Monday, February 3, 2014

Why I Immunize: Part II

The second in the long series here in My Messy Mom world on finding ways to protect our kids and supply reasonable choices for various health practices is about the medicine of healthy food.  While I briefly touched on this is about the medicine of healthy food.  While I briefly touched on this information in part one at the end under sanitary food handling, there is a wider range of things about food that need to be considered carefully.

Why I Immunize: Part II - Healthy Diet Choices

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." - Hippocrates

I cannot in all cases say that food is the only solution, but healthy choices can and do provide the benefit of less frequent need for medical intervention in some cases.  As parents, this becomes even more vital.  Our children are dependent on their parents for providing healthy foods and building a foundation for them at infancy.  This starts with the healthy weight gain and balanced diet of a mother in pregnancy, something I am working hard on at the moment while battling through unexpected complications as we approach the final countdown to delivery.

A classic food pyramid graphic as found at Orchard Advisors,
a great source for business blogs I read often.
There are hundreds of ideas on what is the best dietary choice, all with their own debatable facts.  Personal choice about the ethics of vegetarian or vegan ideals plays as strong a part in choosing meals as the desire to find something palatable to the tongue for the moment.  I will neither preach absolute veganism nor the more carnivorous path, but suggest that just like sugars and other ingredients a path of moderation be observed.  Please consult your health professional before making any drastic changes in diet and understand that while weight does play a part in overall health, extremes of any kind come with realistic concerns.

I'm a big fan of history and learn all kinds of ridiculous trivia through nerdy interests and this lends well to fun facts about the essential foods for avoiding disease.  One of those fun facts is helpful when discussing how proper food choice can directly impact developing a serious problem.
Non-scurvy carrying pirate with parrot.
ⒸAkelis Studios Photography 2013
Vitamin C is well known as an essential part of establishing a healthy immune system.  While there is no viable proof that increased intake prevents infection rates, the consensus of data does support a notable shortening of cold duration and severity.  While many mammals are able to self produce balanced levels of the micro-nutrients however many higher primates are unable to perform this action internally leaving it all to balanced diet with these delicious foods, my favorite being a strawberry-kiwi smoothie.

While overdose is rare, a well known historical disease is directly linked to deficiency in Vitamin C.  I am talking here about that bane of pirates everywhere... Scurvy! An interesting issue, it was common in sailors and pirates long out at sea with less access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  The primary signs of scurvy included such visible extremes that the romanticized images of pirate life now always include the rough, discolored skin and missing or damaged teeth.  Amazingly, this deadly condition has an exceptionally simple solution that was not known at the time and provides us with a great reference for how balanced diets are vital.

No matter your take on humans as omnivores or herbivores, the need for our foods to be free from harmful chemicals and excessive toxins like those found in some commercial farming.  Vegetation as food is key to our survival on this planet to feed the ever growing population.  For this reason I suggest learning about farmer's markets near you and community gardens where your direct requests or involvement can and will influence the produce.  There is on-going debate about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and their safety even though approved by the USDA.  Though I am far from perfect as a parent, I cannot support these things as the evidence of long term damage is far too overwhelming to be ignored and is often being silenced for financial benefit.

As for what types of produce to request, that might depend on your needs but here is a pregnancy friendly graphic I adore because it highlights the reasons for some cravings and alternative foods you may want to add to your diet if not already there.  My doctor provided me with an even more in depth version which has plastered my fridge since my first pregnancy and I am always writing in even more and I learn about homeopathic food treatments.

For those with a pre-existing condition ,there is a need to understand where dietary elements are found and how to maintain or manage. Celiac disease, diabetic issues of type I and II, and even heart disease risks can be treated with some modifications to diet.  While not all will be cured, the need to understand the individual needs of the body and food sensitivity is essential not just in allergic reactions but blood sugar and risk control.

Some foods can be removed from all diets without ill effects and to the benefit of all.  The ever popular soda is a great example of something over indulged in and proven to hold many harmful factors.  The largest issue in this area is the frequency with which children and teens indulge, building their risk for several issues. Another in this strain is the energy drink market which has grown to cover not just an occasional boost after sports to now claim a supercharged secret to get tired bodies through the day.  The two main risks are the excessive amounts  of sugars and caffeine packed into these two items. 

Sugar can be a tricky subject in general because it can be found in basically any raw or prepared food consumed.  Natural sugars found in fruits often take a beating because of lingering misinformation from one of the many pop-diet crazes of the late 90s.  What makes natural sugars different from additives and artificial sugars is their molecular make-up and the method in which the human body responds to them.  The sugars found in natural products is known as fructose and in moderation is not only safe, but essential in establishing and balancing blood sugars for regulating energy.

Table sugars, known as sucrose, are also made from plants such as beets and sugar cane with a long historical lineage that lead to some wonderful and horrible moments.  Sugar trade has long been linked to wealth and ":the sweet life" but molasses trade was at the root of much of the slavery circle.  Because natural sugars are best grown in warm climates and slow producing, the United States places high tariffs on sugar import and the search for affordable alternative sweeteners is a long standing one.

Corn sugars are popular in the United States as an alternative because of the government subsidy provided for farmers of this crop.  Similar to sucrose, corn based sugars known as high-fructose corn syrup which are created through chemical reformulation of the natural sugars in corn, are slow to break down and promote an unhealthy balances in the body including raising the risk of obesity related diseases which can cause disruption of organ function and even organ failure or death in extreme cases.  Additionally, corn is one of the most heavily genetically modified crops being produced and event chemically altered sugars made from that maize contains all the risks highlighted before.  With obesity on the rise a direct link is being drawn between the frequency of HFCS and other chemical sweeteners.

Food can be a serious issue in American households, with an estimated one in five children facing hunger.  While I cannot fix that problem with a single blog, and boy I wish I could, some of the things I share here are ones that can address helping our kids grow even with poverty looming.  We are low income family and receive some EBT/SNAP benefits to make ends meet.  They total out to about $1.97 per day per person in most states; not something most people could live on for a month, but it is something to start with when paying rent and heating bills can take every penny.

With a diabetic, a pregnant woman, a somewhat picky toddler, and an oft-times vegetarian in the house... we have a number of tastes and needs to consider.  I am also a bit of a "foodie" and spoiled by the fact that my husband worked as a chef and in fish markets so he has really wonderful skills with seafood and grilling.  My household is omnivore driven though we avoid excessive meat consumption and participate in most of the ideas below. It does make some of the healthier food choices much more difficult on us because home farming is not always an option in the land of year-round snow.  For now I make regular trips to my area farmer's markets, fishing centers, and a great little farm near our former apartment complex.

Some of the simple rules I have found work best over the years are this:

  1. Avoid foods with a commercial.  Fast foods, sugary cereals, many chain restaurants, and pretty much any sports or soft drink you see flashing their product on television has less than wholesome ingredients under that label. 
  2. Start the fruits early.  Over and over I hear from friends that watch my "Tiny Monster" how shocked they are that he will not only eat but ask for fruits and veggies as a snack and pass up chocolates and cookies.  Honestly, I think this is half luck and half parenting practice on our part.  When he's being good, he gets fresh strawberries or orange slices as a reward. 

  3. Mommy is not a short order cook!  We make at least two vegetables with every meaty main dish and he is expected to eat a little of it all off his plate.  I don't force him to clean his plate, nor do I allow him to get away with eating nothing and then crying for a snack later.  On the rare occasions when we go out he is expected to display good behavior and eat what we order for him or it comes home in a doggie bag and he will be seeing it later.
  4. Make it at home.  One of the most well known culprits for poor eating habits is the frequent thought that fresh or wholesome food takes too long to make and fast food is the only answer.  For years I worked retail-photography chain(s) in malls with a horrible menu of all the big name baddies for food.  I took to stopping at the salad bar in the supermarket and making a large salad with all the fresh fixings to bring home, then splitting it into Tupperware to bring to work.
  5. Say no to the GMO.  Unfortunately simply buying "organic" may not avoid GMOs as the seeds are already altered before they ever reach the soil and do not require pesticides, making them ideal for organics.  Visiting local farmers and asking direct questions about the foods they produce is your best solution if able.  Other options will require research and sometimes cost more so it will need to be a choice of cost to reward.
  6. Find a happy medium.  We could never go 100% vegan in my house, I'm too fond of my Italian heritage to forgo the joy of eggplant-parmesan or the deliciousness of gelato.  But in interest of health and budgeting we do at least one meatless meal per week.  I happen to be a big fan of the Moosewood Cookbooks that my mother used regularly while I was young and now own a number of veggie-friendly recipe folders of my own or refer to some great websites for new ideas.
  7. Everything in moderation!  This phrase can be applied to a vast many evils, but food is a very good place to apply it.  My preferred demo of this dietary rule is alcohol consumption; specifically the very important topic of knowing that excessive drinking can cause disease and death, but limited amounts can actually promote positive health benefits in some cases.  While kids are too young to drink and should not be given alcohol, they are prone to over indulging in other things and learn from their parents.  Teaching skills like portion control and replacing poor nutrition items with positive food choices to make healthy eating natural from an early age.

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