially vulnerable to respiratory and gastrointestinal tract infections during the first two years of life.  Breast milk has a “programming” effect on the immune system, providing antibodies that protect the baby from infection, antimicrobial compounds, and a variety of immunomodulatory substances that promote the maturation of immune function. Also there is new evidence that breast milk also contains healthy bacteria that may help to populate the baby’s gut flora.3 The immune benefits of breast milk translate into a reduced risk of allergies, asthma, eczema, diarrhea, respiratory conditions and ear infections in early life.

  • Reduced risk of overweight in childhood:

Breast-fed infants grow more slowly and are leaner during the first two years of life compared to formula-fed infants, likely due to the lower protein content of breast milk compared to formula.4 This early slow growth may exert a long-duration protective effect, since the risk of overweight in childhood and adolescence is reduced by 22% in breast-fed infants.5

  • Reduced risk of childhood leukemia.2
  • Reduced risk of type 1 diabetes in childhood.4
  • Enhanced cognitive development and school achievement, likely due to the DHA content of breast milk. The first year of life is a crucial time for brain development, and DHA-rich breast milk provides the building blocks for the baby’s brain.5\
  • Adults who were breast-fed as infants have a reduced risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and premenopausal breast cancer.2, 5-8

Benefits of breastfeeding for the mother:

  • Reduced risk of breast cancer, possibly due to the reduced exposure to ovarian hormones. A large-meta-analysis found that the risk of breast cancer decreases by 4.3 percent for every year of breastfeeding.9
  • More favorable lipid, glucose and insulin levels.4
  • Longer duration of breastfeeding is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. In the Nurses’ Health Study, there was a 14-15 percent decrease in risk for each year of breastfeeding.10
  • Reduced weight retention after giving birth.4

Optimal duration of breastfeeding

I agree with the recommendations of the World Health Organization, which are for exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, with continued supplemental breastfeeding to two years. Two years is likely the appropriate age because it is the time at which the spaces between the cells lining the baby’s gastrointestinal tract close; before that time, those spaces allow the mother’s protective antibodies from breast milk to be absorbed. The new data from the CDC, although the trend is promising, suggest that breast feeding in the U.S. is not adequate – three-quarters of infants are no longer being breast-fed by their first birthday.

Proper nutrition is vitally important to health during all stages of life, and especially during the rapid cellular growth that occurs during fetal development and infancy. Early nutrition is a significant determinant of long-term health, and it starts with a woman’s nutritional status even before she becomes pregnant, followed by good nutrition throughout pregnancy and nursing, and then setting a good nutritional example for children. Breastfeeding is most protective of a child’s health when the mother is in good health. 

 

References:

1. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding Report Card. United States/2013. 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/pdf/2013BreastfeedingReportCard.pdf. Accessed
2. Hoddinott P, Tappin D, Wright C: Breast feeding. BMJ 2008;336:881-887.
3. M'Rabet L, Vos AP, Boehm G, et al: Breast-feeding and its role in early development of the immune system in infants: consequences for health later in life. J Nutr 2008;138:1782S-1790S.
4. Gunderson EP: Breast-feeding and diabetes: long-term impact on mothers and their infants. Curr Diab Rep 2008;8:279-286.
5. Evidence on the long-term effects of breastfeeding: Systematic reviews and meta-analyses. World Health Organization; 2007.
6. Owen CG, Martin RM, Whincup PH, et al: Effect of infant feeding on the risk of obesity across the life course: a quantitative review of published evidence. Pediatrics 2005;115:1367-1377.
7. Owen CG, Whincup PH, Kaye SJ, et al: Does initial breastfeeding lead to lower blood cholesterol in adult life? A quantitative review of the evidence. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;88:305-314.
8. Martin RM, Middleton N, Gunnell D, et al: Breast-feeding and cancer: the Boyd Orr cohort and a systematic review with meta-analysis. J Natl Cancer Inst 2005;97:1446-1457.
9. Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast C: Breast cancer and breastfeeding: collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries, including 50302 women with breast cancer and 96973 women without the disease. Lancet 2002;360:187-195.
10. Stuebe AM, Rich-Edwards JW, Willett WC, et al: Duration of lactation and incidence of type 2 diabetes. JAMA 2005;294:2601-2610.
 

Walnuts may promote male fertility

Infertility affects 10-15% of couples trying to conceive, and it is estimated infertility is at least in part due to the male in at least one-third, and up to 60% of these cases.1,2  Several dietary factors affecting fertility have been identified in women. Can men also improve their diet to improve their fertility?

 Walnuts

Certain micronutrients are thought to contribute to male reproductive fitness. Oxidative stress can damage sperm, and accordingly higher blood antioxidant capacity, carotenoids, and vitamins C and E have been associated with higher sperm count and motility. Infertile men have been shown to have lower circulating levels of these antioxidant nutrients compared to fertile men.3,4 Adequate folate, abundant in green vegetables, may also promote fertility by preventing DNA damage in sperm.5 In contrast, higher saturated fat consumption, and cheese specifically, have been linked to lower semen quality.2,6,7

Omega-3 fatty acids may also contribute to semen quality. Previous observational studies had shown that higher omega-3 fatty acid intake associated with higher rate of favorable sperm morphology (shape), and that fertile men tend to have higher blood omega-3 levels than infertile men.2,8 Deficiency in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA was shown to produce infertility in male mice, adversely affecting sperm count, morphology and motility. DHA supplementation restored these parameters to normal.9 Similarly, in a study of infertile men, DHA+EPA supplementation improved sperm counts compared to placebo.10

A new study has built on this previous omega-3 data by testing the effects of regular walnut consumption on semen quality in healthy young adult men (21-35 years old). Walnuts are rich in ALA, an essential omega-3 fatty acid and the precursor to DHA and EPA. However, there are many anti-inflammatory and beneficial compounds in walnuts that could be collectively responsible for the health benefits found in walnuts.  They contain more than a dozen phenolic acids, numerous tannins (especially ellagitannins), and a wide variety of flavonoids. The control group maintained their usual diet and was instructed to avoid eating nuts. The intervention group added about 3 ounces (75 grams) of walnuts to their usual diets each day for 12 weeks. Blood omega-3 ALA concentrations increased in the walnut group. Sperm vitality, motility and number of normal-morphology sperm were enhanced compared to baseline in the walnut group, whereas there were no changes in the control group.11 This new study suggests that ALA (found in walnuts and flax, chia and hemp seeds) in conjunction with other beneficial nutrients in walnuts makes them a valuable food for  male fertility.

Couples who plan on becoming pregnant should follow a healthful, high-nutrient diet (including plenty of ALA-rich nuts and seeds), not only to better their chances of conceiving, but also to protect the future health of their children. Children’s health is influenced by their parents’ diets even before conception.12

In addition to focusing on whole plant foods, maintaining a healthy weight and minimizing exposure to agricultural pesticides (by eating organic produce when possible and minimizing animal foods) and endocrine disrupting chemicals (such as BPA and phthalates) are additional factors that can help to maintain favorable semen quality.13-19

 

References:

1. FamilyDoctor.org: Male Infertility [http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/male-infertility.html]
2. Attaman JA, Toth TL, Furtado J, et al: Dietary fat and semen quality among men attending a fertility clinic. Hum Reprod 2012;27:1466-1474.
3. Benedetti S, Tagliamonte MC, Catalani S, et al: Differences in blood and semen oxidative status in fertile and infertile men, and their relationship with sperm quality. Reprod Biomed Online 2012;25:300-306.
4. Minguez-Alarcon L, Mendiola J, Lopez-Espin JJ, et al: Dietary intake of antioxidant nutrients is associated with semen quality in young university students. Hum Reprod 2012;27:2807-2814.
5. Boxmeer JC, Smit M, Utomo E, et al: Low folate in seminal plasma is associated with increased sperm DNA damage. Fertil Steril 2009;92:548-556.
6. Afeiche M, Williams PL, Mendiola J, et al: Dairy food intake in relation to semen quality and reproductive hormone levels among physically active young men. Hum Reprod 2013.
7. Jensen TK, Heitmann BL, Jensen MB, et al: High dietary intake of saturated fat is associated with reduced semen quality among 701 young Danish men from the general population. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;97:411-418.
8. Safarinejad MR, Hosseini SY, Dadkhah F, et al: Relationship of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids with semen characteristics, and anti-oxidant status of seminal plasma: a comparison between fertile and infertile men. Clin Nutr 2010;29:100-105.
9. Roqueta-Rivera M, Stroud CK, Haschek WM, et al: Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation fully restores fertility and spermatogenesis in male delta-6 desaturase-null mice. J Lipid Res 2010;51:360-367.
10. Safarinejad MR: Effect of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on semen profile and enzymatic anti-oxidant capacity of seminal plasma in infertile men with idiopathic oligoasthenoteratospermia: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised study. Andrologia 2011;43:38-47.
11. Robbins WA, Xun L, FitzGerald LZ, et al: Walnuts improve semen quality in men consuming a Western-style diet: randomized control dietary intervention trial. Biol Reprod 2012;87:101.
12. Ng SF, Lin RC, Laybutt DR, et al: Chronic high-fat diet in fathers programs beta-cell dysfunction in female rat offspring. Nature 2010;467:963-966.
13. Juhler RK, Larsen SB, Meyer O, et al: Human semen quality in relation to dietary pesticide exposure and organic diet. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 1999;37:415-423.
14. Swan SH: Semen quality in fertile US men in relation to geographical area and pesticide exposure. Int J Androl 2006;29:62-68; discussion 105-108.
15. Bonde JP: Male reproductive organs are at risk from environmental hazards. Asian J Androl 2010;12:152-156.
16. Nordkap L, Joensen UN, Blomberg Jensen M, et al: Regional differences and temporal trends in male reproductive health disorders: semen quality may be a sensitive marker of environmental exposures. Mol Cell Endocrinol 2012;355:221-230.
17. Pflieger-Bruss S, Schuppe HC, Schill WB: The male reproductive system and its susceptibility to endocrine disrupting chemicals. Andrologia 2004;36:337-345.
18. Mocarelli P, Gerthoux PM, Needham LL, et al: Perinatal exposure to low doses of dioxin can permanently impair human semen quality. Environ Health Perspect 2011;119:713-718.
19. Jensen TK, Andersson AM, Jorgensen N, et al: Body mass index in relation to semen quality and reproductive hormones among 1,558 Danish men. Fertil Steril 2004;82:863-870.

 

How can you turn Halloween into a fun-filled time for your children while keeping it not too frightening for you

My kids always look forward to Halloween, even though they don't eat the candy (at least in front of me). They look forward to dressing up in costumes, being out with their friends, and staying up late on a school night. I, on the other hand, do not look forward to Halloween. I don't like the focus on promoting fear of ugly-looking creatures and giving toxic items to children. I don't call the candy “treats” because that gives children the wrong message. Think about it, calling something a “treat” encourages your children to look forward to receiving the “treat”. Do you really want to encourage your children to look forward to eating something that could be as harmful as cigarettes?
Jack O'lantern Flickr: wwarby
With our growing obesity epidemic, the increase in diabetes and strokes in children, and the scientific link between junk food and depression, decreased intellect, criminal behavior, dementia, and cancer, it is time mothers took a stand against the traditional Halloween junk food-fest.

The sad fact is that even normally well-behaved children can start acting crazy after consuming all the highly-sugared, chemicalized junk they get. And the disrupting behavior can last for as long as a month afterward. Yet, I'm not a person who believes in letting eating choices turn my home into a war zone. I believe in providing an education in healthful eating—and setting a good example! I keep unhealthful foods out of the house, and trust my kids to use their best judgment. Thankfully, we have figured out how to make Halloween a happy time for all of us, without joining the candy craze. Here are some tips that have worked for us.

1. Hand out inexpensive toys instead of candy. By setting this good example, perhaps a neighbor will pick up on the idea. Even if nobody follows your lead, you will feel good about your decision. Toys are perhaps a little more expensive than candy, but not much, and they definitely send a great message to both the kids and the parents.

My children help choose what they think is cool. In recent years, we have been giving out glow-in-the-dark necklaces and bracelets. The best thing about these toys is that they make kids safer in the dark because cars can see them when they are walking in the road. Kids say, “Wow!” or “Cool!” when they see the glowing gifts, so I know they love them. Plus, my kids are proud to hand them out. Now that my kids are older, they always remind me when it’s time to place my order. Other toys that we have purchased include blow up balloon balls, glow-in-the-dark animals, and glow-in-the-dark balls.

2. Make your family's favorite dinner on Halloween night, including their favorite desserts. There are great healthy fall menu ideas in the Member Center recipe guide. With full stomachs, your kids will be less tempted to eat the junk they receive. You also can try the Halloween treat recipes in the September 2006 Healthy Times Newsletter, or have some delicious Pop'ems and NEW Date-Nut Bars on hand from DrFuhrman.com.

3. When the children come home, if they are adamant about wanting to eat the candy, set a limit on how many candies they are allowed to eat. I suggest you allow them two pieces of candy, which they can pick out—and then discard the rest. In the past, we let our children pick one or two candies to eat, but in the more recent years they don’t even want any of it. They are too well informed now. Last Halloween, much to my surprise (I was brought up conventionally, so it’s amazing to watch Nutritarian children grow up) our children played with the candy. They opened the wrappers, and exclaimed how it didn’t look like food and then molded it.

4. Try to get your kids to choose not to eat the candy by making another option more tantalizing. For instance, give them money or a toy in exchange for their bag of candy.

5. Some people find it easiest to throw out all the candy after the children go to sleep. Little ones probably won't even remember it once it's gone, and getting rid of it eliminates temptation for the adults in the house. However, it is better to do this as a family and not secretively so the children understand the reason that it should be destroyed. It would be no different if the neighbors were being neighborly serving cigarettes or addictive drugs. Some socially accepted and popular customs are simply ignorant and dangerous. Dietary ignorance is the number one cause of death in America and everyone needs to know it.

6. Life is full of compromises— and this day will pass! I believe that with a little advance planning you can ensure that your children will have a fun time. Plus they will not be tempted to hide or sneak candy. I am certain you will be happier knowing that they will be eating a lot less candy this year than they did last year.

 

Image credit - Flickr: wwarby

High Levels of Food Toxins Are Found in Infants

It is one thing for toxic food compounds to be found in adults, who make their own food choices, but it is another issue altogether when we begin finding toxic food compounds in infants and young children.  Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine just brought this issue to light; they found that Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs), a toxic food compound, are often present at high levels in the bloodstreams of infants.1 Research over the past 20 years has implicated AGEs in most diseases associated with aging, such as: Alzheimer’s disease, cancers, type II diabetes, stroke, visual impairment, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, kidney disorders, skin disorders, and autoimmune diseases. 

Baby. Flickr: storyvillegirl

So, where are these AGEs in infants coming from? It turns out excessive food AGEs, through both maternal blood transmission and baby formula, are to blame.  Commercial infant formulas are deleterious to the health of infants, not just because of the deprivation micronutrients provided by breast milk, but also because infant formulas themselves contain toxins and harmful levels of AGEs. Formulas that are processed under high heat contain as much as 100 times more AGEs than human breast milk, delivering a heaping dose of AGEs to infants at a period when they are extremely vulnerable to toxins. 

The food a mother consumes during pregnancy also has an effect on the AGE levels found in the bloodstream of her infant once he or she is born.  The combination of infant formula with a mother’s diet of modern American fare is clearly dangerous for vulnerable newborns.

The Mount Sinai study found that newborn babies had levels of AGEs in their blood as high as their adult mothers right after birth.  Within the first year of life, after switching from breast milk onto commercial formulas, each infant’s AGEs had doubled to levels seen in people with diabetes, and many had elevated insulin levels!

Other studies have confirmed a link between the consumption of foods high in AGEs, diabetes and obesity.2,3. When diabetes patients were put on an AGE-restricted diet, they had a 35 percent reduction in blood insulin levels, well beyond that of their previous therapeutic regimen.  Inflammation went down and immune system strength went up. This study’s remarkable results exemplify that a reduction in AGE-rich foods can have powerful results, which should provide expectant mothers with even more incentive to avoid AGE-rich foods and breastfeed.

Advanced Glycation End products are found predominantly in foods that have been cooked using dry heat, such as potato chips, French fries and grilled meats. Processed foods are generally high in AGEs.  Hard pretzels, cereals, and crackers are also serious offenders.  The best action we can take to avoid AGEs is to eat as many unprocessed, natural foods as possible.  Fruits and vegetables are naturally very low in AGEs as are foods cooked using water, such as soups and stews.

Pregnant mothers, non-pregnant mothers, non-mothers and males, take heed! Turn down the heat, use water and eat mostly natural plant-based foods at home.  Young children are especially vulnerable to the effects of AGEs and we have the power in our hands to make sure our children are not harmed from the get-go.   


References:

1. Mericq V, Piccardo C, Cai W, et al. Maternally Transmitted and Food-Derived Glycotoxins: A factor preconditioning the young to diabetes? Diabetes Care. 2010; 33(10): 2232-2237.

2. Uribarri J, Cai W, Ramdas M, et al. Restriction of Advanced Glycatioin End Products Improves Insulin Resistance in Human Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2011; 34(7): 1610-1616.

3. Yamagishi S, Maeda S, Matsui T, et al. Role of Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) and oxidative stress in vascular complications in diabetes. Science Direct. 2011. Available online before printing 25 March 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbagen.2011.03.014

Interview with Lisa Fuhrman

Since tomorrow will be Mother’s Day, I thought it’d be inspirational to interview a special mother, Dr. Fuhrman’s wife, Lisa, to help celebrate the special occasion. The Fuhrmans have been raising their four children to genuinely enjoy eating high-nutrient foods in the midst of a culture that’s heavily addicted to the standard American diet. Lisa has valuable insight and experience that will benefit all mothers who desire the same for their children.

Were you always into healthy eating, even before meeting Dr. Fuhrman? 

I thought I was eating healthy before I met Joel. In fact, I remember him asking me if I thought I ate healthfully and my answer was, “Sure.” I had my usual Life cereal for breakfast; salad and tuna or egg salad on a bagel for lunch (with coffee); and chicken, baked potato, and a vegetable (from the can) for dinner. Sometimes I ate a salad with dinner as well. Of course, I ate ice cream and pizza whenever in the mood, but I wasn’t into overeating as I was very conscious of my weight. So I can say that I was a “better-than-average” SAD eater, but surely not a healthy one. When I met Joel, he convinced me to eat a high-nutrient, plant-based diet, and my parents did not like it. They thought he was going to kill me as they thought no one could survive without eating animal products in their diet. Now I can happily say that my parents are his patients and advocates of his nutritarian life!

 

How did you manage social eating situations like birthday parties, sleepovers, summer camps, etc., when your children were younger?

My motto has been to never make food a war zone so I let my children eat whatever they wanted at birthday parties or sleepovers. For summer camp, I always packed a lunch for them to eat, and then if ice cream was offered, it was in their control to decide if they wanted it or not.  The amazing thing is they rarely even wanted unhealthy foods and liked our foods best. In looking back, I would do this all over again as my kids are nutritarians to the core. The older girls rebelled a little in their early teens, but their rebellion was to eat an occasional ice cream or have pizza once in a while. They never complained about what we ate at home. I can honestly say that they love the nutritarian eating-style, and they are very proud of their dad and how we’ve brought them up.

Our children are now 23, 20, 17, and nine, and they are all nutritarians; plus, they’ve all influenced their friends in a very positive way also. For example, when our middle daughter was in middle school she would go out with her friends to eat pizza. She’d order “salad pizza” (lettuce, tomato, mushrooms, onions), and she got her friends to love it.  Their friends also love to come over and eat our food.

Our children know we don’t judge them based on the foods they eat. They know why they should eat healthy and they do it for the right reasons; not to please us, but to live long, healthy lives. In social situations, they eat whatever they want; and I don’t ask. I know they are eating well at home and I respect their decisions.

 

From your experience, what’s the number one success tip that you’ve discovered in raising children to enjoy nutritarian foods in the midst of a culture that’s eating just the opposite?

I’ve had it easy. They were given only nutritarian food since they were born; it’s what they are used to and view SAD foods out there as not food. They’ve never eaten at a fast food restaurant, like McDonald’s or Burger King, and they think candy is disgusting. Our youngest son, Sean, did not taste ice cream until he was eight-years-old. He had plenty of opportunities in school and at parties, but he had no interest. I believe parents should control what their children eat in the house, educate them as much as seems reasonable, and then give them the ability to make their own choices when they are away from home. 

 

Thank you Lisa for helping us navigate the way in teaching our children to eat for health.  What a treasured gift to give to them!

 

 

 

Happy Mother's Day to all! 

 

 

 

floral image credit:  flickr by malikyounas

Children may 'inherit' their mothers' diets

Several studies suggest that a mother’s food habits during pregnancy have an impact on her child’s future food preferences.

Photo of a group of pregnant women

More and more often, we are seeing reports from scientists that high-sugar and high-fat foods influence the reward pathways in the brain – in essence, these foods have addictive properties.  Human brain imaging studies have confirmed that overeating and addictive eating behaviors are associated with abnormal brain activity in dopamine reward circuits, and this is similar to the activity characteristic of drug addiction.1-3

One 2011 study took this data a step further – they have shown that consumption of a high-sugar, high-fat diet (junk food diet) by pregnant rats actually affected the development of the reward system in the brains of their pups.  When given a choice between standard food and junk food, the pups whose mothers were fed junk food chose to consume more junk food than other pups.4

These food preferences may be learned by the fetus through its developing sense of smell.  The development of the smell-processing area of the mouse pup’s brain (called the olfactory bulb) is influenced by scents that are concentrated in amniotic fluid, and these scents are determined in part by the mother’s diet.  In another recent study, a more flavorful diet containing stronger scents given to pregnant and nursing mice resulted in enhanced development of the olfactory bulb in their pups.  Also, when given a choice of food, these pups had a strong preference for the same diet their mothers had, whereas other pups had no preference.5

These studies suggest that a mother is actually able to “teach” her babies which foods are desirable based on what she eats during pregnancy and nursing.

Earlier studies found additional detrimental health effects on rat pups whose mothers ate a junk food diet (a diet composed of high-sugar, high-fat foods designed for human consumption) during pregnancy and nursing: these pups were more likely to be obese, were subject to more oxidative stress, were more likely to develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and had impaired muscle development.6-9 Human studies have shown that parental obesity is associated with obesity at 7 years of age, and gestational weight gain is associated with body mass index at 3 years of age.10, 11  The overall message is that the eating habits of parents significantly affect children.

Of course, we cannot extrapolate the results of animal studies directly to humans.  However, these results do highlight the simple fact that the health of a developing baby is closely linked to the health of its mother.  Women do require extra calories when pregnant and nursing – we have all heard of the phrase “eating for two.”  These studies suggest that if the extra caloric requirement is met with oil-rich processed foods and sugary desserts instead of calorie dense whole plant foods, the baby’s food preferences and long-term health may be affected.  

Fetal development is a crucial time – it is common knowledge that pregnant women shouldn’t drink alcohol or smoke, because these things could harm the baby.  We know that unhealthy foods are damaging to the health of adult humans, so they are likely also damaging to a developing fetus. 

Every expectant mother wants a healthy baby, and in addition to the standard advice to avoid alcohol and cigarette smoke, it would be prudent to avoid unhealthy foods.

 

References:

1. Stice E, Yokum S, Burger KS, et al: Youth at risk for obesity show greater activation of striatal and somatosensory regions to food. J Neurosci 2011;31:4360-4366.

2. Stice E, Yokum S, Blum K, et al: Weight gain is associated with reduced striatal response to palatable food. J Neurosci 2010;30:13105-13109.

3. Gearhardt AN, Yokum S, Orr PT, et al: Neural Correlates of Food Addiction. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2011.

4. Ong ZY, Muhlhausler BS: Maternal "junk-food" feeding of rat dams alters food choices and development of the mesolimbic reward pathway in the offspring. FASEB J 2011.

5. Todrank J, Heth G, Restrepo D: Effects of in utero odorant exposure on neuroanatomical development of the olfactory bulb and odour preferences. Proc Biol Sci 2010.

6. Bayol SA, Farrington SJ, Stickland NC: A maternal 'junk food' diet in pregnancy and lactation promotes an exacerbated taste for 'junk food' and a greater propensity for obesity in rat offspring. Br J Nutr 2007;98:843-851.

7. Bayol SA, Macharia R, Farrington SJ, et al: Evidence that a maternal "junk food" diet during pregnancy and lactation can reduce muscle force in offspring. Eur J Nutr 2009;48:62-65.

8. Bayol SA, Simbi BH, Fowkes RC, et al: A maternal "junk food" diet in pregnancy and lactation promotes nonalcoholic Fatty liver disease in rat offspring. Endocrinology 2010;151:1451-1461.

9. Bayol SA, Simbi BH, Stickland NC: A maternal cafeteria diet during gestation and lactation promotes adiposity and impairs skeletal muscle development and metabolism in rat offspring at weaning. J Physiol 2005;567:951-961.

10. Reilly JJ, Armstrong J, Dorosty AR, et al: Early life risk factors for obesity in childhood: cohort study. BMJ 2005;330:1357.

11. Oken E, Taveras EM, Kleinman KP, et al: Gestational weight gain and child adiposity at age 3 years. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2007;196:322 e321-328.


 

Does omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy prevent postpartum depression? Improve baby's brain development?

Omega-3 fats are essential – we must take them in from our diets because our body cannot synthesize them. These fats are extremely important for many facets of our health, especially the health of the brain and cardiovascular system.[1] Omega-3 fat is a major structural component of brain cell membranes and the retina – about 60% of the dry weight of the brain is made up of fat, and DHA is the most abundant fat in the brain. [2]
 

As such, DHA is an essential factor in early brain development, and maintaining adequate levels during pregnancy is believed to benefit the child’s cognitive development.[3] The current consensus is that pregnant women should consume at least 200 mg DHA each day to promote normal fetal brain development. Pregnant women are also urged to limit fish consumption because of mercury contamination, which is harmful to the brain of the developing baby.[4] Fish oil or vegan DHA supplements are therefore an attractive option for pregnant women.


In 2009, the results of three randomized controlled trials were pooled and showed that babies given supplemental DHA in formula scored higher on a problem solving test at 9 months of age than babies given control formula. However, there is some disagreement in the literature as to whether DHA supplementation during pregnancy and infancy actually improves cognitive development in the child.[5]


A recently published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported an unexpected finding: Pregnant women who took fish oil capsules (800 mg DHA and 100 mg EPA per day) compared to vegetable oil placebo capsules did not have lower incidence of postpartum depression, and their children did not have improved cognitive development at 18 months of age.[6]
Of course, this does not mean that pregnant women shouldn’t bother taking DHA. The developing baby’s only source of DHA for beginning to build its brain tissue is its mother’s dietary intake. DHA supplementation also reduces the risk of preterm birth – a factor known to be associated with compromised cognitive development in the infant and maternal depression.[7]
In reference to the lack of effect on symptoms of depression, the therapeutic effects of omega-3 supplements on depression are due mostly to EPA rather than DHA, according to a recent meta-analysis. [8] I recommend omega-3 supplementation including 1,000 mg of EPA to treat depression – the relatively low dose of EPA used in this trial may therefore be responsible for the lack of effect on depression in this study.


An editorial published in response to the study stated potential reasons why this outcome occurred – these comments also shed light on why there seem to be discrepancies in the medical literature on this subject. One possibility is that the criteria used to measure infant brain development in this study were not sufficiently sensitive to detect small but important differences in cognition in 18-month olds. The criteria used were based on global measures of cognition, and are not designed to detect differences in specific processes such as memory, attention, and problem-solving.[7] As mentioned above, previous studies have seen differences in problem solving in infants given supplemental DHA.[5] Furthermore, there are several cognitive functions that cannot be accurately measured until children reach preschool and school age – the editorial cites a smaller study of fish oil supplementation during pregnancy that found enhanced IQ scores in 4 year olds.[9] I agree that it isn’t possibly to reliably measure intelligence in an 18-month old, and that better results would come from studies that measure cognitive function once the children are in school.


DHA is a vital component of brain tissue, and pregnant women should take at least 200 mg each day to prevent preterm birth and support normal fetal brain development to assure maximum intelligence.

 

References:

1. Yurko-Mauro, K., Cognitive and cardiovascular benefits of docosahexaenoic acid in aging and cognitive decline. Curr Alzheimer Res, 2010. 7(3): p. 190-6.
2. Muskiet, F.A., et al., Is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) essential? Lessons from DHA status regulation, our ancient diet, epidemiology and randomized controlled trials. J Nutr, 2004. 134(1): p. 183-6.
3. Ryan, A.S., et al., Effects of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on neurodevelopment in childhood: a review of human studies. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids, 2010. 82(4-6): p. 305-14.
4. Koletzko, B., I. Cetin, and J.T. Brenna, Dietary fat intakes for pregnant and lactating women. Br J Nutr, 2007. 98(5): p. 873-7.
5. Drover, J., et al., Three randomized controlled trials of early long-chain polyunsaturated Fatty Acid supplementation on means-end problem solving in 9-month-olds. Child Dev, 2009. 80(5): p. 1376-84.
6. Makrides, M., et al., Effect of DHA supplementation during pregnancy on maternal depression and neurodevelopment of young children: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA, 2010. 304(15): p. 1675-83.
7. Oken, E. and M.B. Belfort, Fish, fish oil, and pregnancy. JAMA, 2010. 304(15): p. 1717-8.
8. Martins, J.G., EPA but not DHA appears to be responsible for the efficacy of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in depression: evidence from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Am Coll Nutr, 2009. 28(5): p. 525-42.
9. Helland, I.B., et al., Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children's IQ at 4 years of age. Pediatrics, 2003. 111(1): p. e39-44.

 

Oh, Poor Me, No Junk Food in my Childhood?

Girl eating watermelon

While growing up, food is what set me apart from my peers. Naturally, being the daughter of Dr. Fuhrman is going to result in some pretty unconventional school lunches and after school snacks. As a young child, it didn’t take me long to figure out that my friends were being packed ham sandwiches and chips and I was not. My parents only packed me healthy stuff, never processed foods, white bread sandwiches or Lunchables, those highly processed convenience foods that children thought (due to commercials) were as cool as winning a game of dodgeball. I did not try a McDonald’s French Fry until I was in the fourth grade. I felt like a rebel buying chocolate chip cookies in middle school, a thought process never occurring to my friends. 

During my childhood, I chose to ignore the health consequences of what I ate and was a pleasure seeking eater, as any little one has a right to be. I was allowed to have pizza at lunch on some Fridays and I was never denied Carvel ice cream cake at my friend’s birthday parties. I looked forward to those Fridays and any other time my mom would let me eat something she deemed “unhealthy”. My parents were not completely rigid; they just only had healthy foods at home. They did not make me feel guilty or punish us if we strayed. They understood that kids need some flexibility and are going to want to explore the food culture in our society. Yet, while I had some occasional treats, I still wished I was like the other kids. I wanted a box of Brownie cookies when my Brownie troop sold them and I wanted my mom to buy me Lucky Charms like my friend Alyssa’s mom bought them for her. Don’t get me wrong, I liked, and even loved, many of the foods that were provided for me at home. Yet, as a young child, acceptance and pleasure trump health any day of the week.   

Then everything changed. It began in the seventh grade and became an unstoppable force in eighth. Instead of being rebellious, I wanted to be the epitome of a healthful eater. The phrase, “You are what you eat,” finally kicked in, a pride in my unconventional eating habits blossomed, and I became an unstoppable walking nutrition encyclopedia. I went so far as to criticize my friends for their poor eating choices. “Are you really going to eat that donut?” I would proclaim, and then begin a diatribe on the dangers of consuming partially hydrogenated oils and trans fatty acids. Understandably, my friends were annoyed and thought I was nuts. After having so many friends become angry with me that year, I learned my lesson to set a good example, yet not attempt to give others diet advice unless I was asked.

Since that time, I have continued to appreciate eating a natural, plant based diet, not only because it is delicious, but because it grants me the gift of health. I could not be more grateful for being raised on our unconventional diet and I am happy to report that I suffered no permanent damage from being allowed only three pieces of candy on Halloween and no other candy. Many of the foods I grew up eating have become my favorite foods and I realize how fortunate I am to never have to transition to eating healthier foods, as I was already there from the get-go. 

Let my previous words be words of encouragement to all mothers who are having difficulties raising nutritious eaters in our junk food world. Even if your child or children don’t appreciate the foods you are feeding them now or resent the denial of junk foods, they will in later years. Years that will be filled with good health, rather than debilitating health problems. Eating well is a lifestyle that should be embraced by the entire family and every child deserves to have the best start in life and can learn to love being “different,” just like I did.    

 

Why Have We Decided To Feed Our Kids Crap?

The following is a guest post from Habib Wicks, co-founder of PEERtrainer

Why Have We Decided To Feed Our Kids Crap?
It Is A Decision, And It Seems To Have Been Made...

 

"Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! And it ain't over now! Cause when the going gets tough.. The tough get goin'. Who's with me?" -Bluto, Animal House

"The modern diet that most children are eating today creates a fertile cellular environment for cancer to emerge at a later age.... In order to have a major impact on preventing cancer we must intervene much earlier, even as early as the first ten years of life"- Dr. Joel Fuhrman


I am trying to be funny, using some common humor to introduce a very very touchy subject. Food and kids. But the reality is that most children today, regardless of the socioeconomic context, eat piles of cheese, pasta, chicken fingers, fries, milk, cookies, pizza etc. Go to any birthday party or play date currently in the U.S. and this is what you see.

When children eat a junk food based diet, the groundwork is being laid. This is something that Jackie and I personally struggle with. We have two small children. We were both raised (thank God) by parents who knew the deal about nutrition. Every meal I ate as a child was served with green vegetables and salad. We ate burgers, ice cream, hot dogs and all the other stuff. But that was the exception.

The rule was greens, salad, local fish freshly caught in the Gulf Of Maine, fruit. The Cuisinart was (and still is) the center of my mothers kitchen. Onions, ginger, garlic-- all sorts of things went into the Cuisinart, the frying pan, pressure cooker. My mom cooked real food. Mac and cheese was something I ate at the babysitters house.

"What we feed (or don't) our children as they grow from birth to early adulthood has a greater total contributory effect on the dietary contributions to cancers than the dietary intake over the next fifty years" -Dr. Joel Furhman, Disease Proof Your Child

Fast forward to the present day. The households that Jackie and I grew up in are probably rarer now. Seems like it at least. The diets that our parents sought to protect us from appear to be totally dominant.

With our kids my objective is to get them to eat as much of the good stuff as possible, knowing that the junk is inevitable. We also work to enable them to make their own decisions as much as possible.

But that is us. We were raised a certain way, we started PEERtrainer. We have a well developed focus. The challenge for us, and me in particular is other parents. The reality of modern child rearing in America is that people are very cooperative and constantly share the load. Our kids are often in the care of other moms, nannies or otherwise in environments that we cannot totally control. There are endless birthday parties, play dates. Lots of cooperative, generous and helpful parents all around.

Yet, junk food is the default. The tough thing for a parent is that you really can't say anything. if you do, you violate the code. The code, as best I can tell is this: "don't rock the boat, and don't disrupt social agendas."

This is something I am really struggling with. And it is pissing off Jackie, because I actually said something recently. I absolutely should not have, but I did. I was tired, the younger child was screaming in my ear. And then it happened. We were all leaving school (last day) headed to some end of school kid parties. A local mom pulled up and very nicely asked if she could pick up some Wendy's for our kids.

She was just trying to be nice. But in the back of my mind I was thinking "why is this always the default"? I had been thinking about this for a while, holding my tongue for a few years now just watching as I said nothing. Unfortunately, this time I said exactly what I was thinking. Imagine being really nice to someone, as she was being to me, and have someone act like a total jerk. Which I was. I had been thinking about this problem, did not know the answer.

The question is though, who is there to bring this question up? Why is junk food the default? I could keep my kids at home and avoid all other contact. That would be insane on so many levels. Yet, the decisions of other parents effect my kids. That is the reality.

So there is no going around this issue. You can't keep your kids away from other kids, and you can't make you kids outcasts by forbidding them to eat foods that everyone else is.

You can't. You can find ways of subtly suggesting things. You can model and you can be patient. But that happens when that does not work? The most interesting question is this- what is really at the root of this phenomenon?

All of the parents we interact with really understand this issue. It is not like they don't know this stuff. Yet for some reason they choose not to prioritize it. Many of the moms will make sale day at Saks Fifth Avenue the top priority. They will give generously to others. Yet they won't make a simple decision to forgo Wendys, Mcdonalds etc for ANY OTHER alternative.

This is collective behavior. Everyone seems to be doing this- not just the one that was at the brunt of the end of my rope. One mom does something (we men generally just do what we are told btw- I think that might be part of the analysis here) and the other moms go along. Zero incentive to rock the boat.

When I asked this other mom "why is stuff like Wendys always the default?" Her first response was "the entire class is going there." Then she got pissed at me, understandably. And now other moms call Jackie and first ask if I want a Happy Meal. And it's funny on one level.

But the greater question is, for all of us who are parents and want to find some way of reducing the amount of junk that our kids collectively eat- what the hell are we supposed to do? All move to Boulder?

It is a puzzle. And it is serious.

"Most of the animal products eaten by children, such as cheese and milk, are exceptionally high in saturated fat. Saturated fat consumption correlates with cancer incidence worldwide. It also raises cholesterol levels and causes obesity and heart disease."

"Americans eat only 5 percent of calories from fruits, vegetables, beans and unprocessed nuts and seeds" -Dr. Joel Fuhrman

Right now cancer, heart disease and stroke will kill 85 percent of Americans. 85 percent. It may be that after the battles of marriage, career and raising kids many people actually want to die on some deep level.

One thing I do know is that group think can be changed. I just don't know how.

What is an Easy Target For Parents To Hit?

The basic solution to this problem is to attack the equation. Work on growing the 5 percent number. There is another great stat from Disease Proof Your Child that will help end this article on a positive note.

"Recent studies have also found that eating fruit during childhood had powerful effects to protect against cancer in later life. A sixty year study of 4,999 participants found that those who consumed more fruit in their childhood (the highest quartile) were 38 percent less likely to develop cancer as adults."

So if you are a competitive parent who wants their kids to score in the 99th percentile in tests- why would you not also want your kids to score high on their nutrient intake?

As for me, I am already the a**hole for bringing this up with the local parents. I understand I violated a set of social codes. But if you want to criticize me for making this an issue-- who is doing the most harm?

Maybe you are reading this just seething, thinking "worry about your damn kids." Fine, I do. But who is left to say something? Michelle Obama is doing a great job advocating gardening. The Disney channel seems to be doing a good job at running ads about spinach and fruit. Who else is there leading the effort? What is the trend, and who is making the effort?

From my vantage point as a parent there is a ton of work to be done. If you are a parent (or nosy grandparent!) please pick up a copy of Joel Fuhrman's book "Disease Proof Your Child." There is a ton of stuff in the book to chew on- and do you own research frankly. But you will find that this book raises a ton of important questions, and is extensively footnoted. There are seventeen pages of references to research studies at the end of the book.

And if you find a more tactful and more effective way to raise the issue in your community, please let me know.

 

This article was orignally published on PEERtrainer.com.