Thursday, April 17, 2014

Healthy Eating for Kids - Snack Food

Why is it that when I walk into a day care snack time, I see kids eating pretzels, goldfish, crackers, or other variety of simple carb loaded with salt and almost void of nutrition?  Why, when kids gain the ability to feed themselves, do we swap their pureed veggies, fruits, meat, and grains, for crunchy, salty, refined white flour products in a plastic bag?  

Sure, I know that it's easier.  But is it even a conscious choice anymore?  Or have we all been lulled into forgetting the wise old adage that we are what we eat?  

Please don't misunderstand me: I'm all for the occasional treat, and for enjoying food in a relaxed manner.  However, I firmly believe that our children should be snacking to nourish, not just to fill their bellies.  Snacks should provide protein, vitamins and minerals.  To be fair, the bagged crunchy treats do provide vitamins and minerals - they are artificially inserted after processing removes the nutrients which nature provided.

There are folks who will argue that nutrients are nutrients, whether they occur naturally in your food or are added as part of the processing.  I do not agree; I believe it's incredibly important to obtain nutrients from whole foods, the way nature intended. But that argument is beyond the scope of today's blog.  There is no argument that whole foods contain certain nutrients that are not available in processed foods (the polyphenols in berries is one example).

Protein performs a variety of vital jobs in our bodies, and therefore must be eaten in adequate amounts throughout the day.  Most adults in the US eat too much meat, and therefore too much protein.  However, many kids in the US do not get enough protein at a given meal and do not eat protein frequently enough.  This is due in part to taste (many kids only like certain protein foods served in particular ways) and in part to what's offered to them.  One of protein's most important jobs in a child's life (and the adults who care for that child) is to balance blood sugar, thereby preventing emotional melt-downs.  But it's also important for growth and development of the body and brain, for proper immune system functioning, for clear thinking, and for physical energy, as well as for many other bodily functions. 

All this is to say, let's make better choices when it comes to finger and snack foods for our kids.  Let's call out salty crunchy white flour products for what they are - treats.  Let's take this opportunity to boost immune systems, lower obesity risk, flatten emotional roller coasters, and promote a love of healthy food. And parents, don't just do this at home - talk to your child care providers about improving food choices at their establishments too. 

My top 5 nourishing, non-protein snack foods:
  1. grapes (watch out for choking in the younger crowd)
  2. berries
  3. roasted yam bites (this is a recipe I use all the time, however, I don't cook on aluminum; I use cast iron.  Look for more on this in a future blog post.)
  4. baked oatmeal bites
  5. baby carrots (steamed if you're feeding a younger child)
My top 5 protein-rich snack foods:
  1. peas
  2. roasted chick peas
  3. cheese - sliced, cubed, or sticks
  4. cubed deli meat
  5. hummus 
For a well-rounded, protein-balanced snack, choose at least one from each list to offer at each snack.  These foods made my top 5 based on their nutrient density, appeal to kids, ease of prep, and lack of mess when eaten.  You'll notice I've left nuts out of the discussion here, as many day cares and schools are nut-free facilities due to allergies.  If nuts are available to you, they are an easy, nutrient-dense, protein-rich snack.

Juice - I have 3 uses for juice: a young, sick, dehydrated child who might otherwise require an IV for fluid replacement; a constipated child; a mixer for my adult beverage.  As far as I'm concerned, it should never be used for anything else.  Except maybe as a dessert, but when I'm having dessert I want ooey-gooey chocolate, not juice.  There is as much sugar in juice as there is in soda.  Although 100% juice has the same nutrients found in the original fruit (as long as they haven't been processed out), the huge amount of sugar, and the total lack of fiber, make it an unhealthy choice.  Kids should drink water, milk, or herbal tea (alternative milks can be low in protein and high in sugar, so be careful with them).
Parents are often concerned about their children overeating.  In our world full of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, it's an understandable concern.  But kids won't overeat (unless we push them to - see my blog post "Growing Healthy Eaters").  What they will do is eat what we offer them.  If we offer them empty calories on a daily basis, they will grow accustomed to eating this way, putting them at risk for innumerable health concerns.  If we offer them nutrient-dense food on a daily basis, and reserve empty calories for special occasions, we prevent a myriad of health problems, and foster adventurous eating.

Resources (Recipes): - I disagree with some of their choices, but there are a lot of great creative ideas here

100 days of real food

Vegetarian protein snacks - more simple carb and sugary recipes than I prefer here, but there are also lots of really nourishing and creative recipes.  Also, she's lowered the sugar content of the sweet treats.

Happy eating!!

I have no affiliations or financial interests to disclose.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Little Love

I just couldn't let this article "What a Little Love Means to a Little One," go by without bringing some extra attention to it.  
It was posted on on Sunday.  I missed it until a good friend and colleague posted it on her Facebook page.  If you haven't already had a chance to read it, I encourage you to do so now.

In a world full of children who struggle to connect emotionally, I can't help  wondering how much of it is due to what this article addresses - a lack of appropriate love and affection given by the parents in infancy.  

Photo by; downloaded from Flickr without amendments

The authors present some numbers that to me are truly shocking: 4 out of 10 US born infants do not form a strong bond with either parent and 40% of US infants live in fear or distrust of their parents.

I understand some of the barriers to giving attention to babies:  we are busy with other children; we are distracted by the perpetual voice in our heads ticking off all the things we need to do that day; some of us are stressed about trying to get the bills paid and put enough food on the table; some of us have babies who cry all the time; some of us have undiagnosed or untreated Post Partum Depression.

If being busy with other children is your barrier, I have a simple solution: wear your baby.  I know it's hard to carve out time to snuggle baby when you're chasing after a toddler.  And sure, babies still cry sometimes even when they are being worn.  But this way, they are getting that physical attention they need.  And I'm pretty sure if they could speak, they'd say "Mama, I much prefer to cry in your arms than to cry alone in my car seat!"  Is it a perfect and complete solution?  Of course not, but I think it goes a long way.

Photo by Jasleen Kaur; downloaded from Flickr without amendments

The authors mention that poverty is a contributing factor.  And clearly, when money is so tight that you have to decide between food and health insurance, you're going to be over-stressed and less emotionally available to your screaming baby.  For those who are that poor, we need to find a way to help you.  Here are a couple of links to places that serve moms in poverty (if you don't need this kind of help, please consider volunteering your time or making a donation): 

A Wider Circle
King County MOMs Plus Program

For those who are not financially destitute, we need to, with all due respect, get a grip.  Whatever we are struggling with should pale in comparison to the needs of this tiny human we've just brought into the world. It might even be time to sit down, snuggle with your baby, put your feet up, and think about how you can re-prioritize your life.  How can you change things so that you have more time with your baby, and maybe even more time for yourself?  Are you a perfectionist who can't have a messy house?  Are you an over-achiever who can never say no?  Are you avidly against ever eating take-out?  Are you working when you don't really have to?  For most of us, there are small steps we can take to reduce stress and have a little more free time.  Personally, I had to let go of four things:  exercising for as long and as often as I prefer; keeping my house as clean as I like it; advancing my career as quickly as I intended; and always eating homemade food.

Photo by Andrew Dawes; downloaded from Flickr without amendments

For parents of babies who cry all the time, life can certainly be tough.  Sometimes, you really do need to put baby down and walk away.  Naturopathic Medicine has a lot to offer to babies who have colic.  If you think your baby is abnormally fussy or has colic, schedule an appointment with your ND.  And here are some resources for help with colic: (NOTE:  I recommend against altering your diet without the input and participation of a health care provider.)

Finally, if you think you may have Post Partum Depression, address it now, before it gets any worse.  There are pharmaceuticals, vitamins, nutrients, and herbs that can help relatively quickly.  They can make you feel like yourself again.  They can take you and your baby out of harm's way.  But you have to take the first step: go see your doctor.

I know there are barriers I'm not aware of.  And I know there are barriers that may seem to have no solution.  I think we can all agree on the goal:  more babies loved and tended to properly more of the time.  I wrote this piece hoping to encourage moms, dads, aunts, uncles, friends, and caregivers to join me in reaching out to whomever you can whenever you can to try to attain this goal.  People can put up a powerful facade when things are not going well, so please remember to go out of your way to lend a helping hand whenever possible.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Will I ever drink again: Alcohol and Nursing

The baby has arrived, you are home and beginning to think you may have settled a little in to this new parent thing.  You may even dare to think you are developing a bit of a routine.  Your body is healing and your baby is thriving.  Adult beverages have begun to sound appealing again.  But how does drinking affect nursing? Does it show up in breast milk?  What does it do to baby? What does it do to your supply? What problems might arise from drinking and nursing? 

Does alcohol transfer into the breast milk? 
Yes.  If there is alcohol in mom’s blood stream, then there is alcohol in the breast milk.  If baby drinks breast milk with alcohol in it, his liver has to process it, and his body will be affected by it.  Babies’ livers are immature, therefore their ability to process alcohol and other toxins is diminished.  (Their brains, nervous systems, and kidneys are all immature; therefore they are generally more susceptible to all toxins.)

Does alcohol affect baby?
Baby will have the same issues we do, but with a much lower amount of alcohol.  So even a small amount of alcohol in breast milk can cause problems such as poor sleeping and poor eating (babies have been shown to get less milk from a feeding occurring within 4 hours of mom having a drink)[1]. Alcohol in breast milk may also lead to motor delay, although the research on this is conflicting.  Prolonged or heavy use of alcohol in a breastfeeding mother would lead to much more severe health issues in a nursing baby. 

If you can’t resist the urge to drink, or feel you may be drinking too much, please consult your health care provider.  You may need help, and you may need to provide formula or donor milk instead of breastfeeding.

Does alcohol affect breast milk supply?
Contrary to popular belief, beer does not increase breast milk production (not even dark beer).  In fact, alcohol ingestion may decrease supply.  And as mentioned above, a baby nursing within 4 hours of mom having a drink may get less milk.  (If you need help increasing your supply, see your health care provider.  Supply can often be increased with the help of a lactation educator or consultant, and by taking certain herbs, foods, or pharmaceuticals.)

 Photo by Kimery Davis; downloaded from Flickr without amendments
So what’s the bottom line?
Most experts agree that it is okay to have an occasional drink while nursing. But what is occasional?  Is it okay to drink every day?  Is it okay to drink more than one drink at a time?  The details of this are not known with certainty.  It’s difficult to study. 

Some say limit drinking to special occasions, and some say no more than 1 or 2 times per week.  Some say one small drink, and some say up to 2 glasses of wine or beer or one shot.  Some say to wait until baby is 3 months of age.  To further complicate the issue, there are additional variables: the age and metabolism of your baby, your own metabolism and ability to process alcohol and how much you have eaten with your beverage.

So what’s the bottom line?  It’s probably okay to have one or two drinks on special occasions, or less than 2 times a week.  

Ensure that you avoid breastfeeding your baby until you are sure you no longer feel affected by the alcohol.  This may mean you have to provide formula or breastmilk you pumped before drinking.  If you want more specifics, be sure to contact your health care provider.
Photo by Eivind Barstad Waaler; downloaded from Flicker without amendments

Co-sleepers:  Remember that you should never co-sleep after drinking alcohol.

A note on SIDS:  People often sleep more soundly after alcohol ingestion, so you may not wake as quickly or as easily to baby’s noises.

I’m having a drink – how should I do it?
Have your drink just after you nurse or pump, then nurse or pump again once the alcohol is out of your blood stream. For one drink, it generally takes about 2 to 4 hours for alcohol to dissipate from your milk, BUT everyone is different.  If you feel the effects of the alcohol, it is too early to feed (this is an argument for limiting yourself to 2 drinks at the most.)  If baby is hungry before you feel ready to feed, give previously pumped milk or formula.  Also, remember that alcohol and breastfeeding are dehydrating, so be sure you drink extra water to compensate.
Should I pump and dump?
Do NOT pump and dump.  There is no need.  Once alcohol is out of your blood, it is out of your milk.  Pumping and dumping does not speed that process up. If you need to pump to relieve engorgement until the next feed, do dispose of that milk.  But do not pump to try to get rid of alcohol.

Some words from the nostalgic mom
Remember that you will not breastfeed forever.  You will also not be the parent of a baby forever.  Before you know it you will have the time and freedom to drink and go out as you please.  So try to savor the here and now, even when it means you are covered in spit up and drinking lactation tea.  It will be gone before you know it.

[1] Mennella & Beauchamp 1991, 1993; Mennella 1997, 1999

More resources: