Better Food, Better Behavior
Nutrition in Our Children’s Schools
In a 2004 report on ‘Better Food, Better Behavior’, the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute published a case study on school nutrition. This case study focused on a high school in Appleton, Wisconsin that was failing academically and dealing with high disciplinary issues. Following a complete overhaul of the school lunch program, there were remarkable improvements in learning and behavior, as witnessed and documented by both teachers and students. This school was the beginning of a trend that has progressed into a national focus. What do our children eat at school? Is it healthy? Will it promote good learning and good behavior? This process of change will take time to reach every school system in America. As the nutrition in our schools slowly improves, we can combat the insufficiency by maintaining the best nutrition at home and outside of school. If we introduce our children to healthy eating in the home, and set an example for them by eating well ourselves, our children will hopefully make the best choices for themselves as they grow older and have more independence. How can we encourage healthy eating and healthy living at home? In this article, there are many ideas to inspire you and your family.
How to Change Your Kitchen to a Healthy Kitchen
Making the choice to live healthy can seem like an enormous task. Tackling one food at a time is a helpful strategy. A good place to start is to create an inventory of what you have in your kitchen that is unhealthy; then, slowly replace these products one by one. Almost everything today has a healthy substitute. Some examples:
- Buy produce that is organic or natural and free of pesticides and growth hormones. It is true that organic foods are more expensive. Hopefully, one day, this will change. One option is to search for a local ‘CSA’ or community supported agriculture co-op farm that sells memberships. These farms will provide you with great natural produce through the warm months of the year and often they provide a winter share as well. One CSA example is ‘Holcomb Farm CSA’ in Granby. Another example is Urban Oaks Organic Farm in New Britain which offers a summer CSA as well as a farm stand. A great website to search for local CSAs in your area is: www.ctnofa.org/CSAs.htm. Another wonderful option is local farmers markets and farm stands. Farmers markets and farm stands can be a lot of fun for children and they allow you to buy straight from the farmer. When considering other types of natural foods, there are many ‘regular’ supermarkets that sell natural meats without growth hormones or other synthetic additives.
- Eliminate soda pop and candy in the house. It may be challenging to avoid sweets altogether but making a rule of no candy in the house is a great way to start.
- Choose foods that are free of high fructose corn syrup and other added sweeteners, chemicals, partially hydrogenated oils commonly referred to as “trans fats”, and genetic modification (GMO). Searching for recipes that can be modified to include natural sweeteners is another helpful strategy. Sugar and other synthetic sweeteners in most recipes can be substituted by natural sweeteners, for example: maple syrup, honey, palm sugar and coconut sugar. Searching for these natural ingredients in packaged foods is a great first step. As for GMO foods, there is growing research that is illustrating the negative effects of genetic modification. In fact, GMO foods are outlawed in most European countries. The challenge in this country is that genetic modification is not listed on labels. Some foods that are typically genetically modified in this country include corn and soy. Currently, buying ‘organic’ means non-GMO.
Ultimately, this process comes down to ‘reading labels’. As a parent, this process can seem even more challenging because it begs the question, “Do I need to change my own habits?” For a child, the most important factor is family support. Ideally, to support the child optimally, the whole family should adopt these changes.
Recommendations for Natural Health:
- Gluten Elimination Diet: Gluten is a ‘pro-inflammatory’ food which means that when ingested, it contributes to more inflammation in the body. Inflammation is at the root of every illness in our body, including challenges in learning and behavior. By eliminating gluten from our diet, we can support greater health and recovery. For more information on gluten elimination, visit: http://www.gluten.net.
- Avoid refined sugars: Diabetes is on the rise today as documented by many researchers. To avoid this type of illness in adulthood, changes need to be made early on.
- Avoid peanuts: Consider the recent rise in peanut allergies. Peanuts are allergenic to many people. What is less recognized is how peanuts can affect those that don’t present with severe anaphylactic symptoms. Eliminating peanuts from our diet may lead to benefits in skin health, learning and behavior, breathing, and more.
- Avoid synthetics additives in our foods: Read labels!
- Avoid toxic chemical exposure: Always consider how you can reduce toxins in your environment and in your home.
- Daily essential fatty acids: Every tissue in our body is made up of cells. The wall of each cell is comprised of essential fatty acids or EFAs. With any trauma or infection, at a cellular level, there is a tear in the wall of one or multiple cells that make up a structure such as an organ or vessel. To repair this tissue, the body needs essential fatty acids. But EFAs are not produced in the body—they have to be included in our diet. Unless we eat 2 tins of sardines every day, we are lacking optimal essential fatty acids! A great way to get the right amount of EFAs in our diet is to supplement with fish oils. Fish oils house concentrated EFAs. Some options would include daily cod liver oil or fish oil gel caps. A good quality company that can be found at Whole Foods and other health food markets is: Nordic Naturals.
- Daily probiotics: Probiotics provide our body with healthy bacteria to fight off infection, increasing immune strength and warding off illness. Probiotics can be taken by capsule and can also be found in yogurt.
- Daily vegetables and fruit: Vegetables and fruit contain many nutrients and enzymes to support a healthy body. In addition, eating daily vegetables and fruit can support a healthy bowel. Drinking fruit juice is different than eating a whole fruit. When we eat fruit, we digest all of the fruit, including fiber and other important elements that help with digestion of that food. When we drink fruit juice, this is primarily the sugar of the fruit that we consume and it provides us with less benefits. In fact, in recent years, researchers have compared the sugar found in a glass of fruit juice to eating a candy bar!
When making the choice to change your kitchen to a healthy kitchen, the question of cost is always a consideration. But what is often forgotten is the cost of health. The Centers for Disease Control report that diabetes is one of the leading chronic illnesses in children today. There is an obvious rise in children’s learning and behavioral disorders—just witness today’s rise in autism spectrum disorder. The only way to make ‘sustainable’ changes in our health today is to be proactive in our choices. There is so much that is out of our control—the escalation of global warming, the rising cost of healthcare and education, and ultimately, other people’s choices. But when it comes to our own family, we can support each other in making better choices that will lead to greater health.
Ayelet Connell-Giammatteo, PhD, PT, IMT,C
Author Bio: Ayelet Connell-Giammatteo, PhD, PT, IMT,C is the President and Owner of Integrative Wellness and Physical Therapy in Bloomfield, CT, a wellness center specializing in holistic Physical Therapy, Integrative Manual Therapy (IMT), and nutritional wellness. Dr. Connell-Giammatteo is a Physical Therapist and Certified Integrative Manual Therapist. She has been practicing in the field of IMT for over 15 years. Dr. Connell-Giammatteo received her Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Therapy from The University of Hartford in Connecticut. She received her Doctoral Degree from Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, Ohio, focusing in neuropediatrics, with a concentration in autism. Some of Dr. Connell-Giammatteo’s Doctoral research involved a unique charter elementary school, Soaring Heights, in inner city Jersey City, New Jersey. During this research, she investigated the efficacy of Integrative Manual Therapy on young children that presented with challenges in learning, socialization, and behavior. In addition to her IMT expertise, Dr. Connell-Giammatteo is a graduate of the Institute of Functional Medicine’s program “Applying Functional Medicine into Clinical Practice” focusing on nutritional wellness. She has written many articles on the subjects of IMT, healthy living, natural parenting, and nutritional wellness. Dr. Connell-Giammatteo was Dean of the Connecticut School of Integrative Manual Therapy (CSIMT) for multiple years. She has taught courses in Integrative Manual Therapy nationally and internationally for over 15 years. Dr. Connell-Giammatteo is also a local of this community and has been living in the Greater Hartford area for many years, where she integrates a healthy lifestyle at home with her wonderful family.