As you are already familiar, we just love Dr. Olteanu and her approach to treating children as a whole entity vs than just isolated ailments. Dr. Olteanu offers her suggestions on how to cope with chronic conditions and treating them with nutrition!
When you have a child with a chronic condition like seasonal allergies, asthma, eczema, ADHD, or anxiety, it’s natural to worry about what they’re eating and whether you need to make drastic changes.
Equally, you may spend most of your time fussing over your child at mealtimes, making sure they eat correctly – perhaps affecting the entire family dynamic.
Many chronic conditions have underlying inflammation in the body. Your child’s body tries its best to heal itself after an injury or period of feeling unwell. Still, when the inflammation process goes off the rails, it begins a cycle of chronic illness that can be further aggravated by certain foods.
If you say yes to any of these, your child may benefit from following the anti-inflammatory diet – though I prefer calling it a healthy lifestyle change. And your whole family can come along for the ride – there are a host of benefits for children who aren’t showing symptoms.
Introducing the Anti Inflammatory Diet for Children
The essential principle for following the anti-inflammatory diet is to use the anti-inflammatory food pyramid as your guide. The base of the pyramid is the foundation of your child’s nutrition – plenty of fruit and veggies – with beans, legumes, and healthy fats not far behind. At the top of the pyramid is food to be eaten in small amounts, such as desserts, like good quality dark chocolate.
But before you and your family race down to the grocery store, there are some guidelines you need to remember.
#1 Old habits to break:
- Processed food and foods containing artificial dyes and sweeteners must go – make sure you check labels carefully in the future. Some additives can act like – or become – neurotoxins,
- Avoid sweetened beverages or sodas. The amount of sugar or sweetener in these drinks is astounding. Sugar and artificial sweeteners are inflammatory foods, as they feed the wrong bacteria in your child’s gut microbiome, causing an imbalance in their gut. An increase of sugar in the bloodstream can trigger the release of cytokines, a chemical messenger that promotes inflammation.
- Minimize or avoid giving your child cow milk or cow milk products, for example, most cheeses, yogurts, butter, cream. Cows with a diet of grain and corn provide milk that contains high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which can increase inflammation in susceptible children. Casein, a milk protein, may also be hard to digest for some children, and many become sensitive.
#2 New habits to embrace:
- Refer to the change in eating as a lifestyle change, not a diet. Diets have a negative connotation, and your child may consider it criticism at a delicate point in their life. A lifestyle change also means that everyone in the family can get involved!
- Everyone in your family should drink plenty of water. Insufficient water intake can slow down everything from cellular function to your metabolism and your ability to fight off infections.
- Encourage your children to eat a “rainbow” a day – a wide variety of colorful vegetables and fruits. Aim for at least 5 servings of veggies and 3-4 servings of fruit a day.
- Get protein from the following sources: eggs, meat, beans, fish, legumes, and quinoa.
- Provided there’s no history of gluten sensitivity, grains are fine to serve – but use sparingly.
- Enjoy healthy fats such as oily fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil.
- Don’t avoid dessert altogether – adapt it! Dessert can be a special treat instead of a portion of daily food. Save it for Sundays, or just for special occasions, like birthdays and holidays. Help your child develop a palate for dark chocolate and fruit-based desserts.
- Encourage a healthy gut for your child by giving them plenty of fermented foods rich in natural probiotics, such as pickled vegetables and sauerkraut.
- Although you may have tried a new way of eating before with limited success – not to mention limited acceptance from your family – the anti-inflammatory diet can be enjoyable and – most importantly – satisfying. But it’s the health benefits and the visual improvement of your child that’s most rewarding.
#3 Dairy-Free Alternatives for Calcium and Vitamin D
- As calcium intake is crucial to your child’s health, reading the above list may have given you pause for a moment – after all, how can your child get enough calcium without drinking cow’s milk? Unfortunately, cow’s milk is, in general, quite hard to digest and can cause or worsen chronic inflammation – but there are some great dairy-free alternatives.
- Salmon and sardines
- Green leafy vegetables like collard greens, kale, and spinach
- But it’s not enough to supply calcium alone. Your body needs vitamin D to improve the absorption and use of calcium. A growing child additionally needs vitamin D to aid bone growth and to ensure his or her bones are strong – while also improving immune system function. While humans can soak up the sun to synthesize our own vitamin D, it’s useful to supplement with good quality food.
- Excellent sources for Vitamin D include:
- Fatty fish like salmon, tuna
- Beef liver
- Mushrooms like portobello or maitake
- Almond milk fortified with vitamin D (check the label and buy products that do not contain the ingredient “carrageenan”)
If your child is eating a truly varied diet, modeled on the principles above, they are likely to be getting all the nutrients they need, aiding reduction in inflammation.
#4 Add more Prebiotics and Probiotics to your child’s diet.
- Probiotic foods are foods containing the friendly bacteria that makes up your gut microbiome. Prebiotic foods are foods that the friendly bacteria eat – and both pro- and prebiotics allow for a much healthier gut. Vegetables and fermented foods should become a staple in children’s diet for this reason. Although as many parents know, this is easier said than done – persistence pays off, as these foods are huge for reducing inflammation in the gut.
- Here are some natural food sources of natural probiotics:
- And here are some prebiotic-rich vegetables
- Green leafy vegetables
- Onions and garlic
Many of these foods can be ‘dressed up’ to be more exciting – banana can be an exciting dessert, for example.
There are many advantages to the anti-inflammatory diet, especially as it encourages you and your children to eat healthy whole foods, eliminating nasty additives and overly processed food. I hope I’ve shown you that an anti-inflammatory diet need not be confusing – and that the entire family quickly adopts it for the health benefit of all!