If like most, you’ve earned some stripes in the battle of toddler nutrition, this simplified path from IGNITE! The Firefly Theory to making food instead of war might be for you. Most of us know of the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates’s sentiment that food should be our medicine. He was, of course, right, but what was a simple enough health strategy 2,500 years ago has become complicated and almost impossible to navigate due to environmental and lifestyle changes.
Not only has the quality of our food changed, but today we are so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information, advice, and clutter in child nutrition that, despite our best efforts, we often find ourselves confused and misinformed – reaching for the nearest bag of crisps in utter exhaustion.
Nutrition is plays a vital role in a child’s health, but the last thing any modern-day parent needs is another nonorganic, fast food shaming exercise. Besides, guilt and stress are bad for our health! Instead, we should aim to understand the ‘why’ of nutrition. That, together with a pinch of gratitude, a dash of good humour, and some 20th-century food sense, will help you make food – not war.
The Firefly Theory defines nutrition, one of the key pillars of the Energy System Health Triangle, as any substance that provides the raw metabolic fuel or energy potential needed to produce energy, DNA and cell building blocks, cell energy stimuli, immune helpers, or cell cleaners.
When preparing a meal or a drink for a child (or yourself), it is helpful to know the nutritional objectives for that meal beyond addressing hunger pangs. To that purpose, the following five questions might be helpful:
- Do I need it to provide fuel (glucose) for energy?
- Do I need it to provide cell building blocks for both the brain and body?
- Do I need it to support the production or activation of cell energy stimuli (including signalling molecules like hormones or neurotransmitters and catalysts like enzymes)?
- Do I need it to prevent or repair cell or DNA damage?
Every Child is Different
Next, you should look at ratios, intake frequencies, and portion sizes. If you grew up between the 70s and 90s, you would remember the ‘food pyramid,’ which was an effort to provide a guiding light in balanced nutrition and ratios. Today we know that it was deeply flawed in its over promotion of complex carbohydrates and attack on protein and even fat. A more trustworthy starting point in understanding deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances is the nutrient ratio in the human cell:
- 64% water
- 16% protein
- 16% lipids (fats)
- 4% minerals and carbohydrates
1. Nutrients work better in Teams
Nutrient synergy happens if one nutrient helps a person to absorb another. An example of this is the need for vitamin D to absorb calcium. Nutrient synergy also refers to the fact that certain nutrients work better in combination to achieve a nutritional goal. One example of such a ‘dynamic duo’ is vitamin B12 and L-methylfolate (folic acid). These two nutrients work together to support cell division and replication, and yet many pregnant women are only advised to consider their folate intake during pregnancy.
But how should we know which nutrients go with which? Whole food does most of the heavy lifting and calculations for us by providing perfectly balanced nutrient complexes.
2. Whole Foods vs Processed or Refined Foods
Whole foods are not processed at all (like vegetables and fruit) or processed minimally
(like cooked eggs or legumes). From the moment food is altered from its original raw
state, it starts losing nutritional value. For example, nutrients will begin to lose their
potency when heated over 49 degrees Celsius. Most processed or refined foods were
exposed to temperatures far exceeding that and contain synthetic or isolated chemicals
to put back nutrients and flavours and preserve the food for longer.
When selecting food for a child, it is important to know the difference between whole and processed foods. The easiest way to do this is to ask whether the food will recognise itself as something that occurs naturally on this planet when looking in the mirror. Processed foods, like sugar and some nutritional supplements will have a serious identity crisis!
3. Beneficial Processing
Food preparation can positively or negatively impact food and is an essential consideration in nutrition. More often than not, less is more when it comes to food processing, but certain foods, like eggs, have to be cooked for safety and other reasons. In these instances slow cooking and poaching are preferred to boiling or frying.
The germination of grains and plant seeds, also called sprouting, can make it more gut-friendly, break down antinutrients like phytic acids and gluten, as well as increase nutrient
levels. Sprouts are, however, often linked to cases of food poisoning and it is important to ensure that they come from a reputable source, that you store them in a dry and cool location and that you wash them in cider vinegar and water (or even cook them slowly) before serving them.
Fermentation is another food process that our children’s diets can benefit from. Through
fermentation, yeast can partially break down gluten in sourdough bread. The lactose in
fermented dairy, like yoghurts, is also broken down. Fermentation adds beneficial probiotics and enzymes to food.
4. Absorbing Nutrients
Technically, nutrients that the digestive system has not absorbed are not ‘in’ our bloodstream and cells yet. Apart from water and oxygen, your child can only benefit from nutrients when digested and absorbed. There are a couple of ways to improve this process.
It all starts with chewing. The ‘finer’ food is chewed, the easier it is absorbed. Human saliva also contains enzymes that help with the breaking down of food. Chewing properly can be a challenge for children with oral sensitivities. Mashing or pureeing food for them is one way to help them absorb the nutrients while you gradually introduce them to other food textures and sensations.
Children who do not smell or taste very well judge food by texture. To that purpose playing ‘smelling games’ can improve your child’s eating habits as well. Slow and steady is the key point to remember.
Most of the actual absorption of nutrients does not happen in the stomach but in the small intestine. Here are a couple of ways to improve the bioavailability of nutrients for your child:
- Whole foods are the best starting point for the bioavailability of nutrients because ofthe nutrient synergy in food complexes.
- We’ve seen earlier that we need certain ‘nutrient pairs’ for better absorption (like L-methylate and vitamin B12).
- Healthy fats, like olive oil, can help with the absorption of certain nutrients.
- Phytic acids in grains, seeds, and other plants can inhibit the absorption of nutrientslike calcium and magnesium. Sprouting is one way of dealing with this issue. Another is not to consume sources of calcium, like milk, with plant foods.
- Fermentation can help with the breakdown of lactose and gluten.
- Certain antioxidants, like the carotenoids in tomatoes and carrots, are better absorbed when cooked.
5. Toxins and other Synthetic Chemicals
Toxic chemicals are substances – both synthetic and natural – that will cause harm to
Not all synthetic chemicals are classified as toxic per se. Still, our bodies are not always able to metabolise synthetic chemicals, making them toxic over a period of time. Apart from absorbing toxins from our environment, we also digest toxins and synthetic chemicals with processed foods or food covered in pesticides.
Organic foods are said typically to have the same amount of nutrients as non-organic foods. Generally speaking, they look and taste more or less the same, too (I would, however, argue that the organic eggs that our two backyard chickens, Koko and Cluck, lay are much tastier and bigger than non-organic eggs, but I might be prejudiced). The real difference lies in the fact that organic food does not contain antibiotics, hormones, or synthetic chemicals and has less of an environmental impact. The negatives of buying organic are that organic food is almost always more expensive and that availability can be an issue.
What about foods that are fortified with ‘good nutrients’? The problem with fortified foods (and many nutritional supplements) is that they are not based on healthy nutrient-synergies (not even naturally derived ones). Synthetic nutrients, unlike their natural versions, are also not always readily metabolised, which can create health issues. The folic acid that most cereals are fortified with, and that pregnant women often take in nutritional supplements is but one example. Folic acid is the chemically synthesised form of L-methylfolate (a nutrient critical for the healthy development of a baby, to use one example). However, the process of converting folic acid into L-methylfolate (the most active form of folate) in the body can, in certain people, be slow and inefficient. High levels of unmetabolised folic acid in the bloodstream are linked to various neurological health issues.
6. Food Packaging
Most busy parents are all for convenience. Innovative convenience that does not harm the environment or disturb the Energy System Health Triangle is terrific and needed by modern parents. The problem with convenience is that most of it, like fast food, is provided at the cost of the planet, our health, or both.
Suppliers of nutritional supplements, organic products, and water should remember not to counter their noble efforts with synthetic plastic packaging. Not only is plastic bad for the environment, but the contents of plastic packaging can be contaminated with plastic particles – even if it is BPA-free.
Lastly, consider what you serve food on and with, and what you use to clean utensils, water bottles and cutlery.
IGNITE! The Firefly Theory, published by Kinderfli (www.kinderfli.com), provides a universal model for optimal nervous system development and immune priming in children. It aims to guide parents towards:
- Improved health literacy for informed decisions before and after birth.
- Discovering why genetics are not a child’s only developmental and health destiny.
- Developing a collaborative strategy to prevent and counter adverse developmental and health events.
- Understanding the value of different therapies.
- Supporting all children in reaching their full potential.
Disclaimer: For general information and educational purposes only. Not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or medical treatment. Information should always be applied in the context and under the guidance of medical supervision. Nothing in this excerpt should be interpreted as a claim of treatment or cure of any medical condition. Readers should not only rely on information provided in this excerpt. All specific medical questions should be presented to a qualified healthcare provider.