I have been asked four times in the past two weeks about my thoughts on food choices for children, so I figured this is the Universe asking me to blog about it 🙂
Concerned parents were wondering if they should be forcing their children to eat a certain amount of veggies each day, and yet other parents were concerned that their children may not be getting enough meat. I’ve thought long and hard about what I believe. I’ve considered everything I know from my education as a physician and everything I *feel* as an intuitive mother, and I have developed a sort of radical idea of what I think the bigger picture is with eating.
I’m going to pitch it to you right here, right now. Ready?
I think we were born to consume animal fats in early childhood and then transition to being exclusively vegetarian slowly, becoming completely vegetarian by the last third of our life. Now, I am certain I can’t be the only person who has had this thought, so there may be a great book out there with this concept in it… but I’ve never seen it,.
The thing is, children truly need saturated fats. This is backed by Mother Nature… our human breast milk has over 50% of it’s calories from fat, much of that saturated fat. If there was one great head start you could give your children it would be to nurse, nurse, nurse, nurse… for as long as they will let you! So we start out life consuming animal fats, this much we *know*. And there are lots of good reasons why.
Children absolutely *need* to have saturated fats to develop properly. Not only do saturated animal fats help us absorb fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K, but fats themselves make up the structure of our cell membrane. As you know, children are literally growing machines! It’s what they do! They lay there smiling up at us and cooing and drooling and meanwhile are literally replicating cells so fast it would make your head spin. Each one of these cells needs an intact cell membrane to function.
Kids also need saturated animal fats to create the hormones they need to regulate growing. That is why it continues to be crucial for teenagers and woman of child bearing years to get a supply of saturated fats into their diet as well. Hormones affect how we grow, how we function, how we feel, how we think. We all need healthy hormone levels or we just don’t feel right.
Lastly, children literally need healthy saturated fats to grow their brain.
Did you know over half of the brain is made up of fatty tissue? We need fats to properly grow and myelinate our neurons… our brain and nerves. Animal fats support proper brain development in a way that plant fats (which are mostly unsaturated) can not.
Not only do children *need* more saturated animal fats to literally grow their bodies, but they also burn saturated fats faster then adults… running through their fat intake faster. I don’t think you can give children too much saturated fat in the beginning.
While I understand completely that there are ethical and eco-friendly reasons to become a vegetarian, I think it is crucial for children to get healthy animal fats in them initially. Organic eggs, organic whole milk, organic yogurt and cheeses are perfect for children. Perfect. I think these are foods even vegetarian parents can feel good about working into their children’s diets… especially if the eggs are from free range, organic chickens, and organic milk is used to create the dairy products. If you desire it in addition, I think organic fish, chicken and beef are all great ways to make sure your child has all the building blocks they need to replicate cells, produce hormones, absorb a full range of vitamins, and develop their brains.
As our body development slows, the amount of saturated animal fats we need declines dramatically. Although teenagers and woman of child bearing years still need saturated fats for hormone production, the need is much less then for a young child. Certainly drinking organic milk or eating occasional organic eggs would supply enough saturated fat for a middle aged person. And slowly, as we mature, we truly only need a very small amount of saturated fats to keep our brain, hormone, and vitamin levels functioning optimally. These fats could come solely from coconut, avocado, and other plant saturated fat sources.
This transition is perfect, because as we age, we don’t need the calorie dense foods of our youth.
What we need is a vitamin rich and anti-oxidant rich and fiber rich diet to help reverse the free radicals we have built up from a life of living. We need the fiber to help us poop, and we need the antioxidants to neutralize the radical damage, and we need vitamins and water to help us feel our best.
In our older years, the food can be very calorie poor… fruits and veggies, things like lettuce and celery… all are calorie poor compared to a slice of meat. As we are no longer growing and our metabolism is slowing, this is perfect.
I see life three transition segments. The first third (say 0 – 30) we need lots of animal fats to build our bodies and maintain our hormone and reproductive health. The second third (30 – 60 ish) it is very natural to switch to getting much less saturated fats, and more and more from purely plant sources. By the last third (60 – 90 and beyond) I think it is natural and healthy to exclude animal products (including eggs and dairy, if desired) entirely from our diets. We just don’t need them. Getting calcium and phytonutrients from dark leafy greens is exactly what our body is yearning for… we need much less calories then we did but much more water, fiber and antioxidants.
So, I encourage parents to stop pushing veggies on our kids if they are not wanting them. I think it is absolutely fine to have a child who prefers organic chicken and organic whole milk exclusively. This is the mainstay of my daughter’s diet. My son, on the other hand, loves veggies and fruits too and that is wonderful! I just make sure he has some saturated fats from organic eggs and organic whole milk on a routine basis.
If we push and push and ruin veggies for our children, we may hamper their natural inclination to turn to vegetarianism as they grow older. It is a very natural transition, if you are in touch with what your body desires. You’ll find as you age that your body yearns for meats and dairy less and less, and instead you may find and embrace a yearning for vegetables that you never had before.
This is natural.
This is healthy.
Just as we don’t need to ruin veggies for our children by forcing them to eat them, we don’t need to force ourselves to eat animal products if and when our desire to consume them wanes.
It is natural to turn to more and more vegetarian dishes as we get older. My husband and I eat about two meals a week that include meat at this point. We are still in our 30’s… and anticipate enjoying a slow but natural transition to complete vegetarianism over the next 2 or 3 decades.
I know my children will have their turn at being vegetarians too… but at this early age, I want them to have all the building blocks they need to grow. For us, organic eggs and organic dairy (in particular, cheese and yogurt) are the foods I am more likely to encourage them to eat, not the veggies that my husband and I are sitting down to at the dinner table.
What do you think? Do you feel that children need to be forced to eat veggies? Do you feel that you have become more of a vegetarian as you’ve aged? What has been your experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
On Wed, I have a guest blogger on who makes a fabulous cream sunscreen that is competing with my favorite powder sunscreen for the top spot in my heart. I’ll introduce the company and also offer a free giveaway of a tube of their awesome sunscreen for you to try! Come back on Wed to check it out… xoxo