The health of our children is something us parents are extremely passionate about. But where do we start with all the information out there, without feeling overwhelmed and overcome by mother (or father) guilt?
As with most things in health, balance is the key. And as with all aspects of parenting, it's best to breakdown some of the healthy guidelines into bite sized achievable pieces focusing on just one or two areas at a time, whilst simultaneously considering the bigger picture.
NUTRITION - focus on inclusion
The most asked question I get from parents is about whether to eliminate things like gluten from their child’s diet. The answer depends on numerous factors and what I find is of much more importance is the question “how varied and diverse is your child’s diet?”
Unfortunately, the number one prebiotic food consumed in the average western diet is wheat-based fibres. So yes, limiting gluten may be beneficial, however will you risk limiting the main source of prebiotic food? Prebiotic fibre is what all the good bugs in the gastrointestinal tract feed off and thrive on. And it is important to work on this element first. Prebiotic fibre basically comes from a variety of plant foods including root vegetables, allium family veggies (ie onion, garlic, leek and chives), legumes, and a variety of grains to name a few. Kids can be fussy, and some eat on average only 10 different foods each week.
Work on expanding this to at least 20 per week for preschool/primary aged children and expand up to 50 different foods a week for your teens. The easiest way to expand the diet is to focus on eating a rainbow of plant foods each day, in all meals and snacks.
NOURISHMENT – supporting healthy bodies
The immune system is designed to fight infection and disease. Our ancestor’s immune system primarily fought pathogens ie bacteria, virus’, fungi and parasites. However, our modern world throws so much more at our immune system and that of our children. It needs to navigate heavy metals, pollutants, harsh chemicals, dietary sugars/additives/preservatives and much more.
So, ensure you look at other inflammation drivers in your child’s environment, some initial considerations would include:
Personal care products - are there better options for the soap, shampoo and other products your kids are using daily
Household cleaners – check your laundry cupboard for harsh chemicals and consider the alternatives
In the kitchen – consider ditching plastic, toxic cookware, and perhaps invest in a water filter
We are so lucky here in Geelong that the wonderful team at Natural Supply Co have taken the hard work out of this exercise for us. If they stock it then the research has been done which means it's good for you, your family and the environment.
NURTURING – the nervous system
From very early on, our children are exposed to life stress. Did you know that a pregnant woman, when stressed, will produce enough stress hormone to increase the stress hormone receptors in their offspring? Did you know that breast milk also carries stress hormones? And don’t even get me started on recent statistics regarding age and diagnosis numbers of anxiety in kids.
There’s no way that we can change the fact that increased environmental stress is something we have to learn to live with, but we can ensure that stress adaptation/coping mechanisms are strong. With kids this means teaching them resilience and arming them with tools to navigate what their world throws at them.
Some of my favourite tools are:
Movement – physical activity is free and easy with kids, i.e. dance, outdoor play, and exercise should be encouraged daily
Breathing – encourage kids to breathe through their nose (many are mouth breathers), look at simple breathing exercises and if that doesn’t work singing, whistling and humming are great ways to get your child doing breathwork without knowing they are
Gratitude – according to the research practising gratitude helps to rewire the brain to scan or the positive. Make listing things that you are grateful for a dinner time conversation, or perhaps part of the bedtime routine.
In a nutshell it’s the 3 Ns…. nutrition through food, nourishment of the whole body and nurturing against stress. If you are still overwhelmed and wanting more guidance on the health of your children, I am only too happy to help. For best health outcomes and an individualised plan for your family, you can book an appointment or contact me for further details.
Yours In Health,
Emma Wisbey is a naturopath with over 20 years experience, working in both clinical practice and also having worked for one of Australia’s leading nutraceutical companies in supporting and educating practitioners. Emma is passionate about the health industry and the role it plays in the future of our next generation and being a mother of 3 herself, family health is her area of expertise, with a special interest in mental health, hormonal health, and children’s health.