This is a guest post from Helen at The Unprocessed Family
I am Helen, Mum to two wonderful children. A few years ago I was a very different person. I ate a standard ‘healthy’ diet. I thought that I was leading a healthy and active life but there was always an undercurrent of dis-ease (intermittent IBS, sinus congestion, frequent colds, low mood, occasional anxiety and the list could go on). Nothing out of the ordinary.
When my own children started to display signs of illness that I recognised in myself, I started to seek answers. As a family, we made some radical changes to the way we live. We now aim to live as ‘unprocessed’ as we can in this modern world. It has certainly been a positive experience but it has been a hard journey at times, as you can see from this blog.
What is happening to our children?
I often lie awake at night wondering whether I am doing the right thing. We live quite differently to most families and sometimes I question our diet and lifestyle. Then I think about what is happening right under our noses…
I have two children, ages 3 and 1 years. Both of them have been ill. These are not illnesses that most people would deem serious or chronic, however, they have turned my family’s world upside down.
It started with my eldest daughter suffering from diarrhoea, psoriasis, fatigue, constant sinusitis, skin rashes, and poor sleep. I changed her diet in the hope that things would improve. I started eliminating sugar and refined foods as I felt she had become overly reliant on her sugar fix of dried fruit. I thought she had coeliac disease so cut out gluten but problems continued. I removed grains and went ‘Paleo’. Removing grains certainly helped and her diarrhoea disappeared but still the problems persisted.
As time passed, many of her symptoms gradually worsened. ‘Meltdowns’ became frequent and she was increasingly melancholy. Eventually I went to the doctors, devastated that my beautiful daughter was displaying Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) symptoms. I had noted that she seemed to worsen with certain foods. Could it be that our diet was changing her behaviour?
At this time my youngest daughter was also starting to show worrying signs of ill health. These were different to my other daughter but still equally concerning. She was erratic, sleeping poorly, and had poor verbal communication skills even though her comprehension was fantastic. She developed a facial rash that seemed to worsen with everything she ate. I desperately sought an answer in our food. In the end, diet seemed to be central to the recovery of both my kids.
I investigated various possibilities over the months that followed. I spent hours poring over medical information and trialling various diets. In the end we were left with the obvious answer; the answer that so many of us just can’t face. Our unnatural, processed and highly refined foods make us ill. Additives, preservatives, anti-oxidants, artificial sweeteners, aspartame, flavourings and all things ‘added’ have become normal. Even ‘natural flavouring’ is not natural if it has been boiled down or artificially extracted.
For us, glutamates and neuro-excitotoxins are paramount. These are present in many foods, even those that you would assume to be healthy or good for you. Children’s snacks and treats often contain these additives in the form of cheese powder, malt extract, yeast extract or natural flavour. You go into a supermarket and every packet or tub you see has something added to it or some form of processing applied.
Unfortunately, even cutting out the processed foods wasn’t enough to speed up our recovery. As a family we have embarked upon a fresh food Stone Age diet containing seasonal fresh vegetables, some seasonal fruit and nuts, seafood, fish, offal, grass-fed meat and lots of healthy fats. It is probably as naturally ‘Paleo’ as we can get in our modern world yet it is far removed from the ‘Paleo’ you see banded around on the internet. We certainly won’t be seen eating coconut and almond flour cupcakes! This is a low carb and high fat diet that aims to mimic the foods that we are better evolved to eat.
I’ll come back to the title of this story: “what is happening to our children”? I will explain.
I go to the playgroup and see children having temper tantrums and ‘meltdowns’. A staggering number of kids have dairy intolerance and various other food issues and allergies. Some are silly and giddy after eating. Many are fractious and have blood sugar dips when snacks aren’t in ready supply. There is aggression and hitting and there are timid children afraid of the World. Many children seem grey, pallid with dripping noses and tired eyes. Many parents complain of poor sleep and early waking. This may seem a bleak picture but any parent will recognise at least part of this description. Should our children really be like this?
To answer this I believe we need to look at the statistics.
The World Health Organization (WHO) regards childhood obesity as one of the most serious global public health challenges for the 21st century. In England statistics show that nearly 30% of children are classified as overweight or obese . That is nearly 1 in 3!
Autism and ASD rates are around 1 in 100 in the UK . However, autism is now the fastest-growing developmental disability in the world and many believe this will continue to increase rapidly . In America 1 in 6 have some kind of developmental disability on the ASD spectrum . Why the sudden increase? Many postulate that diet can have an impact on autism. Katherine Reid of unblindmymind.org certainly has some captivating evidence.
According to the NHS, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects around 5% of school-aged children and young people . That figure is continuing to rise year and year with more children than ever being diagnosed and treated for this challenging diagnosis.
Eczema and asthma are also cited as growing epidemics of the Western World. Asthma UK report that 1 in 5 households are affected by asthma. On average, there will also be 2 children in every classroom with asthma . Eczema statistic show similarly alarming trends with up to 10% of infants being affected by eczema at some stage .
That is staggering when you think of previous generations who were relatively unaffected by such problems. There are many contributory factors associated with all of these trends, however diet has been shown, at least in part, to affect all of these disorders. Obesity clearly is directly linked to the foods we consume!
I know entire families affected by asthma or eczema or both. My own daughters began to creep into the ASD and ADHD spectrums. I had suffered years of eczema and asthma. All of these have improved with our change in diet.
So why are our children ill? Could it be that a poor quality nutrient deficient diet could be the obvious cause that no one wants to accept? The big food manufacturers certainly don’t want us to point the finger at their ‘value-added’ food products as a cause for our childhood population’s growing ill health.
Over the years, awareness about the dangers of sugars has led to high sugar foods being exchanged for artificial sweeteners, fruit sugar and flavour enhances with little improvements. Every play group passes out the sugar-free cordial and bananas but the problems persist. If you look around you will soon see niggling health concerns that affect the seemingly ‘well’. Adults and children alike all fall prey to poor health and dis-ease in some way.
Of course other factors like external pollution, chemical toxins and bottlefeeding all play an important role in this picture but the message is clear: put good food in and you get good health out.
I constantly agonise about whether I do the right thing for my children. We are different and that excludes my daughters in many ways from the ‘normal’ modern life. As a parent that is hard but ultimately I want the best health for my children. So, a ‘Paleo’ Stone Age diet might be a radical step for us all but I do believe our health has improved greatly and hopefully we will enjoy better health well into the future. It has certainly been a staggering cure for both my daughters and who knows how many other children could benefit.