Dietary Help for Learning Problems
Can a wholesome, balanced American diet be bad for children? Almost all modern, brand name foods are an incredible mixture of sub-ingredients, additives and preservatives. In a week of meals, we are exposed to thousands of chemicals and the chance of eating something that doesn't agree approaches 100%.
If your ancestors didn't eat it, there is no guarantee that you are genetically equipped to properly metabolize any given food or chemical. For instance, most non-European adults have trouble digesting milk sugar, lactose. The domestication of milk cows is a recent event in the history of man. Before cows were kept, there was no evolutionary need for adults to maintain an enzyme to digest milk. As a consequence, half the world can't drink it no matter how many TV sets announce "milk is good for every body". The same story holds for wheat, although the subset of people that cannot digest wheat is much smaller. Before the advent of farming, man was a hunter and gatherer. Can you imagine picking enough wild grain to make a loaf of bread? So, digesting wheat was not a strong evolutionary priority. Even after 10,000 years of farming, some of us still can't digest it. For many autistic children, the protein in milk and wheat incompletely metabolizes into close cousins of morphine, which further complicates their condition. Such stories repeat for the thousands of ingredients that are part of the modern American lifestyle.
To get a better feel for the ingredients in our food, consider hamburger surprise. In your grandma's day, it was probably just noodles, hamburger and a simple white sauce of flour and milk. As discussed in the previous section, Betty Crocker makes a modern version that contains a few more ingredients.
Betty Crocker Cheeseburger Macaroni Hamburger Helper: wheat, corn starch, soybean oil, salt, cheddar cheese, whey, maltodextrin, tomato, sugar, buttermilk, onion, corn syrup, disodium phosphate, MSG, dextrose, garlic, natural flavor, blue cheese, yellow #5, yellow #6, glycerides, citric acid, sodium caseinate, soy flour, egg white.
Ignoring the wheat and milk (which may or may not have been a problem for grandma), we now have to deal with disodium phosphate preservatives, MSG flavor enhancers and artificial FD&C yellow coloring. Such chemicals can be especially troublesome for those with learning problems. Also, the number of "natural" ingredients has grown to include corn, whey, tomato, sugar, onion, garlic, soy and egg. In any classroom, you are likely to find a few children that do poorly with one of these. In my case, Betty Crocker would give me a walloping headache. I have difficulty with refined corn although corn-on-the-cob is just fine. In our society, corn starch, maltodextrin, corn syrup and dextrose are all refined corn products that begin life in a bath of sulfur dioxide gas. Yes, you guessed it. I am sensitive to sulfur dioxide and sulfite preservatives as are millions of other people all across America. Hamburger Helper is by no means unique when it comes to complicated formulations. Consider Kellogg's Froot Loops.
Kellogg's Froot Loops Breakfast Cereal: corn, wheat, oats, sugar, oil, salt, calcium carbonate, sodium ascorbate, ascorbic acid, red #40, yellow #6, blue #1, blue #2, natural flavors, vitamins, BHT preservative.
Not all cereals contain this much artificial color but most are preserved with BHT, a petroleum derivative. FD&C artificial colors and preservatives like BHT, BHA and TBHQ can drive some kids wild. Just maybe, Froot Loops aren't such a good way to start to your child's day.
What can be done about your child's food? One suggestion is an elimination diet that relies on a limited number of safe foods, eaten for a few weeks until improvement occurs. Suspect foods are then reintroduced slowly, one every few days. If new food causes trouble, you know not to eat it. One of the more successful programs is called the Feingold Diet, after Dr. Feingold who headed the Allergy Department of Kaiser Permanente Hospitals. This diet eliminates artificial colors, artificial flavors, several preservatives, synthetic sweeteners and salicylate (aspirin-like) foods. The bad news is that most food in the supermarket is taboo, but the good news is that there are safe, natural versions for nearly all problem foods. It's always difficult to make changes, but it is worth the trouble, especially if your child's behavior improves. The Feingold Diet addresses the most common problem ingredients but, for the very sensitive, the Australian Failsafe Food program may be necessary. The Allergy Unit at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney conducted a twenty year study of thousands of patients and identified over 200 food additives that can cause physical, behavioral and learning disabilities. The Failsafe Food program extends the Feingold Diet to eliminate all preservatives and even foods high in natural amines and glutamates. On this program, you must cook everything from scratch and you feel lucky if you get to eat a breadfruit (whatever that is). Heaven forbid if you are sensitive to wheat and milk on top of everything else. But when food is the difference between the success and failure of your child, hardship in the kitchen is unimportant.
How do you know if any of these diets can help? You just have to try them. To make things a little easier, Jane Hersey of the Feingold Association has compiled a Four Day Diet. This test diet and loads of other information is presented in her book, "Why Can't My Child Behave?" You just try the test diet for a few days and see if it helps. But beware, to be effective, you can't cheat. Below is a table that summarizes the Feingold philosophy. These are the foods you shouldn't eat.
Feingold Diet (Unsafe Foods)
|FD&C Artificial Food Colors
Artificial Flavors and Aspartame Sweetener
BHA, BHT and TBHQ Preservatives
The next table presents food that you can eat on the Feingold Four Day Diet. For convenience, you can mark all of the safe food in your cupboard or refrigerator with green colored electrical tape. Then if it isn't marked with green tape, you shouldn't eat it. Period.
Feingold Four Day Diet (Safe Foods)
|Non Food||Tom’s of Maine Toothpaste (Spearmint, Peppermint or Fennel)
or just brush with baking soda and water
Omit vitamins for the short test period
Avoid perfume and products containing fragrances
or products that would result in dyes on the skin
|Breakfast||Oatmeal (not instant) with white or brown sugar, whole milk
and pear or pineapple (juice or whole fruit)
French toast (homemade w/eggs, milk, real 100% maple syrup
or sprinkle with granulated sugar)
Real eggs (not imitation) and use butter (not margarine)
or Wesson Oil for cooking
Plain Puffed Rice or Puffed Wheat, whole milk, sugar
Toast with real butter or honey
|Lunch||Peanut butter and honey sandwich (or substitute banana for
Tuna salad sandwich made with Hellmann's or Best Foods Mayonnaise
(look for water-pack tuna which does not contain hydrolyzed vegetable
protein and use original versions of mayonnaise, not low-fat, etc.)
Leftover chicken (sliced or made into salad, add celery if you like)
Egg salad sandwich, carrot sticks
|Dinner||Roast chicken, basted with real butter
Baked potatoes with real butter
Fresh or frozen plain green vegetables (no sauces and
season with salt, butter, black pepper if you like)
Broiled fish fillet (season with lemon, garlic and butter if you like)
Salad or any vegetable (except tomato, cucumber and peppers),
make a salad dressing with fresh lemon juice and Wesson Oil
Pork chops (broil or season w/flour and sauté in oil)
Sweet potato (with butter or mashed with pineapple juice)
Ground beef patties (made with plain chopped meat)
Corn (on the cob or canned or frozen plain)
|Drinks||Baby food pear juice (available in large bottles)
Pure pineapple juice (dilute, if you like)
Grapefruit juice (sweeten with granulated sugar)
Lemonade made from fresh lemons and granulated sugar
Whole milk (not low fat or skimmed)
Shake made with whole milk, pineapple juice, banana
Water (plain without flavors)
|Snacks||Eagle Thins potato chips
Fresh pears, bananas or any melon
Whitman’s All Natural Chocolate Bar
Baker's Sweet Chocolate Bar (sold with baking supplies)
Haagan Dazs vanilla or chocolate ice cream
Popcorn made from plain kernels with real butter or Wesson oil
|Bread||Francisco sourdough bread and french rolls
Lender's Frozen Bagels (plain or onion)
Oroweat Cracked Wheat Buns
Mrs. Fields Regular French Bread
Pioneer sourdough bread
Aunt Jemima Easy Mix Corn Bread
A few comments about this test diet are in order. It usually takes a few days for the metabolites of food color and preservatives to clear the body. However, fresh symptoms can reappear in hours if the diet is violated. That's why it is important to eat only approved foods during the test. Note that hamburgers are safe only if they are made without ketchup, tomato and pickle. You may replace these condiments with lettuce and Best Foods Real Mayonnaise. If you don't see a food listed on the diet, don't eat it. For instance, you cannot add hot sauce to your eggs nor Mrs. Butterworth's syrup to French toast. Be satisfied with salt, black pepper and real maple syrup.
Whole milk is preferred over reduced fat on the Feingold program. This is because vitamin A, preserved with BHA or BHT, is added to most reduced fat milk. A closer look at milk provides some insight into food allergies. Reduced fat milk contains 500 IU of vitamin A per glass which is preserved by a mere 5 micrograms of BHA/BHT. Using World Health Organization estimates for preservative consumption in the United States, a glass of reduced fat milk would account for only 1 part out of 3000 of the daily average. Yet, many mothers have noticed a deterioration in behavior when reduced fat milk is added back into their child's diet. You must be very careful when on the test diet or in the first stages of the Feingold Program. Only after gaining experience should you reintroduce suspect food to see if it is acceptable.
Daily vitamins and other medications may also contain preservatives. At the very least, be sure they don't contain artificial color if you continue to use them during the test. You might consider postponing elective supplements for a few days. Soaps and toothpastes can be problems, too. Consider brushing teeth with baking soda instead of commerical toothpaste. And use Ivory Bar Soap for hands, body and hair if your normal soap or shampoo is brightly colored. Health food stores have a great assortment of natural products that are free of synthetic dyes and additives. Finally, strong perfume can cause trouble for some children, so go natural. Golly, I must sound like a fanatic but such changes can make a difference.
If the Feingold Four Day Test works for you, visit the Feingold Association website for more complete information. Feingold membership costs $69 and includes a wider list of foods and ingredients that allows an expanded diet. The more limited test diet suggested by the table above should not be used for more than a few days. If your child does poorly, discontinue the diet. Before attempting any medical or dietary intervention, please consult your doctor. If you would like to read more about learning disability and diet, visit your favorite bookstore and look for the titles listed below.
Books About Learning Disability and Diet
Is This Your Child? by Dr. Doris Rapp
Why Can't My Child Behave? by Jane Hersey
Fed Up by Sue Dengate (Failsafe Foods)
The Failsafe Cookbook by Sue Dengate
The Yeast Connection Handbook by William
The LCP Solution by B. Jacqueline