|Raw Food for Real Kids|
|Written by Rod and Jeannette Rotondi|
Let’s face it – anything related to the health of our kids is controversial, and oftentimes contentious, making writing about a non-mainstream approach to children’s nutrition daunting. Yet we suggest the vast majority of parents in this country are feeding their children a less than optimum diet, which is the root of many ongoing health challenges.
Our two-and-a-half year old daughter Lilli is healthy, happy and physically strong and coordinated. She has been eating a predominantly raw food diet since birth. She loves seaweed for breakfast, guzzles green juice, grabs a handful of kale salad off someone else’s plate and stuffs it in her mouth with a big smile and has never eaten refined sugar or flour. She doesn’t know the taste of sugar cereals, soda pop, French fries, meat or dairy products. And she loves food. She even loves making food with us!
We feel great about feeding our child the uncompromised nourishment of a well-balanced organic living foods diet with fruit, vegetables (including sea vegetables and fermented foods like sauerkraut), sprouted grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Live food contains enzymes, balanced nutrients, structured water and yes, plenty of protein.
Some people ask with concern, “Aren’t you afraid your child won’t get enough nutrition without cooked foods?” While that is a reasonable question since virtually every child in America eats predominantly cooked foods, most of the empirical evidence even in the mainstream realm indicates that for the most part food loses nutritional value when it is cooked. Yes, there are apparent exceptions such as increased lycopene content from cooking tomatoes, but do we really understand all the implications of high heat processing food?1
Digestive enzymes are destroyed by heat greater than 118 degrees Farenheit. Stockholm University researchers found evidence of acrylamides (a known carcinogen) in carbohydrate-rich foods heated to high temperature.2 Furthermore, 90% of the typical American food budget is sunk in processed foods, and 75% of processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients.3
If we view our eating habits from a broader perspective, we might notice that every other animal on the planet feeds its young raw foods, including our other mammalian family members,
Needless to say, the benefit of our primate’s opposable thumbs and human craniums, not to mention our Promethean leap, gives us the choice of cooking. However, we might notice animals in nature have low incidences of degenerative diseases whereas those fed cooked foods suffer from higher incidences.4 We might also consider that humans ate raw foods before the proliferation of cooking fires.
We don’t suggest you immediately eliminate all cooked foods from your child’s diet. We are instead offering our experience and information that might help you gradually adjust your children’s relationship with food and the nutrition they absorb.
Nutrition is more than a prescription for recipes and meals. It is an opportunity for every parent to help forge for their kids a good healthy and happy relationship with food. A good example is often the best teacher, so a parent’s own relationship with food offers a potent role model.
Our relationship with food begins with the soil, and it was not so long ago, when most Americans farmed, even just in a backyard garden. Now this is the exception. Yet a home garden, herbs in pots or jars of simple kitchen sprouts with delicious and nutritious foods such as chick peas or alfalfa can spark kids’ interest in food. Our daughter has fun watering plants, loves to nibble on sunflower greens, and, let’s face it, picking your own luscious tomatoes is a special treat. Even in the city we can grow herbs in pots.
Let’s start at the beginning: infants. We are mammals, and breast milk is nature’s finest, most complete baby food. Mother’s milk is sweet, creamy and easy to digest, containing simple sugars and free amino acids as well as plenty of good essential fatty acids. Its composition changes daily responding to the unique needs of the developing child, including the presence of immune-supporting antibodies and brain nutrients such as GLA and DHA. No other food or manmade concoction can ever be as perfectly balanced and appropriate for an infant than its mother’s milk.
The World Health Organization recommends that children are exclusively breastfed during the first six months of their lives. The lining of the intestines needs to mature. If solid foods are given before that process is complete, risks for allergies increase significantly.5
Keep in mind that the mother’s diet is critically important because it affects the quality of the milk and it sets up the food preferences of the child. When the mother eats a well-balanced raw food diet with correct supplementation her milk is likely to contain optimum nutrition. We recommend a DHA supplement to support infant development and simultaneously decrease the possibility of postpartum depression.6
It is essential for vegan nursing moms to supplement with B127 daily and damage from B12 deficiencies is irreversible. Research has shown that there are no longer any reliable absorbable vegan sources of this important nutrient that is vital for proper development of the child’s nervous system.
During the first years of life, humans need mother’s milk for optimal development. If breastfeeding is not possible, fresh goat’s milk is preferred over cow’s milk. We do not recommend substituting breast milk with plant-based alternatives such as nut milk because, according to most studies, they do not provide sufficient nutrition during infancy and until teeth have come in.There is also evidence that soy milk, which is a heat-processed food, is not an optimal food for children as its high estrogen content may be unbalancing to the fragile hormonal system of the growing child.9
Adding Solid Foods
Introduction of solid foods should be done gradually according to the physical development of the child’s digestive system (it takes approximately three years to fully develop). During the first two years of life, children need 50% of their caloric intake from fat - good fats! No wonder the perfect first solid foods to introduce are soft, tree-ripened sweet fruit and especially fatty fruits such as avocado and olives. Avocados are nature’s perfect baby food. A little green vegetable juice diluted with water can also be given.
Once a child wants more variety, but does not have most of their teeth, especially molars, we can expand their food choices considerably by pre-chewing complex carbohydrate foods. We appreciate that many will consider this bizarre and irrational. But please consider that many animals and even other cultures do this and have done it throughout the ages. While many consider this primitive and ignorant, it delivers far superior nutrition to the baby than cooking.
Pre-chewing breaks down complex carbohydrates through digestive enzymes present in the parent’s saliva. Infants do not manufacture these enzymes in sufficient quantities. The emergence of the child’s molars tends to coincide with the development of sufficient enzyme production quantity.10 If the foods are not pre-chewed and eaten frequently, complex carbohydrates can impair proper development of the digestive tract.
Many pediatricians discourage the practice of pre-chewing because viruses and bacteria can be transferred to the child. Our experience has been positive, especially with pre-chewing tougher green leafy vegetables.
After weaning, children, teens and adults can get all nutrients, except Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D (when there is not enough exposure to sunlight), from a plant-based diet. Lilli loves to help make juice from mineral-rich dark green leafy vegetables which supply iron, calcium and other essential minerals. Her favorite salad is kale-avocado, which she sometimes enjoys with a little extra tahini, which is an exceptionally high source of calcium. (See the recipe on the LA Yoga website).
Protein: Myths and Facts
How much protein do kids actually need? The correct ratio is about one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day during the first year of life. This drops to about half a gram of protein per pound in the second through fifteenth year.11
If children eat enough calories from a balanced living foods diet, they get plenty of protein. Excellent sources of protein are broccoli, leafy greens, chick peas, lentils, nuts and seeds. Soaking and sprouting legumes, nuts and seeds actually helps to pre-digest the nutrients and increases the amount of bioavailable protein. The richest whole-food sources of protein are micro-algaes such as spirulina and chlorella. Spirulina protein is 95% digestible. Beef protein is estimated to be only 20% digestible.12
Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of nourishing children with foods that increase ojas (life-force, vitality and immunity). Breast milk, bee pollen, almond milk, young coconuts, avocados and olives are excellent ojas-building foods.
Sweets for the Sweet
Juicy, ripe fruits and berries satisfy the appetite for sweetness and also contain vital minerals, vitamins, phytonutrients and structured water.
Fruit juices should not be a staple of a balanced diet as the high sugar-content without fiber strains the pancreas.
The reality is that most kids in the U.S. are addicted to sugar. This addiction may contribute to childhood obesity, diabetes and ADHD. A recent study by Pennsylvania State University revealed that for children two or three years old, average consumption of added sugar is 14 teaspoons a day. Among four and five year-olds, this number jumped to 17 teaspoons daily.
Living foods are an alternative to sugar-rich meals. Making living meals is easy, fast and fun.
Living Food Meals
Buckwheat Breakfast Feast
Buckwheat is gluten-free, and sprouting is optimal to unlock the dormant nutrient power, making this a great alternative to the traditional grain breakfast.
2 cups buckwheat sprouts
1/4 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
1 1/2 cups fresh fruits and berries
chopped walnuts or pecans
In a food processor, combine buckwheat sprouts, avocado and a pinch of salt and process until desired consistency. Spread onto a serving dish and top with seasonal fruits and berries, such as sliced peaches, mangos, strawberries and blueberries. Garnish with chopped walnuts or pecans.
Fruit smoothies are a great way to make quick food for kids. Check out Rod Rotondi’s raw food nut milk and smoothie recipes in the December 2007/January 2008 and February 2008 issues of LA YOGA. You can even sneak some greens in and they won’t even know it. Add in a handful of de-stemmed kale or spinach or some goji berries, green powder, bee pollen or chlorella for an extra nutritional boost.
We recommend serving kids smoothies at room temperature or only slightly cooled. Cold food impairs digestion and is detrimental for developing gastrointestinal function. From an Ayurvedic perspective, childhood is the kapha (water/earth) time in life, which requires warming foods.
Smoothie Recipe: Virgin Pina Colada
Water and meat of 1 young coconut
1 cup of pineapple
Blend until smooth and serve.
When incorporating live food meals, keep in mind that buying organic ensures the avoidance of pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified foods and other harmful substances. Air quality and clean drinking water are also vital. If you are incorporting whole foods, you may also want to evaluate controversial vaccination and sun screens. Finally, the thoughtfully employed use of homeopathy and herbal medicine can often be an excellent alternative to allopathic treatments, not only restoring health, but leaving a strengthened immune system and a stronger child.
The information given here represents the opinions and recommendations of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of LA YOGA Ayurveda and Health magazine. The information given here is for educational purposes only.
Rod Rotondi is founder and executive chef of Leaf Cuisine. Rod teaches courses in raw food preparation. www.leafcuisine.com