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Kids, Paleo, and Dental Health

evolution rKaren Mozzo, publisher of CARE Magazine, recently interviewed me. She wanted to help readers of the magazine get a handle on how Paleo would work with kids, and how dental health was related to all of this. Here are her questions and my answers:
 
QUESTION:
Is a Paleo diet a healthy diet for children under age 18?
 
ANSWER:
Absolutely. But the term “diet” is misleading. A diet generally is a strict form of eating where calories are counted and portions of food are measured in some fashion. A Paleo diet is really a lifestyle of eating nutrient-dense foods with no concern for calories. When the proper foods are eaten together, then the body begins to regulate its digestive hormones, and the body will tell you to stop eating because it is full. Every meal should be thought of as a plate of food. Conceptually, at least one-half of the plate should consist of non-starchy vegetables; about one-quarter should consist of some type of protein; and the last quarter or less could be make up of healthy fats, and possibly a starchy vegetable, or some nuts or seeds, or some deeply colored fruits. The nutrients that are available from eating animal products, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds are all the nutrients that the human body needs – no matter what the age.
 
QUESTION:
Does some sugar in a child’s diet mean they are destined for poor dental health?
 
ANSWER:
Sugar in the natural form is not the same as concentrated sugars and refined sugars that actually are added to foods like processed foods. Sugars that are in fruits are much healthier than the sugars a child gets in soda, sports drinks, cakes, cookies, candy, and the list goes on and on. However, if too much fresh fruit is eaten instead of balancing fruit with proteins and vegetables and healthy fats, then too much fructose will accumulate in the body creating excesses for the liver and the brain, damaging the gut, and creating fat deposits around the waist. Sugar is a fermentable carbohydrate, and if bad bacteria are predominant in the gut and in the mouth, and if sugar is a dominant element in the child’s diet, and if healthy nutrients are not part of the child’s diet, then tooth decay will be inevitable.
 
QUESTION:
How do you suggest dealing with the typical parent’s dilemma of keeping sugary foods out of their children’s diet? Regulating or eliminating sweets, sugary drinks, refined milk products, processed grain treats may be the best idea, but it’s often not practical for a parent. Often times, parents are not even aware if their child has sugar… i.e. a sports drink or “energy” bar after a Little League game; cakes or sweets at a birthday party.
 
ANSWER:
Parents are in control of the foods that are presented to their children. Healthy foods are easy to provide, but in the beginning there is a learning curve. The books I recommended in my last article have excellent meals that are easy to prepare and delicious to eat for the whole family. Many of them are easy to pack up and take on a trip or to school.
 
The foods that are most important to eliminate are grains and added sugars. Whole foods will not contribute significantly to an unhealthy level of sugars. If a child’s food choices in the home are generally healthy, then some cheating outside of the home is not going to be a problem. Dr. Loren Cordain, who is the “godfather” of Paleo research, states that if a person is 85% compliant, then that person overwhelmingly will benefit from a Paleo eating lifestyle.
 
The younger the child is when you start a Paleo lifestyle, the easier it will be to follow. An older child’s eating habits may be more difficult to change but not impossible. Take baby steps, but children learn from what they see at home. You are their model.
 
QUESTION:
Parents these days are so often in a hurry to get everything done in a typical day. Grocery shopping presents quite a hurdle in these cases… it’s so much easier to ‘grab and go’ when your child is hungry and you need to get them fed. What’s a parent to do?
 
ANSWER:
Again, try to avoid the grains and added sugars when your child is fed. Shop the outer aisles in the grocery store where the more natural foods are located and avoid the packaged and overly processed foods in the center of the store. If purchasing packaged foods, look at the ingredients, and be selective. You will be amazed at what are in some of these “foods”. Again, grains and added sugars are the most troublesome. You may not be 100% Paleo, but you will be providing your child with a very healthy foundation.
 
Some quick ideas for on-the-go:
Raw almond butter spread on stalks of celery
Raw vegetables and/or sliced fruits with individual containers of live-culture, • • full-fat yogurt for dipping. Add spices to the yogurt to create different flavors
Chicken salad or tuna salad with chopped nuts, blueberries, and cut up celery. Lettuce leaves (butter or Romaine lettuce) are good for a wrap
Raw macadamia nuts
 
QUESTION:
If you eat out while ‘on the road’, are fast food places forever banned? What if they’re on their way to an out-of-town game and can’t take the time to stop for a sit down meal?
 
ANSWER:
Fast food places usually are not a problem once you understand what you cannot eat.
 
Some examples of what to eat:
Some type of salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing and whatever spices that are available at the restaurant.
Hard boiled eggs, hamburger or chicken meat – crumbled up and tossed into the salad
Fresh fruit if available
Water, unsweetened iced or hot tea, or seltzer
 

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