Today I am more than thrilled to welcome Cynthia Damaskos to the blog. Cynthia is an author, speaker, holistic health coach, and a devoted Orthodox Christian. I was blessed to meet her this past summer at a writing conference and was blown away by both her knowledge and her kindness.
Cynthia also runs the popular My Beautiful Advent and My Beautiful Lent sites. These sites are a fantastic resource during the fasting periods of the Church and come complete with menu plans, informational and instructional videos, daily inspiration, and more. Plus, the price is super affordable! Be sure to check it out!
Today Cynthia helps answer that questions that all moms ask: “What should I feed my children?” Welcome, Cynthia!
Giving Our Kids the Gift of Health
One of the things I’ve been told repeatedly by my clients and the Holistic Christian Life community, is that they wish their parents taught them the right way to eat. They simply don’t know what a healthy lifestyle looks like because it was never modeled for them.
I can relate! However, we can’t blame our parents.
Nutrition has always been a confusing topic, and even when they thought they had it right…it turns out they didn’t! Margarine? TV dinners in aluminum trays? Sodas and their equally toxic diet counterparts? So many food and drink products, presented in the guise of being healthy, have turned out to be a poor substitute or even worse than what they were replacing.
It hasn’t helped that the FDA guidelines and “Food Pyramid” were based on evidence that has now been dis-proved. The obesity and diabetes rate has skyrocketed since we were told that grain should be the staple of our diet, and fat was made out to be a villain.
The fat scare was based on studies that were funded by the sugar industry. And surprise…manufacturers added sugar, cheap processed oils, and other harmful ingredients to their products to make up for the lack of healthy fats.
We ended up getting a one, two, three punch. Sugar, unhealthy fats, and toxic chemicals, all leading to inflammation in our bodies have been a staple in our lives for the last few decades. Now we know that inflammation is at the root of disease.
What is a parent to do now? How do we set our children up for a life of health and wellness?
Setting Up Our Children for Health
Instead of training their taste buds, brains and gut microbiome to crave what will harm them, model a healthy lifestyle now.
Instead of letting our schools dictate what our children are fed, teach our kids to read labels for themselves so that they are educated.
One of my favorite teachers has been Dr. Daniel Amen. Dr. Amen is a clinical neuroscientist and child and adolescent psychiatrist. He is a nationally recognized expert on the brain and behavior.
He often talks about how he has taught his daughter from a very early age what is good or bad for the brain. From the age of two years old, she could tell him which foods were good or bad for the brain.
I employed this same technique with our goddaughters. From the time that they could read, it was a great game to go into our pantry and read labels. I could ask them if something was safe to eat, and they would be able to tell me. Now at 8 years old, they love to talk about healthy food.
What is healthy food?
I love to cite this experiment as an example:
In 1997, Natural Ovens initiated a five-year project to bring healthy food into schools in their area. The goal was to show that fresh, nutritious food can make a major difference in student’s behavior, learning and health. They focused on a school with at risk children, low test scores, discipline issues, and a high drop out rate.
One Monday, the kids came to school, and found that the environment had been changed. Gone were the typical pop and candy machines. Something new was a “Make Your Own Smoothie” bar for breakfast. For lunch, no more pre-packaged, processed food with toxic additives, but wholesome, made from scratch meals made from real, God created, ingredients.
And guess what? The kids loved it! The turnaround in the children’s behavior, higher test scores, lower dropout rate, and teacher retention was so incredible that it has inspired other schools across the country. The full story can be found at Feingold.org.
What Can I Do?
How can you replicate this at home? Here is a short primer on the basics:
1. Good Fats vs Bad Fats:
Fats like Vegetable Oil, Canola Oil, and Soybean Oil are known to cause inflammation in the body. We now know that inflammation leads to disease. Therefore, when you are reading a label, first make sure that it doesn’t not contain these harmful fats.
On the other hand, Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Avocado Oil and Grass Fed Butter are anti-inflammatory, and will help feed brain cells and balance hormones. They will also work to keep you satiated and offset blood sugar issues. This equates to kids who can focus and learn.
“Natural Flavors?” Not so fast! Excitotoxins are additives that are related to Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) and have been created in a chemistry lab specifically to enhance flavor, create addiction, and cause cravings. The problem is, they also create accelerated brain cell death and are linked to disease.
Food companies can call these additives a number of misleading names to make you think that they are innocuous or even healthy. To see a full list and read a more in-depth article, you can check out Dr. Russel Blaylock’s “The Taste That Kills.” These additives have also been linked to ADD, Autism and other learning disabilities in both children and adults. The US is one of the few countries in the world who have allowed these in our food supply.
Have you noticed that the use of antibiotics has been on the rise? Immune systems are declining, and this is leaving us wide open to disease and even just the common cold. Preservatives kill off not only the bad bacteria in the food it’s added to, but also the bacteria in our bodies.
Our bacteria is part of a balanced microbiome. If you throw that microbiome off, you weaken your immune system. This leads to kids with a higher susceptibility to catching whatever is going around.
4. Artificial Flavors and Colors:
These additives have been directly linked to behavioral issues and learning disabilities. And yet, when I visit schools, I notice that kids seem to be getting more of these than ever. Sodas, sports drinks, cakes, candy, even macaroni and cheese…they are being slipped into even the healthiest looking foods.
If something doesn’t look like a color found in nature, that God created, you can bet it’s man-made and therefore dangerous to your health.
Sugar is the big bad wolf behind many diseases that used to be linked to saturated fat. High blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, learning disabilities, memory loss, Alzheimer’s, hormonal disruption…are all being linked to sugar as the culprit. It’s in practically everything that has a label on it. A can of peas? You betcha! You must read labels!
The simple answer to “What is a parent to do?” is to make it very simple: Read the ingredient list and don’t worry about the marketing jargon on the front or the nutrition numbers.
This is a great place to start. Make sure the product doesn’t have the ingredients listed above. Ask yourself, can I replicate the recipe at home? Do you have a bottle of “natural flavors” in your cupboard? Carrageenan? EDTA? Potassium Bromate? Red Dye No. 40?
If you can’t replicate it, you know that your family’s lives will be compromised if you choose that product.
Cynthia Damaskos is an author, speaker, and holistic health coach. She is also the director of the Orthodox Speakers Bureau and director of the My Beautiful Advent and My Beautiful Lent sites. Registration is open now for My Beautiful Advent, which includes meal plans, daily inspiration in the form of quotes from the fathers and Scripture, and informational and instructional videos. Sign up today!