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Teach Your Children Well

This article appeared in the Autumn 2007 edition of Celiac.com's Scott-Free Newsletter.

Celiac.com 03/10/2008 - Virtually every parent and every professional person who works with children wants to see them learn, grow, and achieve to the greatest extent of their potential.  The vast majority of these caregivers know that nutrition plays an enormous role in each child’s realizing their potential.  Unfortunately, that is where agreement ends.  There are almost as many perspectives on what constitutes a healthy diet as there are people on this planet.  Some claim that the healthiest diet is that of a vegetarian which almost invariably leads to a heavy reliance on grains and which is devoid of vitamin B12.  Others assert, based on cardiovascular disease being our number one killer that the best diet includes the smallest amount of fats.  They believe that fat consumption is related to blood cholesterol levels and that blood cholesterol levels are the best predictor of heart attacks.  Yet low cholesterol has been linked to increased cancer risk.  Still others argue for the health benefits conferred by a high protein diet.  They point out the importance of proteins in providing the building blocks for immune system function and the body’s maintenance and repair at the cellular level.  A small but growing faction points to the health benefits of a diet dominated by fats with little or no carbohydrate content.  Other diets target refined sugars and flours as problematic.  Added to this diversity, there is a plethora of dietary perspectives that advocate rigid proportions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates.  The proportions of each component vary according to the data that is given the most credence by the creators and advocates of each diet.  Many dietary rituals have grown up around cancer avoidance or therapy, weight loss strategies, treatments for cardiovascular disease or its avoidance, and autoimmune diseases.  Book, video tape, audio tape, menu guides, and other media sales are just a starting point.  Some advocates of specific dietary strategies are even selling special foods that comply with their recommendations.  The profit motive can be a powerful factor in creating bias.  Then there are the government sponsored healthy eating guides.  Of course, each paradigm assumes that one diet can be recommended for all people.  The USDA has recently devised recommendations that do make concessions to gender and stage-of-life (with separate recommendations for children, adults, and seniors) but even with these changes, the USDA provides a clear message advocating plenty of grains and little fat.  It is difficult to determine just how much these recommendations have been influenced by special interest lobbies.  Agricultural and food production corporations have made astronomical investments in current dietary practices and shaping new dietary trends.  Is it reasonable to expect them to be responsive to evolving research findings?  

Those of us who have experienced the painful shock that we were ill, sometimes deathly ill, from grain proteins that come highly recommended by government food guides, have had to revise our views of healthy eating and reject such flawed guidance.  Gluten sensitivity and celiac disease often crop up in the context of what many health care professionals tout as a healthy diet.  Prior to my own diagnosis of celiac disease, I remember one physician recommending that I eat bran every morning to reverse some of the gastrointestinal problems I was having.  He would not believe that eating bran made me vomit.  There is a persistent sense that we should all know what constitutes a good diet.  Almost every one of us who have to avoid gluten knows that avoiding it is a healthy choice for us, irrespective of government or private sector recommendations for healthy eating.  We have learned not to trust these prescriptions filled with certitude and rigidity.  We have found new-found health in eating habits that are diametrically opposed to those recommendations.
 
Thus, many of us will have a very different view of conventional dietary wisdom.  For instance, Dr. Eve Roberts, a scientist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, was quoted on Monday, September 24th in the Victoria Times Colonist as saying: “I do not want children to grow up with liver disease because we forgot to tell them how to eat” (1).  I’m sure that same attitude abounds throughout the medical profession.  Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming consensus that children should not suffer such diet-induced illnesses, there is little agreement on exactly what we should be telling children (or adults for that matter) to help them avoid fatty liver disease.  The medical literature provides research reports of several contradictions on this point. 

In fact, contradictions abound throughout the medical literature.  So how are we to choose a healthy diet? What can we teach our children about eating well? For those of us who are gluten sensitive or have celiac disease, gluten avoidance is a given.  For our children, the answer is less clear.  They will be at greater risk of having celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, but what should we teach them about these grains? Should they avoid gluten entirely? Should they eat normally until they become ill—perhaps risking permanent neurological damage or a deadly cancer? Should they be constantly vigilant with regular blood tests, endoscopies, or IgG allergy testing?

Many of us have been told to “just eat a balanced diet”.  It sounds appealing, but it is so vague as to provide little meaningful direction.  What is a healthy diet and how do we judge if any special interest group is more interested in health than profits? Just how much can we trust information that has a price tag attached to it? Somebody is profiting.  Can they really provide objective guidance? These questions should form part of our search for information.  There is nothing wrong with making a profit or earning a living from providing dietary advice.  However, it is important to be aware of any possible conflicts of interest.  

For these reasons, I have developed my own strategy for determining what advice and guidance I can provide to my children and grandchildren.  I acknowledge that this approach is limited by my own biases, my finite capacity for assimilating and synthesizing information, my incomplete familiarity with nutritional research, and my own personal experiences.  On the other hand, I don’t have to worry about being directly influenced by profiteering or lobby groups diverting me from my primary purpose.

On that basis, I have proceeded to explore my own dietary program.  I have conducted some trial-and-error experiments on myself, and I have read as extensively as my part-time avocation of dietary investigation permits.  From this, I have learned to trust my own gut.  If something doesn’t feel right in my stomach, I avoid it.  I have also learned to trust my sense of smell.  If a food does not smell appetizing to me, I don’t eat it.  I suspect that this is a tool that evolution has provided us with to determine what is and is not safe to eat.  Those without it probably stopped contributing to the human gene pool.  I have learned that IgG allergy testing is an effective tool with which I can reduce the lengthy trial-and-error process necessary for identifying the majority of allergies.  I realize that this testing has its weaknesses, but so does almost every other form of medical testing.  I have come to accept that as long as human beings are involved, we will have imperfect testing, regardless of claims to the contrary.  Finally, although I try to read critically, I read medical and scientific research reports to stay abreast of new findings and gain a better understanding of this complex field.
The tentative conclusions I have reached, pending new information, are as follows:

  1. Gluten grains probably aren’t very good for people.  They are highly allergenic affecting at least 10% of the general population, and perhaps as much as 40%  of the population.  These grains also contain opioids morphine-like substances that can be highly addictive and have a deleterious effect on our ability to resist cancer.  They also contain large quantities of starch that is converted very rapidly into sugars.
  2. The evidence suggests that refined sugars and starchy foods cause many of our problems with obesity, vision problems due to growth related distortions of the eyeball, type II diabetes, and hypoglycemia. 
  3. Dairy products probably aren’t very good for anyone either.  They are also highly allergenic and contain opioids similar to those found in gluten.  Further, about two thirds of the world’s adult populations are lactose intolerant.  They don’t retain enzymes for digesting milk sugars after childhood.
  4. I think it is wise to avoid processed foods where possible.  The more they’ve been processed, the further they are from the state in which we evolved eating them.
  5. I believe it is a good idea to avoid eating soy because it has been linked to neurological diseases and other health problems that I don’t want to develop.
  6. I avoid foods to which IgG blood testing has shown to cause an immune reaction in me.
  7. I try to avoid juices, as these are mostly sugar. 
Those are the things I try to avoid.  On a more positive note, there are several specific strategies that I try to follow:

  1. I take supplements of vitamins and minerals which evidence has shown that I either absorb poorly or have been depleted from the soils in which my food is grown.
  2. I try to eat whole fruits and vegetables.
  3. I try to eat when I am hungry—not according somebody else’s idea of appropriate mealtimes.
  4. If I am ever diagnosed with cancer, I will follow a ketogenic diet.  That is a diet that is dominated by fats, includes about 30% protein, and includes no carbohydrates.  I have tried this diet for about a month.  I can’t say that I enjoy it very much, but I’d be happy to forego the pleasure of carbohydrates if my life is at stake.
  5. I’m very grateful to my wife who works very hard at finding tasty treats so I don’t have to feel isolated or deprived in social situations where food is consumed.
  6. I’m convinced that even a little exercise is a critical feature of a well balanced diet, but that belongs in another column.
I realize that these strategies are often impractical and I don’t pretend to live up to all of them, except for gluten and dairy avoidance.  I also suspect that I would be better off if I ate organic fruits and vegetables along with range fed meat.  I also suspect that I should avoid any genetically modified food.  We really don’t know what’s in that stuff! I haven’t reached the point yet where I am sufficiently motivated to change my diet to that extent, although I do realize that it would probably be a good idea.  I am convinced that Dr. Barry Sears is onto something when he advocates specific proportions of each food type for optimal health and performance.  Unfortunately, my diet is already complex enough that without some specific and highly motivating reason, I’m just too busy or lazy to be bothered with measuring such things.  I just let my taste buds and availability (my wife only cooks one cake at a time) determine my portion sizes.

This is the balanced diet I recommend.  I sorely doubt that my children or my grandchildren follow my advice, except when they visit during mealtimes.  However I am confident that such a diet, should they choose to accept it, will not cause them to self-destruct due to dietary disease.

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6 Responses:

 
Susan
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said this on
11 Mar 2008 7:36:16 PM PST
I have read Ron Hoggan's book Dangerous Grains. My 27-year old daughter and I have been diagnosed as non-celiac gluten intolerance (or is it sensitivity?) within the last 2-1/2 years. We now feel as if we are 'alive' versus walking dead bodies since adhering to a strict gluten-free diet. There is a neurological disorder/disease in our family and I am currently going through testing for this. My father has this disease---it may be linked to gluten and we got the gluten problem from somewhere! I also had parathyroid surgery in 2004 for Primary Hyperparathyroidism; Ron's book mentions this disease in conjunction with gluten...and then there is this neurological stuff; scary!!!! I will never ever purposely put gluten into my body again; and then there is the question of our children's children to come...what ought; oughtn't we feed them??!!! I remember our good family doctor, some 27 years ago, responding when I asked him what will we feed our baby when I'm finished nursing----stay away from cow's milk, wheat, eggs and citrus for at least the first year was his advice. We will have to take a much closer look at that concept when the time comes.

 
Jean
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said this on
12 Mar 2008 7:55:07 AM PST
What great advice for everyone! I think you've hit the major points! I've come to many of the same conclusions myself.

 
B.Edna Keen
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said this on
12 Mar 2008 9:30:22 PM PST
Very down to earth and practical for anyone. Congratulations!!

 
Wendy Nielson
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said this on
13 Mar 2008 8:02:18 AM PST
I think this article is thoughtful and informative. My son has Celiac disease, and my mother died from complications of Celiac. It doesn't take much effort to feed your family gluten-free. By including more fruits and vegetables, and omitting the bread and pasta, our family eats quite healthy. You can get lots of fiber from plant foods such as beans and legumes, and rice is a great side dish. Yogurt is a great low-lactose, calcium rich food. The benefits of the 'good bacteria' found in yogurt, is also a plus. Staying positive about your gluten-free life is the key to sticking to it.

 
Fran Jones
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said this on
16 Mar 2008 6:11:01 PM PST
This article is very informative. I have been looking for information about the dietary things.

 
Linda Watson
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said this on
30 Aug 2008 11:03:46 AM PST
I also have Celiac Disease...which I diagnosed after going to six doctors...everybody thought I was crazy when I asked for the blood test. I was right! Surprised my doctor for sure! He said, that's just so rare...I said I want the test. Staying on a gluten free diet is not so easy...you have to read everything. The breads at the health food store aren't that great, the cinnamon-raisin bagels are ok...the best bread I've had, I made myself...everything at the health food store is just so high. It's hard cooking for me and for the rest of the family too. I manage ok, sometimes I just want to cry. It's such a pain to put my meat on a separate plate and use a separate utensil for the grill...I miss some foods, but it's not worth it but it does get you down and out at times. I can't get my Dad to be tested. His doctor won't do the test and my parents listen to him and not me. He's had a rash for over thirteen years...been to many doctors. When my test came back positive, I told him he needed to be tested. His doctor said aww he doesn't have that! Why are men so stubborn! I had to get it from one of my parents, and my Mom died with ovarian cancer in 1982. I just wonder now, if she might have had it all that time. It might have started in her intestines and then just when on down to the ovaries..something to think about with women. Who knows, both of my parents might have or had it! I've learned a lot about celiac disease from Dr. Shari Lieberman's book...The Gluten Connection. In fact, I had to take her book in to the lab for them to know what kind of blood test I wanted...funny huh? No one is laughing at me now, that I diagnosed myself right!




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