Saturday, November 26, 2011

Does your toddler need a multivitamin?

A friend of mine texted this question to me recently. She said sometimes her 3.5-year-old barely eats anything in a given day and that even though her daughter is getting cod liver oil and some desiccated liver she is worried that maybe she should add a food-based multivitamin or multivitamin beverage of some sort.

I am very anti-multi so I never recommend them or other laboratory-made concoctions (even the supposedly best ones that are "food-based"), since supplements are not well absorbed and may actually upset the delicate balance of minerals and vitamins in the body. For example, supplementing calcium will negatively affect magnesium levels, whereas if we get our nutrition from high-quality foods grown or grazed on fertile soil we will get the nutrients we need in the correct balance.

I consider high-quality fermented cod liver oil to be the best multivitamin you can give your kids, along with a nourishing traditional-foods diet, that includes foods like the following:
-raw cultured dairy from grass-fed/pastured animals
-natural animal fats (like raw butter & cream, pastured lard, tallow, and chicken fat)
-grass-fed/pastured meats always eaten with the fat (skin, pan juices, etc.)
-eggs from pastured organically-raised chickens
-organ meats from grass-fed animals (VERY important!)
-wild-caught seafood of all kinds (depending on your child's preferences)
-bone broths made at home the traditional way
-high-quality plant oils (coconut oil and extra-virgin cold-pressed unfiltered olive oil)
-lactofermented vegetables and beverage tonics (like sauerkraut and beet kvass)
-vegetables of all kinds, prepared in ways that maximize digestibility (avocados are especially good)
-limited fruit (emphasizing high-enzyme ones like papaya and very ripe banana when possible)
-and nuts/seeds/beans/whole grains according to the child's needs and digestive capacity

(As parents we are always told that fruits and vegetables are the best sources of nutrients for our kids, but they lack the fat-soluble vitamins A & D needed to ensure proper absorption and assimilation of the minerals in our diet. Think of it this way: a cow needs to consume 50 lbs. of grass to produce 1 cup of raw milk -- so which is more nutrient-dense: raw milk or plant matter? Think of all the gardens full of salads we would have to chew our way through to get the nutrition found in, say, a few ounces of liver!)

But even if you're following these dietary principles, what happens when your child's appetite or eating patterns just aren't giving her everything she needs? Here is a simple way of dealing with this problem:

1) Cut the grains. Most kids will willingly eat grain-based foods before the more filling and nutritious meat or eggs on their plate. Even whole grains provide a real spike in blood sugar (not a good thing), and gluten-containing grains that are poorly digested (a very common occurrence in our current generation of kids with compromised gut flora) can actually have an effect on the brain similar to morphine! For these reasons grains tend to be highly addictive, for kids and adults alike.

The same goes for fruit, potatoes/sweet potatoes, and milk (yes, even plain grass-fed raw milk). Children will happily fill up on fruit, potatoes, milk, and other naturally sweet and starchy things if given the choice. (Obviously foods like chocolate milk, juice, and any other sweet foods and beverages should be OUT as well.) Some kids will even fill up on nuts, seeds, and trail mixes, so just watch your child's eating patterns and be aware that these "healthy" foods can be difficult to digest and high in phytates, which can chelate minerals out of the body. For a child who isn't eating very much, high-quality animal foods are the ones to really emphasize since they provide nutrients that are easily absorbed, along with enzymes when they raw or lightly cooked (like runny egg yolks or rare steak).

It may take a few days of cutting out grains, potatoes, unfermented milk, and fruit before your toddler's appetite for the really nourishing foods returns, but that's okay -- rest assured it will happen!

2) Once you've followed step one, you need to focus more on behavioral adjustments to your toddler-feeding style. Here are a few things to try:
  • KEEP A FOOD JOURNAL -- this way you can keep track of what your child is actually consuming, as well as improvements and daily progress
  • SET REGULAR MEAL TIMES -- if possible, focus on when your child is hungriest and capitalize on those opportunities! If he isn't hungry until 10, have breakfast then. If she really works up an appetite at the playground, have a quick and nourishing dinner ready at home. If your schedule requires that you set meal times at less-than-optimal hours then just be consistent, follow the last step listed here, and your child will gradually adjust.
  • BE THE ADULT -- Remember that YOU are the parent! Therefore you get to decide ultimately what your child will be allowed to eat and in what order. Offer the smoked beef sausage first, then the organic apple slices, not both at the same time. Make rules about eating times, and stick to them. If your child wants to play instead of eating, make it a requirement that she first eat something. To get your little one to take cod liver oil, offer it as a prequisite to dessert, which should ideally be somewhat nourishing as well (like 1/2 apple baked with cinnamon and served with raw cream, or 1/2 banana sliced into raw cream, or a simple butternut squash custard).
  • NO SNACKING -- including beverages! This is an important thing to remember since many kids can eat small snacks throughout the day and never really get hungry enough for a full meal.

3) If all else fails, or even if you just want to add a really nourishing and appealing daily snack or meal replacement, try a Super Smoothie! I use some combination of the following, always making a conscious effort to emphasize the cream and egg yolks:
  • raw milk kefir (1/3 cup)
  • raw milk yogurt (1/3 cup)
  • raw fresh or cultured cream (1/4 cup)
  • 2 or more raw egg yolks (from pastured hens)
  • 1-2 tbsp. prepared coconut cream (optional--I like Let's Do Organic brand, which I prepare by mixing thoroughly with hot water, then store in a glass jar in the fridge so I can easily scoop some out)
  • a little fresh fruit, like half a banana (should have lots of brown freckles so the starch has been converted to sugar) or some super-ripe mango flesh; if your child is used to more sweetness you can start with more fruit and then gradually decrease the amount you use
  • and of course if your child tolerates it you can even add ripe avocado, bee pollen, cod liver oil, or any other super-foods you like! (please no protein powders or other non-foods, though)
4) Special cases -- for a child who is eating a balanced diet like I have described here and simply not thriving the solution is not to add a bunch of supplements, but to work on restoring digestive health so that food is properly digested and nutrients are absorbed. I highly recommend reading the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome to really understand your child's digestion and how best to feed him or her, as well as effective ways to balance and restore digestive health and gut microflora.

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