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Why I Wish You’d Quit Talking About Food To Your Kids

Why I Wish You’d Quit Talking About Food To Your Kids

I’m a pediatric nutritionist with long experience, and I wish you’d stop talking so much about food and nutrition with your kids.

That sounds crazy, I know. Food and nutrition are absolutely pivotal for your kids’ brains, behavior, growth, mood, learning… everything. No wonder then that food, recipes, and nutrition talk are all over the internet and mom blogger universe. From how to make killer bento lunches to keto for kids (mistake, BTW, unless under certain circumstances), everyone has something to say.

The good thing about this is that we are all woke now on the importance of what we eat, where food comes from, and how we grow it, whether it’s chickens, chocolate, or chard. We really are what we eat. We eat, and we turn the food into us – hair, bones, teeth, mood, and all. Period. That’s pretty much it (though a lot can go wrong along that path..  fixing that for kids is pretty much what I do).

But… there is a HUGE downside, and it’s bad for kids. It creates undue anxiety, stress, and overwhelm for kids, young ones and teens alike. It really stresses moms out too. I run into this often in my clinical practice, and I can tell you that it has gotten worse as our (justified!) enthusiasm for whole, healthy foods has exploded in the last 10-15 years. You’ll want to avoid these pitfalls with your kids. Here’s  my list of Fail vs Fabulous, when encouraging healthy nutrition and food habits in your family.

  • 1 – Stop Demonizing Food

It’s so easy to label a food “good” or “bad”. There’s plenty of junk out there, including organic junk. Obviously, it isn’t what kids should live on. But don’t drill these labels into your kids’ minds. What they need to learn is discernment – and they will. Eventually, ideally, when they’re out and about on their own without you, those “bad” foods should be neutral to them.

What do I mean by “neutral”? I mean that the idea of eating that food doesn’t provoke anxiety. It isn’t even compelling, because it was never forbidden in the first place. It doesn’t elicit judgment or shaming for themselves, or toward friends and peers who eat those foods.

As long as there is no safety or egregious comfort issue – as in, needing an Epi Pen, or a vomit-to-shock (FPIES) reaction, hives, migraine, nausea, bloating, burning diarrhea, disabling gas pain – then let kids have forays into junk. Not daily staples or regular snacks, mind you, but occasional dabbling.

Instead: Provide treats for special occasions (or every so often for no reason other than it’s fun) with no discussion about whether it’s “good” or “bad”. Again, safety issues and food allergens or triggers aside, simply make or buy some fun food, and let your child enjoy, care-free.

My one exception: Spoiled food. This IS bad and dangerous and kids need to learn that too. So, tell them.

  • 2 – Don’t Expect A Young Child to Have Discernment (or even care)

Speaking of discernment, forget needing your four year old to have it. That’s your job. Children do not need to know what organic is, or glyphosate, or MSG, colors, additives, gluten or what have you. They shouldn’t care either. They’re little and they have much more important stuff going on in their little worlds. Please stop walking them through the supermarket and asking them to pay attention to labels or what you’re buying. Believe me, they are observing. They don’t need the specifics, and this will only be information overload that can lead to anxiety or meal time control battles. They need you to be chill, in charge, and happy that you’re with them (most the time). That’s about it.

Instead: Lead by example. Say less, do more. If your child accompanies you shopping, let them day dream and leave them alone; if they love chatter, join them in the randomness of it. Your child doesn’t need every moment to be teachable!

If they see something truly junky or sugary or processed that they pitch a fit for (and they will, because supermarkets place colorful cartoony packaging at your child’s eye level on purpose), that’s your call. Sometimes we can get away with floating to the next aisle with a soothing “Hmm no I don’t want to do that today” (and refrain from giving a reason why). Other days, you know the both of you don’t have it in you to make it home without giving in. Up to you, but avoid each supermarket trip rewarded with a junk treat.

If you’re in servitude to your stove or kitchen and miserable making all this scratch beautiful food, guess what – your kids know. Even your baby can tell. The most important thing here is that you get to be happy and enjoy food. Even if there are stressors, including big ones, about what can be safely eaten in your household, endeavor to find the joy in some of it. Joy is, above all else, why we’re here.

  • 3 – Stop Explaining Everything and Stop Feeling Sorry For Your Kids with Diet Restrictions

You’re in charge. You’re the adult. If you know your child does poorly with a particular food, and they are fiendish about getting it and asking for it constantly anyway, oh well! You know best and have decided that they’re not going to have that food, period. Remember: This goes for foods that are a known danger or debilitating to your child – not for foods that are imperfect, but harmless.

Explaining and justifying your parenting choices to a young child (or even a teen) is, um, a bad idea. Doing so engenders entitlement in your child, which can make their opposition and protests even bigger. In little ones, expect tantrums, anxiety, and meltdowns when you try the “here’s why” route. In teens, expect impressive arguments, brooding, and door slamming. Most of all, don’t expect or need your kids to agree with you.

Instead: If a child asks for a reason why, offer it in the most developmentally concrete way for that child’s age. Refrain from volunteering comments like “it’s bad for you” or “will make you sick” or “your body can’t have that.” Don’t label the food or your child’s body as defective or bad.

Younger kids can be redirected with “there isn’t any more of that at the store so I found this one instead” or “I think this will feel really good in your tummy. Let’s try it and you let me know.”

Teens are reaching a point of practicing discernment on their own. Experimentation and screw ups are par for the course at this age. Let them experience the discomfort of eating the wrong food. You will decide when you have had enough as a parent: “I realize this isn’t what you want, but I am the one taking care of/rescuing you each time you feel sick from eating xyz. So, that food is no longer going to be in the house, and I won’t buy it anymore. If you eat it on purpose outside of here, I won’t be able to help you.” And then there’s always “..because I am the one buying the food, and I said so.”

  • 4 – Stop Feeding Your Kids Like They’re Gwyneth Paltrow (or expecting them to like it)

Oh dear. How many, many food diaries I have seen that look this beautiful: Green smoothies, pumpkin seeds, sprouted Einkorn homemade bread, kombucha, fermented kvass, homemade dosa, coconut flour pancakes, avocado toast, bone broth… Or, a list of light veggie snacks all day long: Carrots, celery, nori, cucumbers, and apple slices with a few cashews. Or, a food diary that shows me 120 grams of protein and less than 60 grams of carbs (a nearly ketogenic intake).

Those are beautiful foods. Some kids really love this stuff. But, usually, it turns out this is a little dysfunctional. There are too many food rules in the house, and it’s causing tension to comply so stringently with eating only organic, perfect whole foods.

I’ll also usually discover that in these households, kids are  falling off their growth patterns, experiencing stunting, or underweight. What tends to happen here is kids end up low for total calories, low for carbohydrates, and high for fats and protein. This is a great eating style for adults (who are not growing), but it can cause stunting and underweight in children.

Here is a common anecdote from my practice: I began working with a mom whose child was eating an overly restricted diet. Mom removed all processed foods entirely, based on the belief that any of them, at any time, are bad. Her child also happened to be a picky eater and refused many textures, limiting her choices more. On top of this, based on a misinterpreted blood test for a food sensitivity panel that the mom had somehow done on her own prior to our meeting, the child was only allowed to eat 7 foods, and had been eating this very restricted diet for years. She was not growing, had miserable behavior and sleep problems, and was trending toward anemia.

It turned out, right off the bat, the child could eat many foods that mom had wrongly assumed were trouble. A shift in view point on the good vs bad food mythology helped a lot. The child’s behavior improved immediately and she gained some much needed weight. Finally, her brain and body were getting replenished.

But even after a few sessions, things didn’t sound quite right. So I asked for an updated food diary. Mom shared a usual day food intake of small quantities, throughout the day, of raisins, peanuts, maple syrup, rice, potato chips, and a brownie. That was it. That was a usual day of food. This explained the re-emerging problems: No protein, no good fats or oils, too little food over all, a grazing pattern, and few micronutrient rich foods (for vitamins and minerals).

Mom said this child would sometimes eat chicken. So I asked – what if you gave a chicken nugget, would she like that, or try it?

A big silence followed. Mom was stunned. She had never done that, and wouldn’t, “because, you know, they’re so junky.” We agreed to give it a try after a quick search gave us some brand options she could live with. There are ready to heat and eat versions of this stuff that aren’t so terrible, or are gluten free too.

Instead – This child was already eating a junky poor diet. It didn’t matter if the peanuts and maple syrup were organic. Those alone don’t make up a whole foods diet. So, toss in some fun. Find some ready to serve, heat-and-eat stuff so you don’t have to work so hard cooking it all from scratch. If you hit on something, then you can make your own scratch version even better if you like.

Let kids be kids. They need different diets than adults. They shouldn’t be eating they way you do, most likely. Peruse my blog for more ideas and tips on how kids eat, what they need, and some recipes to try.

• 5 – Baby Led Weaning Is Great… For Babies

No, babies and children don’t know what they need all the time, and don’t necessarily have a keen inner wisdom that they can tap at a moment’s notice. Some babies wean because they feel eager and ready to move on. Some can’t get there, and won’t, even when it is safer and healthier for them to do so. Don’t pressure your young child to know everything. I’ve met many toddlers way past the day they needed to wean, and mom is still waiting for permission to do so. Nope nope nope. You’re in charge, mom.

Likewise, toddlers and kids need direction too. Weaned or not, presenting food all day long in a parade of choices is often just plain overwhelming and frustrating for little kids. It’s too demanding to expect that they will know what to do. This strategy can create anxiety in young kids, while mom or dad get super frustrated by the poor growth and picky appetite that this can often trigger too.

Some DON’Ts…

    • Don’t expect them to guide you in making their food choices. Sure they will have their preferences, but it is your job to feed them.
    • Don’t expect that they will always know or verbalize when they’re full or when they’re hungry. Especially when kids have used reflux medicines, appetite and its cues will be weakened over time. If you need help with this, contact me or speak to your pediatrician.
    • Don’t chatter about how important food is. Just make or buy something you love to share and enjoy with your family.
    • Don’t allow non stop grazing. Toddlers and young kids grow, sleep, and behave better with distinct snack times and mealtimes.
    • Don’t limit texture options to just pincer grasp foods and pouches. Kids can be rigid. The longer you wait for them to reach for a new food, the longer you may be waiting. I’ve met several four and five year olds who don’t know how to chew. It’s ok to rock their world a bit and expect them to progress much earlier on.

Instead –  Make food a benign or pleasant background piece. At snack or meal times, it’s just there, beckoning. Allow a choice between 2, maybe 3 foods at most. Present mixed textures and novelty, including foods that might be messy or that require mastery of a utensil. Let your child feed himself or get messy. Good help can be had with a pediatric occupational therapist if need be – let your doctor know you’d like help, and get a referral, if feeding is so stalled that your child isn’t growing or gaining well.

I really meant it …

…when I said that the most important reason why we are all here is joy. Eating and food are great paths to create it, share it, grow it. More than anything you say or do around food in your household, making food a generally positive, inquisitive, and expansive experience is what will create good self care and eating habits in your growing family. For extreme picky eaters, you may have other problems afoot that need tackling. Check out my e book here for more details on how to redirect that too.




Can Kids Fight Colds, Flu, and Winter Infections Naturally?

Can Kids Fight Colds, Flu, and Winter Infections Naturally?

Herbs, vitamins, and minerals can support immune response during and before illness. Anyone can buy them – but are they safe? Do they work? How do you use them?

Like any prescription drug from your pediatrician , if you’re using the wrong dose, in the wrong context, at the wrong time, or with substances that don’t mix safely, immune supports can fail, or can trigger strong reactions that make your child feel worse.

New flash: Pediatricians don’t train in the use of non-prescription supports like herbs, foods, nutrients, or supplements. They do train in how to prescribe drugs and when to make specialist referrals. Odds are, if you ask your doctor how to use, say, olive leaf extract, caprylic acid, or the correct form of garlic for anti-viral support, they won’t know what you’re talking about.

Botanicals, herbal compounds, foods, and supplements have diverse actions on our brilliant and complex immune systems. Herbs and nutrients also have direct antimicrobial effects of their own.  This means they can be potent allies in your quest to get your family through winter infection-free, by preventing illness, and by pumping up the body’s fight if colds and flu happen.

Here are my top five go-to’s for natural, non-drug ways to help children divert illnesses and infections:

1 – Eat lots, eat well! Data show that underweight kids (body mass index below 10th percentile) and overweight kids (body mass index over 90th percentile) get sick more often and stay sick longer than normal weight peers. Immune supports can’t work as well when the body is already struggling for energy and resources. Emphasize vegetable carbs over grains: Think pumpkin, parsnip, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potato, spaghetti squash, butternut, beets, Brussel sprouts, and hearty greens like chard, kale, arugula or spinach. These are mineral-rich, phytonutrient powerhouse foods. For grain source carbs, mix it up. Don’t give the same processed simple starchy grain day in and day out. Vary grains to include quinoa (technically not a grain but more closely related to beets), buckwheat, different types of rice (black, brown, jasmine), or others. if your child can tolerate gluten, choose organic (US wheat is one of the most RoundUp-laden crops we grow, with the average rate of RoundUp applied to it having tripled in recent years). If your child is too picky to vary carbs as suggested here, we need to talk. That picky diet is one reason why your child may get sick more often. Work with me on strategies to change it.

Eat fats and oils, organic as often as affordable, and natural (unprocessed). Fats carry critical immune defense nutrients like vitamins A, D, and E into tissues. Grass fed butter like Kerrygold (available at Costco or most supermarkets), or at least organic butter or ghee, are great options, as is coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, eggs, meats, fish and nuts/seeds and their butters. Think in terms of giving the equivalent of 1 quarter cup daily of fats and oils from all foods (this includes fat in foods like eggs, meat, or fish) – that’s about how much a school aged child needs. Teens will need more.

Protein matters all day long for kids. Breakfast cereals and milk are thumbs down in my book – mostly sugar, little fat and weak protein that only comes from the milk. Not an auspicious start to a demanding school day! Homemade chicken broth, egg drop soup or broth, pumpkin pancakes, smoothies with protein powders – check my recipe archive for ideas and my breakfast post too. Give proteins throughout the day. If your kids are hungry, let them eat.

“But my kid eats like a horse, and still gets sick.” Right? So: Eating plenty can have a curve ball – and that is, in kids with rigid, starchy, addictive eating patterns for sugar, wheat, and dairy food. Not healthy. See Milk Addicted Kids for more info on that. Lastly, avoid offering too many tough-to-digest, raw, bulky, or fermented foods. Relax strict Paleo, Yeast Free, GAPS or other tight routines if your child’s body mass index is too low. Check my recipes for some ideas to gain and grow.

2 – Olive oil and olive leaf extract – These have several anti-microbial, antioxidant, and immune supporting components, including hydroxytyrosol, oleuropein, luteolin, and apigenin. Some have anti-inflammatory effects; oleuropein has gained popularity for its broad activity against viruses, bacteria, and fungal (yeast) microbes. Other bitter compounds in olive leaf, caffeic acid and verbascoside, have direct antimicrobial action too, against several bacteria and fungal species (yeasts). Human studies are few, but in vitro, oleuropein kills many bacteria, including Klebsiella pneumonia, Mycoplasma, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aueruginosa, and others (but doesn’t harm beneficial stuff in the gut like Lactobacillus).  As for viruses, oleuropein blocks viral protein production and interrupts replication – that is, the virus can’t stay alive and can’t reproduce itself in the presence of oleuropein, meaning it can’t easily survive in you or spread to others, when you’re eating oleuropein from olive leaf extract!

Good news: Olive leaf extract and olive oil are safe, with low toxicity. Side effects may include looser stools (a benefit for some) if eating a lot of oil at once. Oleuropein may also lower blood pressure, so this is a caution for kids with low tone, low blood pressure or fatigue. Animal studies on the extract have shown safety and efficacy at 8 mg/kg per day; this would be roughly 200 mg daily for a 55 pound child. For kids who can swallow capsules, I suggest Gaia brand Olive Leaf or  Nature’s Way Standardized Olive Leaf extract because these are standardized to contain a minimum percentage of oleuropein and they are alcohol free (alcohol extractions don’t show the same potency as water extracts or oil infusions of olive leaf). For kids who don’t, Barlean’s Olive Leaf Complex is a good choice, as it also standardizes the amount of oleuropein in each serving and even has flavored options. Meanwhile eat at tablespoon or two of olive oil daily at room temperature or slightly warm; over heating it will reduce the power of its immune boosting components.

3 – Berberine – This herbal extract is found in many plants, including goldenseal, philodendron, and barberry. It has a wide range of antimicrobial activities; one of its skills is to make it harder for bacteria to attach to mucus membranes in lung or other tissue. Whole plant extracts that contain berberine have other components that create a synergistic effect, making them effective even against antibiotic resistant MSRA. Berberine’s ability to arrest Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Pseudomonas  organisms was  demonstrated years ago. Berberine has also been shown to increase immunoglobulin A (IgA) levels; IgA is the first line of defense in tissues that line the ear, nose, throat, lungs and gut. Like most herbs, its benefits go beyond immune support – it has been shown to benefit heart function and regulate menstrual pattern too. Tinctures and capsules are widely available. Cautionary note: Berberines are synergistic with several drugs, including Diflucan and ampicillin, so if your child is needing prescription drugs, talk with your care team before mixing these. A school aged child can typically safely use 200-600 mg berberine daily during acute illness, if not mixed with drugs. As always, if you’re not sure, get help from your licensed health care provider.

4 – Real Deal Chicken Broth – Recently my dad had a lingering cold, something that can be quite dangerous for the frail elderly (which he is). I suggested he sip broth daily – but my dad said he didn’t like it. At their house, I saw that my folks were using store bought broth that was indeed not very tasty. I roasted a chicken, and after we enjoyed the meat and pulled it off the bones, I made broth – which is not at all hard to do. In it went fresh bulbs of garlic, sage, thyme, rosemary, fresh ginger root (peeled and sliced), salt, a dash of dry white wine, and an entire lemon cut into quarters. After simmering for a day it was ready and my dad liked it a lot better than the store bought stuff. Good broth has an array of easy to absorb minerals and amino acids like proline, glycine, and glutamine, which are released from the collagen and ligaments in the chicken as it simmers. Its anti-inflammatory effect has even been verified with careful study. Ginger root adds an expectorant action on lung tissue, while lemon rind and pulp lend immune supportive bioflavonoids, minerals, vitamin C and limonene, which has been shown to boost white blood cells. Real chicken broth is so easy to make. Offer it plain or you can add your kids’ favorite noodles (yes, there are even gluten free Ramen noodles), drop in an egg to poach, or stir in a few raw greens (spinach, scallion, arugula, or basil leaves).

5 – Red Root (Ceanothus) – This is a powerful aid to help lymph nodes drain and clear debris created when we kill infections; all those dead microbes have to get out somehow, and after the immune system is done disabling them, it is our lymph system that is the clean up crew. Actually feeling sick is more about this debris clearing out through lymph, liver, spleen and kidney than the offending microbes themselves. Red root can act broadly on the lymph system to help clear this debris. Red root also has some direct anti fungal and antibacterial actions, antioxidant activity, and some evidence shows it can also boost white blood cells and T cells. Use just a couple of drops of tincture to start for a child; this is a potent tool and best used with oversight from your licensed naturopathic doctor.

This is a very short list, and I’ve skipped many obvious favorites – including nutrients like vitamins A, D, C, iron, or herbs like echinacea or elderberry – already widely known as great helps for colds and flu. There are many hundreds of possibilities to support us naturally, when it comes to colds and infections. Unlike antibiotics, herbs are difficult if not impossible for bacteria to gain resistance to, because rather than being single chemicals with a single action (like antibiotics). they are complex living entities with multiple components in their extracts or whole parts; and, they too can adapt in response to a microbe’s assault.

Prescription drugs for colds and infections have their place. Respect and engage them as needed with your doctor’s guidance. If antibiotics and other drugs fail your family, or if you simply wish to avoid them, natural tools can be important adjuncts. If you are just looking for tools to build your kids’ immune wellness, foods and herbs can go further than drugs – make good eating and natural supports a way of life, and your family will benefit!

7 Wintertime Tips To Keep Kids Flu and Cold Free (or help them breeze through)

7 Wintertime Tips To Keep Kids Flu and Cold Free (or help them breeze through)

Does your child get sick every winter? Can you prevent the annual colds, bugs, flu, croup? There are definitely some foods, herbs and supplements that help – a lot! One of the easiest things you can do is add supplements that help the immune system function more robustly. It’s no secret that dozens of nutrients, plant components, single herb extracts, or herbs in combination have potent, positive effects on the many layers of our busy, miraculous immune systems. Ayurvedic medicine, Chinese medicine, and countless other traditional cultures know this better than western physicians, who rely on drugs and surgery.

The right foods make an even bigger difference. When there is a commitment to eating whole “clean” (organic, unprocessed) food as a regular habit, especially less sugar, less processed stuff, and plenty of plant foods that give minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, and other beneficial compounds, it’s easier for your immune system to function. Viruses and microbes love sugar as much as you do. Eating sugar has an immediate suppressive effect on white blood cells’ ability to attack bacteria. And, the stress of constantly clearing toxins like heavy metals, chemicals, pesticides or GMO foods bogs your immune system down.

Popping pills can’t nourish your kids’ immune potential as much as a routine of whole food, less sugar, and less processed starchy food (pasta, bread, bagels, granola bars, crackers, chips). While you’re working on that, rotate these through winter to shore up your family’s immune systems. There are so many to choose from, not to mention items that your Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner or Naturopath can offer you for acute illnesses, to lessen the duration and severity of symptoms. While prescription drugs generally suppress symptoms, traditional medicine practices do the opposite: They modulate the immune system in its effort to kill pathogens, and to aid organs and lymph in eliminating the consequent toxins.

This list is for good daily maintenance. Use them consistently – the benefits build over time. As always, especially if your child uses medications, check with your doctor about adding supplements:

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is widely available in capsules, but not found in food. We make it ourselves from protein we eat, when well nourished; it’s an amino acid the body uses to make glutathione, a major antioxidant. But extra stresses on the immune system can increase demand, and it’s easy to less than you may need – especially for kids I meet in my practice, who tend to have trouble eating good diets. NAC is especially helpful for lung tissue and has some pedigree for helping asthma, inflammatory conditions, and reducing bouts of flu and respiratory illnesses. 300 to 900 mg daily is a usual dose, depending on body weight. It is used in higher doses for obsessive compulsive symptoms, but lower doses are notable for helping lung tissue.

Broad spectrum, high potency probiotic: Buy from a reputable brand devoted to high quality. Cheap probiotics aren’t worth it. Unless you’ve been given specific reasons not to from your GI doctor, most kids can use a potency between 25 to 75 billion CFUs daily per dose. Less won’t have much impact. Probiotics are emerging for not only supporting gut health, which many now regard as a cornerstone of immune health, but for aiding lung health too!

Cod Liver Oil and Vitamin D: Kids can safely use a half teaspoon dose daily up to 100 pounds body weight or so. Heavier kids can use a teaspoon or two. Vitamin D should be checked with your doctor each fall. If it’s below 40, use 2000-5000 IU daily for kids. Debate continues on whether you ought to use fermented cod liver oil. I let parents choose whatever they can comply with daily, since, unless you pick a very poor product, some is better than none. For non-fermented, check Nordic Naturals or Pharmax. These are my preferences in that case. Enjoy free shipping and discounts off your Nordic Naturals purchases by ordering here and entering my practitioner ID 107159.

Astragalus: This is a time honored herb in many traditions. For western herbalists, it is noted for its ability to boost B cells, T cells, and the body’s ability to identify bacteria and viruses. If your child tends to be sick often or have low energy, after you make sure his or her diet is adequate and fully nourishing, you can add a tool like astragalus to tone immune function. Capsules or tinctures are available. Peruse options here – over thirty of them as capsules or tinctures. For young kids, glycerite tinctures are ideal.

Andrographis: Check out this list of benefits when andrographis is used for colds, flu, and infections. Shorter duration of illness and reducing severity are documented effects of using this herb. Both anti-inflammatory and immune stimulating, this herb can be a better choice than echinacea for kids who have chronic inflammation from conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, or allergies. If your child feels worse using this herb, it is possible that it is clearing a latent viral load that needs to go. Kids will feel sicker if this is done too quickly, so back down or withdraw the herb to a level that is tolerable.

Vitamin C and Zinc: Use vitamin C to bowel tolerance daily, especially if your kids shun vitamin C rich foods daily. Buffered forms of C work may be easier to tolerate for kids who have normal digestion and who are not on reflux medicines; if your child uses reflux medicine, a non-buffered form may be best. If kids are eating a lot of sugary stuff (orange juice, fortified juice, fresh fruit, sweetened yogurt not to mention candy, ketchup, and obvious sources) then you may want to add more. Lozenges, capsules, liquids, powders – every option is out there. With zinc, this will support better white blood cell production for infection fighting. To dose vitamin C, start at 250 mg for young kids under 40 lbs and increase to one, two or three grams (1000-3000 mg). Loose watery stools mean too much C. Constipated kids may get relief by using high doses of buffered C. For zinc, 30-50 mg daily can be safely used in most cases, as long as your child’s iron status is normal. High doses of zinc can worsen iron status, so check with your doctor or contact me for guidance if you’re not sure (your child must become a patient of mine in order for me to give individual care).

Iron and mineral-rich foods, with strong protein and plenty of healthy fats and oils: Snacks like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, butters from nuts and seeds, any dark leafy greens your child will accept are perfect. Homemade broths are perfect as a start to a cold day or after school snack, because they give all of these good nutrients. See my blog on mineral rich snacks for kids here (these support adrenal glands, which will pump out more cortisol when your child gets sick). If your child struggles to eat protein rich foods, try powders in smoothies, puddings, broths, cocoa, or even tea. Check this blog for protein powders, here for all smoothie blogs, and here for a hot cocoa that avoids common allergens but tastes creamy and delicious. And of course.. if your child has an undiagnosed gluten or dairy sensitivity, infections will be more frequent and take longer to recover if they are eating those foods daily.

Gluten sensitivity can cause all sorts of noise

Gluten sensitivity can cause all sorts of noise

Be sure to visit my blog on immune boosting foods too. I love it when my clients tell me their kids are not getting sick for the first time in years, once we begin thorough and individualized nutrition support. If that sounds good, let’s talk soon! Contact me here or schedule your time to speak with me by choosing an option here.

Kid Snacks To Replenish and Nourish Adrenal Glands

Kid Snacks To Replenish and Nourish Adrenal Glands

How do you get a fast between-meal feed for your kids without (a) slaving in the kitchen or (b) selling out to processed starchy filler from a box? We don’t always have time to make the gluten free sweet potato brownies or Paleo salted chocolate bacon bark. And it’s not great to rely on chips or cheese crackers day in and day out, even if they’re the gluten-free, super cute organic bunny version (it’s still empty processed food).

Kids need food and plenty of water all day long. They’re growing; both the athletes and the couch potatoes are burning more fuel per pound than you or I as adults. Many of my clients forget that their kids aren’t little adults. Sure, they can (usually) grow on the processed stuff: Mac and cheese, pasta, pizza, crackers, chips, fruit leather, cookies, power bars, cereal, squeezable yogurt, candy here and there. But you may be amazed at how different your kids act, grow, behave, and function, when you commit to less processed food and more real food.


One of the “meh” things about processed snacks for kids is that they’re mostly starch, and weak on minerals, protein, or healthy fats. Doesn’t matter if they’re organic, gluten free, vegan, or blessed by your favorite guru. It’s still simple processed starch – which rushes blood sugar up. In response, an insulin kick soon follows, to bring blood sugar back down and help it into cells.

Snacking on starchy sugary stuff day after day can lead to adrenal fatigue, because of the yo yo effect this drops on the pancreas, adrenals, and gut over and over. When insulin jumps to adjust a sudden sugar bolt from a starchy snack, next thing you know, blood sugar can drop too fast. That’s when adrenal glands help by popping out some cortisol. Cortisol is a fight or flight hormone that keeps blood sugar at the ready and suppresses insulin. Cortisol is released when we are under extreme stress; it sets off a cascade of metabolic effects to get you wide eyed and ready to do combat or flee. One of its jobs is to keep blood glucose on the level, when we really need it.

Normally, we have a steady daily cortisol rhythm that helps us sleep at night, maintain mostly level energy during the day, and feel alert in the morning. But with a routine of starchy processed food (or chronic stress, anxiety, or illness), kids are thrown into that metabolic yo yo every day. Kids who are prone to anxiety and relying on starchy grainy food can suffer undue angst with this eating pattern, because it triggers bigger pendulum swings in mood, energy, and self regulation.

Stressful Day Young Boy

Over time, this is a debilitating scenario. Chronically elevated cortisol feels exhausting. It also suppresses immune function, escalates anxiety, and can make your child more prone to infections. Though usual lab tests for adrenal function have reference ranges too wide to detect early adrenal fatigue, many providers can use symptoms and more sensitive saliva tests to check this more precisely.

How does this show up? Tantrums, crashes when hungry, can’t get moving in the morning, difficulty sleeping through the night, ongoing anxiety, chronic fatigue, frequent illnesses and infections (cortisol is released with illness too), hyperactivity followed by meltdowns… all of these signal a need for support for those hard working adrenal glands, which need minerals from whole food (not pills, though those are better than nothing!).. and some soothing healthy fats and oils.

Rotate in these actual-food snacks to avoid the insulin-cortisol roller coaster. and give your kids extra minerals, fats, oils and maybe a little protein too. Much better than chips every single day, though there’s no problem with having them in the rotation sometimes too. These can travel in zip lock bags or travel cup, or thermos for lunches. You’ll notice that fresh fruits don’t feature big in this list. That’s because they are great sources of vitamins, fiber, and phytonutrients that may have immune modulating benefits… but are not so great for the soothing minerals that our adrenal glands love.

Pumpkin seeds from jarRoasted Pumpkin Seeds – The favorite in my house are the spicy roasted ones (we need gluten free; they’re available plain, seasoned, raw, or roasted – check seasoning ingredients). Potassium, iron, and magnesium are the stand out minerals here. Kids who like really salty, spicy foods may go for these. Fine to work in some raisins, almonds, or cashews if trail mix suits your gang better.

Popcorn – What? Not the microwave stuff…

Coconut oil in panUnpopped corn in pan

Buy a jar of organic, non-GMO popping corn. Use a heavy flat bottom skillet with vertical sides. Cover the bottom of the skillet with 1/8″ to 1/4″ (not more!) of a good quality high heat organic oil, like non GMO canola or safflower oil. Then cover the bottom with a single layer of kernels – with some room in between. Cover, turn on high heat… and listen. In about the same time you would microwave a bag of corn, you have fresh, real-thing popcorn in a much healthier version and no toxic chemicals from a microwave bag. Remove the popped corn from the skillet to bowl once it stops popping – don’t wait or it will burn. Place a 1-2 Tablespoon blob of organic coconut oil in the skillet with the heat off. Let it melt. You can either pour the popped corn back into the skillet to coat it with the oil, or vice versa – pour the oil on the corn – and toss with good culinary sea or Himalayan salt. You can also use ghee for those sensitive to coconut. This is a more delicious treat than you’d expect. Though it’s not as fabulous on minerals as pumpkin seeds, it makes up for it with healthy fats, some protein, fiber, and cancer-fighting polyphenols. An easy do-ahead, if you need to pack some in the car or school lunch.

Cherry or Grape Tomatoes – In summer, you can’t go wrong. These are the ultimate finger food and the juicy squish-in-your-mouth is a plus for some kids. Local, organic ones often taste so sweet they Orange cherry tomatoesalmost feel like candy. Put these out and you may be surprised how they disappear. Fun to find different colors – from sunny yellow to orange to deep red, see which ones your kids like best. Skip the mega market non-organic ones, which lack flavor and feel like dry bullets to eat (IMHO!). Natural source for vitamins A and C, a smidge of calcium and iron, and sodium – which your adrenal glands actually need.

Kale Chips – You can actually buy these now (expensive): Oven roasted, salted kale chips are handy for feeding our adrenals with calcium, potassium, sodium, and phosphorus. They are simple to make too, if you have the chance, and really yummy when hot from the oven. Rinse and chop kale, removing the chewiest stems. Pat it dry and place it in a bowl. Work melted coconut oil or melted ghee with your fingers throughout the kale, rubbing both sides of the leaves to coat with oil. Toss with good quality salt and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 12 minutes, or until crisp and darkened. Even the staunchest vegetable-haters may melt for these salty, crispy treats.

Sweet Bell Peppers – Take advantage of these in season and buy crisp organic brightly colored orange, red, or yellow sweet peppers. Wash, remove seeds and membranes, and lay out strips for crunching on. They’re juicy, sweet, crisp, and play well with all sorts of dips, from hummus to Ranch to lime aioli. Big on beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin C but still a good option for potassium and a sprinkling of phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium. Also good for crunchy snap and sweetness: Sugar snap pea pods (open shell and pop raw peas in mouth!)  and young asparagus tips (young and narrow tips and stems are good eating, with or without a dip).

Avocado – Stock up on these and eat when the stem plug drops off with an easy press of your thumb. Avocados have magnesium, potassium, a good bit of fiber, and even a little protein. And the ample fats in an avocado are excellent for avoiding the sugar roller coaster and calming kids with a steady, slow release energy source. Toss ripe soft chunks with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and sunflower seeds for even more minerals, protein, fiber and fats. Or you can make guacamole in a heartbeat by mashing it with a little garlic (fresh minced or garlic salt), salsa, and lemon juice, to boost your kids’ favorite chips into a better snack.

Got Broth? – As cooler temps approach, I like to have a jar or two of homemade broth on hand, and I make this from whole chicken (after roasting and enjoying the meat, keep the carcass, bones, and innards; simmer for a day with rosemary, thyme, sage, garlic, black pepper, some lemon or white wine, and good salt). Pour some out on a chilly afternoon, and sip plain. Broth gives soothing minerals plus a bit of protein and fats.  This also makes a fair breakfast for kids who are slow movers and not keen on eating early in the morning. Or for more heft, stir in some left over quinoa, fresh minced cilantro, scallion, some baby bok choy, Thai basil… and you have a reasonable facsimile of pho that makes ramen noodles look like… ramen noodles. Once again, adrenal-favorite minerals abound in this quick after-school soup for a cold day: Potassium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous. If making broth isn’t your thing, good quality organic stocks like Imagine or Pacific brands – beef, chicken, and vegetable – are readily available in quart boxes that don’t need refrigeration til opened. You can stir in that left over pasta, rice, or whatever your kid likes.

Like Juicing? Have A VitaMix? – Add celery, cucumber, fresh leaves of cilantro, parsley, or basil, raw ginger root, whole lemon,  apple, or any dark leafy greens to your kids’ favorite smoothies. If your juicer does not have a strainer, peel the cucumber and ginger root before juicing. These foods and herbs are soothers for stressed adrenals too. Good to combine with carrot, berries, peaches, pears, melon – let your kids choose and experiment for more buy-in.

Cantaloupe smoothie

Enjoy! I’m sure I’ve forgotten so many other good ideas for mineral-rich snacks… we didn’t even get to chocolate. Add your ideas and thanks for stopping by my blog.

Do Kids Need Protein Powders? Which Ones Work, Which Ones Are Safe

Do Kids Need Protein Powders? Which Ones Work, Which Ones Are Safe

Protein powders line the shelves just about anywhere groceries are sold – from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods to conventional supermarket chains – not to mention the countless choices on line. Can they work for kids? Do your kids need protein powders? Are they safe? Yes, maybe, and that depends. Here’s the scoop on knowing which ones to use, how, and when.

Do protein powders work? Protein powders can help your child grow and gain better, behave and function better, and fight infection better, but only when they are needed. In my pediatric nutrition practice, I have witnessed impressive improvements for children when these are used in the right circumstance. They do work if your kid needs the extra protein support, if they are used consistently (daily for weeks at least), and if you match your kid’s nutrition needs to what the protein powder offers. Plenty of kids I’ve helped have poor appetites and can’t/won’t/don’t eat the protein they actually need every day; others are so entrenched in a failed growth pattern that they need more-than-usual amounts of protein to catch up. In those cases, protein powders are a good helper.

But…protein powders don’t work if your kids refuse them, if you pick the wrong protein powder for your child’s needs, if your child doesn’t need it at all (but needs a different nutrition fix), or if you use the wrong amounts (too much or too little can backfire).

Many parents ask me for a protein powder recommendation because their kids aren’t growing well. Protein powders only fix that problem if the child doesn’t eat enough protein. There are other reasons why growth can falter – and if protein intake or absorption isn’t among them in your child’s case, then a protein powder won’t help. In fact, too much protein at the expense of healthy carbs and starches in a child’s diet can cause stunting, and I have witnessed this many times.

Used incorrectly, extra protein can cause more trouble for kids. I have seen this occur in my pediatric nutrition practice when doctors place children in growth failure on products like Pediasure, Boost, Muscle Milk, or Ensure. It’s not unusual for a milk protein allergy to be underneath the growth and feeding problems, but this is often overlooked. The doctor won’t have screened for allergies or sensitivities first, before telling a family to rely on these milk protein based formulas. What happens next is frustrating: Weeks, months and even years are wasted as the child continues to struggle with poor growth, low vitality, frequent infections, and the inevitable mood and focus problems. Pediasure, Boost, Muscle Milk, and Ensure are based on milk protein – which can worsen growth, feeding, and progress if there is an undiagnosed milk protein allergy. Knowing what type of protein (soy? dairy? egg? hemp? pea? amino acids? meats? poultry? fish? nuts/seeds?) your child can use is important. I assess this with thorough food antibody testing.

If your child doesn’t need it, a protein powder won’t add nutritional value, and may not be worth the extra cost – unless your kids just like the stuff and it gives them a fun option to have a daily smoothie boost. In that case, all good! Use it to pack in fresh fruits, veggies, or even fresh herbs like basil, ginger root or mint leaves – all of which add phytonutrients and anti-inflammatory support.

Kids who eat a varied diet with plenty of protein sources probably don’t need a protein powder. “Varied” means eating more than just one kind of protein. It means your child gets protein from different foods every day, like eggs, green beans, peas, other legumes, beans, meats, poultry, nuts, seeds, or grains like rice paired with beans, organic corn, buckwheat, amaranth, whole organic wheat, and so on.

In contrast, kids who only eat dairy and wheat protein (yogurt, milk, cheese, mac and cheese, crackers, cookies, bread, pasta, pizza) often do not get an adequate diet. They may be overfed or growing like gangbusters – but they are malnourished for minerals, vitamins, diverse proteins, and essential fats. This definitely impairs functioning in kids. Even when they eat enough total protein daily, if it’s from just one type of food, they can easily suffer nutrition deficits. A protein powder may help, but emphasis here would be needed on diversity and on those micronutrients too.

How much protein is enough? School age kids who are healthy and growing normally need a bit more than half their weight daily, in grams of protein. So, a child weighing 70 pounds needs at least 40-50 grams of high value protein every day, spread through out the day. Growth failure, allergies, frequent illness, inflammatory conditions, activity levels (think high intensity sports), and injuries change protein needs. Getting professional guidance will assure your child gets the best food for his or her best health and ability potential.

When do kids need protein supplements? If kids are functioning well and growing and gaining weight, they probably don’t need a protein powder. Functioning well means they can grow as expected (they don’t drop more than fifteen percentile points on a growth chart for weight or height). It also means they can do important things like sleep soundly and wake rested, play energetically, behave in age-appropriate ways, pay attention and focus appropriately for age, fight off usual infections without complications or long courses of illness, have few infections, and have fun. If your kid struggles in any of these areas more than you think is their “normal”, or if you just have a hunch something is off kilter, the right protein support may make a huge difference.

protein powder scoops

Check this list of reasons to consider protein powders for kids. Does your toddler, child, or teen fit any of these?

  • Doesn’t eat protein-rich food like meat, fish, eggs, mixed bean/rice/legume/corn dishes, nuts and seeds or their butters – for any reason (texture aversions, gagging or spits our meats, eggs, ground meats, mixed dishes like chili or stews with meats, allergies)
  • Has a picky appetite that relies mostly on dairy (yogurt, cheese, milk products) and wheat (bagels, pasta, bread, pizza, crackers, pretzels, starchy baked treats or granola bars)
  • Has food allergies, sensitivities, or any reactions that limit access to proteins (can’t eat dairy, egg, nuts, gluten, etc)
  • Has a history of growth failure or slow growth pattern, is shorter than expected, or has been called “just small” by your doctor
  • Has anxiety, poor sleep, night terrors, frequent waking, mood disorders, or conduct disorders
  • Lost a school placement due to disruptive behavior
  • Gets colds, bugs, sniffy nose often, and takes longer than siblings or friends to shake it off
  • Has hair that looks thin, lacking in color, dull, or has no shine to it
  • Nails crack and peel easily
  • Cuts seem to heal more slowly than usual

The right protein support has potential to resolve all of these problems. Other cases may need deeper and more comprehensive nutrition overhaul (such as kids who have low protein, poor total intake, and are deep into an oppositional, aggressive, or ADHD pattern). But starting with strong protein may be a quick test to get your child feeling better.

OK – Trying a protein powder for your kids? Know This  👇🏽

Protein powders come from animal and plant sources. Animal sources are whey, egg, egg shell membrane, collagen (which can come from livestock animals, fish, chicken, or egg shells), or bone broth collagen. Plant-based protein powders abound too, which can work for vegetarian or vegan diets. Plant sourced protein powders are derived from many foods including soy, pea, coconut, pumpkin seed, rice protein concentrate, peanut, or other nuts and seeds. Any protein powder can be had plain, flavored, sweetened, unsweetened, or with or without myriad other functional ingredients like vitamins, minerals, or herb extracts.

But know this: Making protein powders can be a dirty business. To get collagen out of animals and turn it into your daily protein powder smoothie boost, animal by-products (skin, hide, bones, joints, cartilage, tendons, scales from fish, connective tissue) are boiled down into gelatin. This is hydrolyzed enzymatically into smaller protein fragments called peptides, which we can readily absorb. Most beef collagen peptides come from discarded cattle hide, which may have already been treated heavily with acid, sulfides, chromium, bleach and other chemicals before processing into collagen peptides. Bone broth collagen peptides may be less contaminated with the soaking agents used on hides, but intensive factory farming practices can concentrate heavy metals in animals’ bones too. Plant protein powders are problematic for the same reason – contaminated soils will see toxins taken up by plants, which in turn fix them into the plant tissue, and then these become concentrated in protein powders.

Enter the Clean Label Project, which recently tested several plant and animal protein powders for contaminants. You can read their full findings here. Arsenic, chromium, cadmium, lead and mercury have been found in most protein powders to different degrees, whether they are plant or animal based. These metals target fatty tissues like liver, brain, nerve tissue and kidney, and can take years to be excreted from the body, if they are at all. This is why small doses on the regular can be so troublesome! Though no one collagen powder in the chart below exceeded unsafe levels of metals in a serving (good news), this becomes problematic when more than one serving is used daily or when these are eaten daily for long periods of time – which is how protein powders work best when they are needed!

The Clean Label Project chose BioOptimal Unflavored Collagen, NeoCell Super Collagen, and Puori CP1 Pure Collagen Peptides as their top cleanest picks for collagen protein powders.

Plant protein powders can contain metals, mycotoxins, pesticides, BPA, and other toxins – read the full Clean Label Project report here on plant protein powders. Either way, look for full commitment to clean production and processing, and third party testing for heavy metals and other toxins. Avoid products from plants and animals sourced in China, where agricultural contaminants are even less regulated than they are in the US.

And here’s a twist: Organic plant protein powders had even more toxic heavy metals in them than non-organic, which researchers attribute to the powders being plant based rather than organic. Meanwhile, organics had much less cancer-causing BPAs. The Consumer Reports synopsis – including which powders were best and worst – can be found here. Overall, the worst findings were in mostly plant based protein powders, while a few bands of whey and egg protein powders proved cleanest.

Whey Protein Powders – Whey protein powders were among the cleanest reviewed. But what is whey anyway?

Whey is one of the proteins in milk. About 20% of the protein in cow’s milk is whey, while 80% is casein. You’ve probably seen  those giant tubs of whey on store shelves, with muscles all over the label, to appeal to body builders. Skip those. They usually have other ingredients your child doesn’t need (especially sugar, or minerals and vitamins at excessive potencies) and they don’t test well for toxins and metals.

Look for organic, unsweetened whey protein powder and mix it with cold or warm foods, or add it to baking recipes. It blends well in smoothies and adds a pleasant fluffy texture. Whey protein – with its good amino acid profile and immunoglobulins – has strong evidence for helping muscle mass and immune function. Babies and kids who don’t do well with casein may do fine with whey, but not always. Blood tests can discern this, when elimination diets are too cumbersome or time consuming to work through.

Whey protein is where nature puts the immune power pack, when it comes to milk. For whey content, human milk is nearly opposite of cow’s milk: We make milk with only about 40% casein, but 60% whey. Whey has lactalbumin, lactoglobulin, lactoferrin, and other immunoglobulins that fight infection and build immune strength. These cysteine-rich proteins are also excellent glutathione precursors. Glutathione is our go-to molecule to remove toxins, reduce inflammation, and support vigorous immunity. Buying whey that is not denatured ensures that these delicate but potent proteins stay viable. Denatured proteins are proteins that are heated or processed so much, they lose their original shape – and, their original actions as immune modulators. They may also become more allergenic, since their shapes differ from what the body may be able to digest. For my patients, I like Well Wisdom Vital Whey Protein from grass fed, non-GMO milk. It ticks all the boxes for a clean, high purity product that leaves those delicate but powerful immunoglobulins in tact:

  • cold processed
  • whey concentrate versus isolate, to include some of the natural fats and lactose (choose isolate if you want to avoid lactose)
  • tested for heavy metals
  • hormone free
  • grass-fed and organic

Soy Protein Powders – Whether it’s in a power bar, a powder, infant formula, or a protein boosted juice drink, I’m not a fan. Soy in the US is overwhelmingly genetically modified. GMO foods are not allowed for human consumption in most the developed world. They are under scrutiny for causing more allergy and many other ill health effects. Soy crops may also concentrate glyphosate, the pesticide recently dubbed “probably” carcinogenic by the World Health Organization. The high levels of herbicide glyphosate that GMO crops are engineered to withstand stays in the food you eat, and injures the helpful gut bacteria that humans depend on for digestion, immune function, and protective barrier for invasive microbes. Soy is also a potent phytoestrogen, so if you’re not a post-menopausal woman (and even if you are) it isn’t a protein powder you should be eating every day.

There are so many reasons why I don’t like concentrated processed GMO soy protein, especially for babies, who are busy developing a healthy gut biome in their first years (glyphosate kills healthy gut bacteria in humans). Healthy gut flora are critical for preventing allergy, asthma, and other vulnerabilities later in childhood or even later in life. Eating food crops engineered to produce their own glyphosate (which is what GMO food crops do) is perhaps one of the most devastating thing we can do to a baby human gut!

More reasons I don’t like soy protein supplements: Unfermented, highly processed, and concentrated soy protein is hard to digest, can bind other nutrients, disrupts thyroid and estrogen function, and may trigger allergy just as often as casein from cow’s milk. I don’t recommend it as  daily protein for kids. Eaten from an organic source, in small amounts, in its natural state or fermented, such as in tempeh, miso, shoyu, tamari, or natto – this is fine, but your child will need other proteins. Tofu and edamame are not fermented, so I suggest using these in smaller amounts for children. I know opinions vary; this is my take, after nearly twenty years in practice with infants and children.

Rice Protein Powders – There are some issues here. Rice lacks lysine, an essential amino acid. That means that by itself, rice is not a good protein source (because humans must eat lysine; we can’t make it ourselves), so most manufacturers add lysine and possibly other amino acids to shore it up. If you prefer a rice protein powder, look for that lysine addition. But, even rice protein powders that say they are “concentrated” or raw and sprouted can’t match the amino acid profile of animal proteins like whey, meat, or eggs. Rice protein still must to be augmented with some amino acids to work, especially for kids needing a protein boost.

Next drawback: Rice protein powders are notoriously high for toxic heavy metals, especially arsenic. Organic farming methods may concentrate metals like this even more (a benefit for detoxifying soils, but not so much for daily consumption over long periods of time!).

Lastly, rice protein powders can feel gritty and have a strong taste (especially brown rice source). I’ve found that they are often rejected by kids with oral texture issues and picky appetites, where collagen and whey products can disappear more readily in liquids or soft foods.

If rice protein is still your choice, go with a product like this one that claims to monitor heavy metals and contaminants. It is the only vegan protein powder I have found that makes that claim. It also combines rice with pea protein for a more complete functional protein that adds lysine and arginine. Caveat: Kids with casein or soy sensitivity may not do well with pea protein concentrates, but it’s worth a try.

Hemp Protein – Helpful for kids who can’t manage other proteins due to sensitivity or allergy, but there are mixed reviews on whether it is enough of a boost for kids needing strong support, and again, on the heavy metal toxicity of this plant. How the hemp is grown and processed affects its amino acid profile and toxic load; some hemp protein products claim to have all amino acids essential to humans in them, some don’t. Hemp is rich for amino’s that help us make globulins, similar to proteins we make for immune function; other peptides in it may have beneficial antioxidant effects. Either way, two heaping tablespoons may only add 5-8 grams of protein, which is less than most other  protein supplements. Hemp has more essential fats and more fiber than other protein powders, which is good and bad: Good for the nutrients (hens fed hemp seeds lay eggs with more healthy fats in them), but maybe too much texture for picky eaters who are used to smooth. Hemp protein powder is also dark green, so it won’t hide well in concoctions for kids who are averse to fruits or vegetables in their smoothies. There is a nice profile of minerals like magnesium and zinc in hemp protein powder, and it’s more digestible than soy.  If your child is good with the texture of nuts and seeds, but has allergy to these, try whole hemp seeds in snacks instead. They’re tiny like sesame seeds, but soft and chewy, and can work in smoothies, granola, or sprinkled on salads. They can have a strong taste.

Spirulina and Blue Green Algae – Yes, it was used by the Aztecs centuries ago, when they harvested and dried spirulina from lakes in a then-pristine environment. How about now? It is a complete protein, also rich in vitamins and minerals, but falls somewhere between egg and lower value plant proteins for its amino acid profile. Because of this, more if it has to be eaten to get enough for the tissue re-build young kids need when struggling with protein intake and absorption (same problem as hemp protein on that score); this can trigger loose stools. Bonuses: Spirulina has shown some capacity to reduce histamine (less allergy); it has carotenoids in it that can promote eye health; and other phytochemicals in it may have protective effects against certain cancers. Many other health claims are out there for it, but these aren’t well studied in people. It’s decidedly green, and will add that color to anything you stir it into, which can once again really throw kids sensitized to texture or color changes in food. Whether or not blue green algae protein powder can be had today minus the pollutants and toxins everywhere in our environment (heavy metals, pesticides) is up to the manufacturer to monitor and declare (don’t wait for the FDA to do that for you!). Not to be confused with Spirutein, which is a soy protein concentrate mixed with some spirulina from algae; some Spirutein offerings also blend in pea and rice. Like any plant protein powder, commit to a product that tests for heavy metals and toxins like Nutrex Hawaii Spirulina.

Free Amino Acids – I’ve said “amino” a lot in this post!

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein molecules. Nature created about 22 of these amino building blocks, and we must eat a certain 8-11 of these every day from foods to survive, because we can’t make them ourselves. So, proteins are compared based on their amino acid profiles. Any protein will usually have all of the amino acids present in some amount. The question is, how much of each one? Proteins like egg are high in all of the essential amino’s that we have to eat. No plant proteins are, unless they are augmented or processed to boost their profiles, or unless you eat a lot of that one protein (as would be true for eating hemp or blue green algae proteins). Eating plant proteins with other plant proteins that fill in the missing amino’s for each other is how vegetarians and vegans eat well, and this is also how some of the protein supplement products out there are boosted – they’re paired up.

Thorne Amino-Complex-Lemon-webSo what about eating free amino acids, instead of protein that must be broken down? You can do that too, and this can be a very good tool for kids with injured, inflamed, or delicate guts. Multiple food allergy children can benefit here too. I use free amino acid supplements often for these children. The FDA regulates these as “medical foods”, and you can buy them over the counter, as in a product like Thorne Amino Complex, or in specialized formulas, like Neocate, Elecare, or just as pharmaceutical grade amino acid powder. I have used all of the above with impressive results in infants, toddlers, and kids – with a total, integrated nutrition are plan in place. In some cases, free amino acids can be prescribed and covered on insurance.

Take away? Kids who have anything on my bullet list above need nutrition support, and the right protein powder may be a good strategy.