Would you like to see remarkable improvements in your children’s learning and behavior? Take a look at their diets–at home and at school.
A case study at a high school in Appleton, Wisconsin, where a significant number of students were failing academically and disciplinary issues were on the rise, kicked off a national trend to improve school lunch programs.
Following a complete overhaul of that school’s lunch program there were remarkable improvements in learning and behavior. What do our children eat at school? Is it healthy? Will it promote good learning and good behavior?
As school lunch programs slowly improve, we can combat any remaining insufficiency by providing the best nutrition outside of school. Introducing children to healthy eating at home and setting an example for them by eating well ourselves teaches them to make the best choices for themselves as they grow older and have more independence. How can we encourage healthy eating and healthy living at home? Here are lots of ideas to inspire you and your family.
How to Change Your Kitchen to a Healthy Kitchen
Making the choice to live healthy can seem like an enormous task. Tackling one food at a time is a helpful strategy. A good place to start is to create an inventory of what you have in your kitchen that is unhealthy; then replace these products one by one. Almost everything today has a healthy substitute. Some examples:
Organic Produce and Local Farms
Buy produce that is organic or natural and free of pesticides and growth hormones. It is true that organic foods are more expensive. Hopefully, one day, this will change. One option is to search for a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) co-op farm that sells memberships. These farms provide great natural produce through the warm months of the year and often they provide a winter share as well. One CSA example is Holcomb Farm CSA in Granby. Another example is Urban Oaks Organic Farm in New Britain which offers a summer CSA and a farm stand.
A great website that will help you find a CSA in your area is www.ctnofa.org/CSAs.htm.
Another wonderful option is to shop at local farmers markets and farm stands. They can be a lot of fun for children and they allow you to buy straight from the farmer. When considering other types of natural foods, there are many ‘regular’ supermarkets that carry some organic produce and sell natural meats without growth hormones or other synthetic additives.
Soda and Candy
Eliminate soda pop and candy in the house. It may be challenging to avoid sweets altogether but making a rule of no candy in the house is a great way to start.
Ingredients to Watch Out For
Choose foods that are free of high fructose corn syrup and other added sweeteners, chemicals, partially hydrogenated oils commonly referred to as “trans fats,” and genetic modification (GMO). Searching for recipes that can be modified to include natural sweeteners is another helpful strategy. Replace sugar and other synthetic sweeteners with natural sweeteners, such as maple syrup, honey, palm sugar, and coconut sugar. Searching for these natural ingredients in packaged foods is a great first step. As for GMO foods, there is growing research that is illustrating the negative effects of genetic modification on us, and on the environment. In fact, GMO foods are outlawed in most European countries. The challenge in this country is that genetic modification is not listed on labels. Some foods that are typically genetically modified in this country include corn and soy. Currently, buying ‘organic’ means non-GMO.
Ultimately, this process comes down to reading labels. As a parent, this process can seem even more challenging because it begs the question, “Do I need to change my own habits?” For a child, the most important factor is family support. Ideally, to support the child optimally, the whole family should adopt these changes.
Recommendations for Natural Health:
1. Gluten Elimination Diet: Gluten is a pro-inflammatory food which means that it contributes to more inflammation in the body. Inflammation is at the root of every illness, including challenges in learning and behavior. By eliminating gluten from our diet, we support greater health and recovery. For more information on gluten elimination, visit: http://www.gluten.net.
2. Avoid refined sugars: Diabetes is on the rise. To avoid diabetes in adulthood, changes need to be made early on.
3. Avoid peanuts: Consider the recent rise in peanut allergies. Peanuts are allergenic to many people. What is less recognized is how peanuts can affect those who don’t present with severe anaphylactic symptoms. Eliminating peanuts from our diet may lead to benefits in skin health, learning and behavior, breathing, and more.
4. Avoid synthetic additives in our foods: Read labels!
5. Avoid toxic chemical exposure: Always consider how you can reduce toxins in your environment and in your home.
6. Get your daily essential fatty acids: Every tissue in our body is made up of cells. The wall of each cell is comprised of essential fatty acids or EFAs. With any trauma or infection, at a cellular level, there is a tear in the wall of one or multiple cells that make up a structure such as an organ or vessel. To repair this tissue, the body needs essential fatty acids. But EFAs are not produced in the body–they have to be included in our diet. Unless we eat two tins of sardines every day, we are lacking optimal essential fatty acids! A great way to get the right amount of EFAs is to supplement with fish oils; fish oils house concentrated EFAs. Some options include daily cod liver oil or fish oil gel caps. A good quality company that can be found at health food markets is Nordic Naturals.
7. Daily probiotics: Probiotics provide healthy bacteria that fight off infection, increase immune strength and ward off illness. Probiotics can be taken by capsule and can also be found in yogurt.
8. Eat vegetables and fruit every day: Vegetables and fruit contain many nutrients and enzymes to support a healthy body. In addition, eating vegetables and fruit every day supports a healthy bowel. Drinking fruit juice is different then eating a whole fruit. When we eat fruit, we digest all of the fruit, including fiber and other important elements that help with digestion. When we drink fruit juice, we are consuming primarily the sugar of the fruit. In recent years, researchers have compared the sugar found in a glass of fruit juice to eating a candy bar!
When making the choice to change your kitchen to a healthy kitchen, the question of cost is always a consideration. But what is often forgotten is the cost of illness. The Centers for Disease Control have reported that diabetes is one of the leading chronic illnesses in children today. There is an obvious rise in children’s learning and behavioral disorders–just witness today’s rise in autism spectrum disorder. The only way to make sustainable changes in our health is to be proactive in our choices. So much is out of our control–the escalation of global warming, the rising cost of healthcare and education, and ultimately, other people’s choices. But when it comes to our own family, we can support each other in making better choices that will lead to greater health. For more information about natural living and healthy eating, visit: http://naturallivingfamily.com.
Ayelet Connell-Giammatteo, PhD, PT, IMT,C is the Practice Manager and Director of Pediatrics for Regional Physical Therapy and The Institute of Integrative Manual Therapy (IIMT), headquartered in Bloomfield, CT. She is also the Dean of the Connecticut School of Integrative Manual Therapy (CSIMT). Dr. Connell-Giammatteo has taught courses in IMT nationally and internationally for over 15 years. She received her doctoral degree focusing in neuropediatrics, with a concentration in autism.
Dr. Connell-Giammatteo is a Physical Therapist and Certified Integrative Manual Therapist. She has been practicing in the field of IMT for over 15 years. Dr. Connell-Giammatteo is a graduate of the Institute of Functional Medicine’s program “Applying Functional Medicine into Clinical Practice” focusing on nutritional wellness. She is also a local of this community and has been living in the Greater Hartford area for many years. In addition to managing the clinical and educational arms of IMT, she also integrates a healthy lifestyle at home with her husband, children, and dogs.