Sometimes hope takes the shape of a six-year-old boy who inhaled the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies for the first time.—MARYBETH G.
Pasta, pizza, bagels, milk, cereal, macaroni, and cheese. Are these among your child’s favorite food groups? If not all of them, it’s a good bet that at least some of these foods fit into your child’s menu several times a week, if not almost daily.
Kids have been fussy eaters since, well, maybe not the beginning of all time but at least since the beginning of modern time when provisions became plentiful and man created fast-food chains and the scourge known as trans fat.
It is hardly a secret these days that the typical American diet is taking its toll on the health of our children (as well as adults) in terms of the rising rate of obesity and the earlier onset of serious but avoidable health threats, such as heart disease and diabetes. There hasn’t been enough emphasis, however, on how poor eating habits are jeopardizing the development of a healthy brain.
The problem isn’t just what we are eating and feeding our children; it has a lot to do with what is and isn’t in the food itself. The composition of the foods we typically eat—even fruits and vegetables—has changed tremendously, and mostly for the worse. Farmed foods no longer provide the abundant nutrient levels that they supplied in the past. The rapid turnover of crops and overutilization of farmland continue to deplete minerals in the soil. According to one report, an average of 250 million tons of pesticides are used worldwide each year on crops that supply the fruits, vegetables, and grains we eat and feed to our children. This does not include the millions of tons of herbicides and fungicides used in the agricultural system. Nonorganic food farms—which are, by far, the majority—feed hormones, antibiotics, and suboptimal feed to the cattle and livestock that end up as our protein. Soil, water, and air pollution continue to be a major problem that affects everyone, but the toxic effects they have on Disconnected Kids can be quite profound. In the last twenty-five to thirty years, food has become more and more processed with tremendous increases in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and the worst kinds of fats. Family dinners often consist of prepackaged meals high in fat, artificial additives, and preservatives. And of course, there is a tremendous increase in the consumption of unhealthy soft drinks. Fast-food restaurants are a common substitute for a real meal, which only further decreases nutritional depletion. These kinds of meals offer the lowest quality, highest processing, and the two most common “vegetables” in too many kids’ dietsFrench fries and ketchup! Plus, fast food is loaded with salt and saturated fat. Most parents don’t recognize the detrimental effects a poor diet has on the developing brain, especially in children who already have Functional Disconnection Syndrome. It can impact everything that is already challenging for a child with FDS—behavior, cognitive or academic achievement, sensory processing, gross and fine motor skills, equilibrium, an erratic immune system, and normal everyday body functions, such as digestion and elimination.
THE REAL BRAIN FOOD
The brain’s primary fuels are oxygen and glucose, which are manufactured from nutrients in our food supply. A brain that has plenty of stimulation but too little fuel will not be able to take advantage of that stimulation. Without fuel, the brain can’t make new proteins to build new branches or make and repair cells that produce energy. Without fuel, brain cells will fatigue, get damaged, and die. Stimulation without fuel, or fuel with- out stimulation, does not work. Poor nutrition is a big threat to the development of a healthy brain because children do not eat properly. Many children are fussy eaters and exasperated parents will let kids eat anything they want just so they eat. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics paints a sorry portrait of the nutritional health of American children. According to the report: Only 1 percent of young people between the ages of two and nineteen eat a healthy diet.
On average, the same age group gets 40 percent of daily caloric intake in the form of fat, most of it dangerous saturated fat. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that 12 million chil- dren get fewer nutrients than they need every day for optimum health. Yet, kids today are too fat, which means that they are eating too many calories. This in itself is proof that there is something very wrong with the way we are feeding our children.
WHAT KIDS SHOULD BE EATING
There is nothing special about the kinds of food that are healthy for the brain. They are the exact same foods that children need for optimum overall health. Children should be getting per day:
6 to 11 servings of grains
3 to 5 servings of vegetables
2 to 4 servings of fruit
2 to 3 servings of dairy products 5 to 7 ounces of meat
Kids today are not getting anywhere near these levels of nutrients. One study of more than 3,300 children between the ages of two and nineteen found that less than 1 percent of children are getting sufficient amounts of fruits, vegetables, grains, and other foods that supply the nutrients essential to healthy brain and body growth.
This should come as no big surprise to parents who struggle daily to fill their child’s plate with adequate nutrition. Many kids are fussy eaters but kids with FDS are exceptionally finicky. This causes an additional dilemma for you because children with FDS have compromises in the body that make absorption of nutrients difficult. The problems include:
- An underdeveloped digestive system, which may cause a “leaky gut.”
- Reduced ability to secrete acids that chemically break down food.
- Reduced muscle contractions (peristalsis) which mechanically break down food.
- Reduced ability to absorb nutrients from food.
- Decreased blood circulation in the intestines and stomach lining.
So even if a child with FDS eats a healthy well-balanced diet every day, chances are he or she will still end up nutritionally deficient.