It is tough to change ingrained eating habits. We learn how to eat from our parents, who learn from their parents. It is the “nurture” of the “nature or nurture” debate. How does our (nutritional) environment affect our genetics, health, life? The answer is immensely! For example, a recent large scale Norwegian study on prenatal and early childhood nutrition evidenced that “children who ate more unhealthy foods, defined in the study as chips, buns, cakes, waffles, chocolate, cookies, sweets, soda, ice cream, popsicles, bread with jam or honey, pizza, and soda with artificial sweeteners, had higher levels of internalizing behaviors such as worry, sadness, crying, and anxiety, as well as externalizing behaviors, including aggression, tantrums, hyperactivity, and defiant behavior.”
The link between behavior, digestive health and nutrition has never been clearer. And while it has been recognized for years by holistic practitioners, it is finally gaining credibility in the medical world as studies like this one in 2013 illustrate the statistically significant relationships between food and health.
So, how does a family that has had generations of healthy, stable kids suddenly need to become gluten free or preservative free for the next generation? The first answer is in our foods. The food that we eat today is not what our grandparents were eating thanks to modern genetic engineering that inserts pesticides into the seed genes of many of our grains, beans and vegetables. Is it such a surprise that our infants develop an allergy to a pesticide that cannot be washed off? Secondly, our genetics have been on the downslide for generations due to chronic stress, environmental pollution, and declining nutrition. Finally, sensitive people have sensitive babies. As a byproduct of changing their eating habits for their kids, many people in their 30’s and 40’s are just figuring out that their own health conditions like reflux, constipation, eczema, migraines, IBS, and anxiety are, in fact, related to their own food sensitivities!
It is hard to change the menu when you are busy, stressed out, and doing your best to keep food on the table. It’s not easy wheeling a cart through the aisles of the health food section at the grocery store, buying quinoa for the first time, experimenting with rice pasta, forking out $6 for a loaf of gluten free bread, trying the dairy-free cheeses (for better or worse.) It’s a food adventure that can have some delicious surprises and some unfortunate disasters. It is easier when you start with a very young child and raise them in the “gluten free bubble”, but try telling a 10 year old she can’t have her mac n’ cheese anymore – you better run for cover. Still, you do it because you see the results. The skin clears. The crying stops. The sleep improves. The digestion improves.
Every family has their own challenges to changing the menu, but the work is worth it in the end. And the money! It is certainly more expensive on a weekly basis to buy fresh whole foods, and to make the gluten free, dairy free, sugar free choices and still make something yummy. That much is for sure! Remember, you are investing in your child’s future. You are saving years of Ritalin and after school tutoring. You are saving the teenager from having to get colonoscopies and endoscopies. You are saving the college kid from having chronic migraines and missing class. You are saving your daughter from having to get IVF from impaired fertility, and you very well may be saving the adult from diabetes, depression or cancer.
No one *wants* to have a special diet, but some people *need* it. Recognizing that your family needs it and the work you are doing today is an investment in your next generation doesn’t make it easier, but it may make it worth it.
Portland has tremendous resources for those of us on a specialized diet. Maine has a wealth of health care practitioners who specialize in supporting families through this kind of nutritional change from diagnosing the food sensitivities to supporting you as you implement the changes. Many restaurants, bakeries, and grocery stores have gluten free, dairy free, vegan, and other specialized dietary options. We’re also pleased to offer a great selection of children’s multivitamins, fish oils, and gluten sensitivity products (such as GlutenEase) – along with experienced staff – to help support your needs. And if you live outside of Portland, the Internet has made finding recipes and support from the other millions of moms and dads out there much easier, no matter where you live.
The best news is some kids (and grown-ups) can grow out of food allergies after a period of healing is allowed to take place. This is where the “nature” comes in, and your strong family lineage of health and vitality is renewed for the next generation.