Dr. Al Danenberg ● Nutritional Periodontist
October 9, 2022
The number of children struggling with chronic illness is on the rise, with between 10-20 million children in the US affected with conditions such as obesity, asthma, allergies, and behavioral problems like depression or ADHD. The CDC defines chronic illnesses as “conditions that last one year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both.” This does not take into consideration other issues that develop during their formative years, such as problems with their jaw development.
Children get their first source of nutrients directly from their mother. We now know mothers shouldn’t drink alcohol, smoke, or eat certain food items (ex: seafood with high levels of mercury) while pregnant. But it’s time we consider the impact the Standard American Diet has on the fetus. These dietary habits affect the fetus and its development. We’re seeing more and more kids born with a compromised body with which to begin their life journey.
Then, our kids’ poor food choices are causing damage to their precious body that may be irreparable. Parents may be the culprits, and then there are the school lunch programs that emphasize non-nutritious meals. Obviously, food is not the only ingredient for a healthy body. But food is our natural source for the nutrients that are required by our body to function optimally.
So, this blog is devoted to the food element that may be causing our kids to suffer and how you can set your kids up for success.
Mom’s Diet & Lifestyle Choices
This study suggests that a significant number of pregnant women are not meeting recommendations for vitamins D, C, A, B6, K, and E, as well as folate, choline, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc even with the use of dietary supplements. Almost all pregnant women in this study were at risk of excessive consumption of sodium, and many were at risk of excessive consumption of folic acid and iron. Improved dietary guidance to help pregnant women meet but not exceed dietary recommendations is warranted.
So, what would consist of a healthy diet?
An animal-based diet eating nose-to-tail with some plants that are low in oxalates, phytates, and lectins as well as avoiding excessive linoleic acid are ways of eating that provide all the nutrients required. Most importantly, these nutrients are in their proper biologically available ratios and are absorbed by the body.
Excessive consumption of carbohydrates should be stopped. The International Center for Medical Nutritional Intervention published an article in 2020 titled, Possibilities of reducing the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and increasing natural resistance to the disease via nutritional intervention. In this paper, the medical doctors and scientists reported that increased carbohydrate intake …
- Increases the risk of infectious diseases
- Increases the vitamin needs of the body
- Contributes to viral replication
- Interferes with the physiological function of the immune system, thus significantly reducing the body’s defense capacities
Also critical for moms is to avoid processed foods and supplements which contain added chemical ingredients that can damage the gut microbiome.
Certainly, pregnant women must avoid poor lifestyle choices like smoking and drinking alcohol as I mentioned previously.
In addition, there is concern about fluoride in the water system. Moms consuming large amounts of fluoride may have babies with lower IQs. In this study, maternal exposure to higher levels of fluoride during pregnancy was associated with lower IQ scores in children aged 3 to 4 years.
Starter Foods Are Critical
After birth, our precious ones may develop poor immune systems and poor jaw development because of a lack of breastfeeding.
Poor Immune Systems
The first “milk” produced by mom is colostrum. This starts the baby with all the essential nutrients to develop a robust immune system. The continuation of breast feeding maintains all the essential factors for the baby to grow healthy.
Also, the act of breastfeeding helps to form the proper development of the child’s jaw.
Poor Jaw Development
Although genetics play a role, our environment has been the dominant contributor in the development of the jaw. There appear to be three major external factors that are affecting the size and shape of our jaws. They include:
- A decrease in breastfeeding
- A decrease in nutrient-dense foods
- An increase in soft foods
A. Decrease in breastfeeding
Breastfeeding provides the ideal mechanical stimulation in the mouth for the jaw’s normal development. When infants breast-feed, they form a deep attachment to the breast. They open wide and take in enough breast so that the breast is pressing up against their palate. Babies do not merely “suck out” the milk, but instead place their tongue around the breast in a U-shaped pattern. In a wave-like motion they “milk” the breast to receive its nourishment. Two developmental actions take place: (1) a rhythmic action of the tongue “milking” the breast, which presses on the palate, and (2) the subsequent action of swallowing. Both actions play a critical role in proper stimulation and development of the dental arches, palate, jaw, and muscles. As the baby grows, the breast continues to conform to the baby’s mouth.
When bottle-feeding replaces breastfeeding, the bottle’s unnaturally shaped nipple does not fill or conform to the baby’s palate and therefore does not stimulate any widening of the palate to ensure room for future teeth. Also, the infant must create greater suction forces to suck out the milk from the bottle than would be necessary to feed from mother’s breast. This forceful action causes the cheeks to draw in, putting pressure on the gums and alveolar bone, affecting the position of the teeth. As the baby grows, the shape of the bottle’s nipple doesn’t change and cannot adapt to the developing mouth of a growing child, further compromising normal bone and muscle development.
B. Decrease in nutrient-dense foods
Nutrient-rich food sources began to decline after agricultural farming provided a significantly increasing proportion of processed foods to our diets. The lack of necessary nutrients in over-processed grain and sugar products compromised healthy bone metabolism.,
Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist, published Nutrition and Physical Degeneration in 1939. In his book, Dr. Price documented numerous observational examples of primitive people who had healthy dentitions and others who had various dental problems including gum disease, tooth decay, and poor jaw development. He identified that those with healthy dentitions generally ate nutrient-dense foods, and those with unhealthy dental conditions regularly consumed diets high in flour, sugar, processed vegetable oils and processed foods. Dr. Price implicated a lack of both fat-soluble vitamins and trace minerals to be the most important deficiencies causing dental problems.
Since then, there have been numerous observations among hunter-gatherers and primal societies who have relatively healthy bodies with little or no chronic disease. Those societies that continued to eat their natural diets had healthy dentitions, while those who abandoned their traditional diets and began to eat a “Western” diet developed dental problems and even produced offspring with an increasing number of dental abnormalities.
C. Increase in soft foods
Soft food sources, which reduced the physical stimuli on the jawbones and muscles of the jaw, increased after agricultural farming.
Processed grains and starchy foods provide a soft diet. The Industrial Revolution (1760-1820) brought about increased development of processed foods and other mass changes in dietary consumption including heavy reliance on sugar as a staple.
Recent research has demonstrated that softer diets create fewer mechanical stimuli to the muscles and bones of the jaw resulting in a slow decrease in the jaw’s density and dimensions over the course of time. Jaws don’t need to be as strong or as large if the foods are less hard and less strenuous to chew. Rather than occurring over an evolutionary timescale, the change to the mandible was happening on an individual level as each child was growing up.
Typical Kid’s Diet
I remember when I was in practice treating periodontal patients in a general dentistry office. There were many times when moms would bring their children into the office to be treated for tooth decay. These mothers could not understand why their kids were getting cavities in their teeth. Yet these moms were sipping on a can of Mountain Dew. Go figure!!!
As babies become children and teenagers, their diet often comprises of highly processed carbohydrate foods, added sugars and sugary drinks, fried foods, and vegetable oils.
- Their day may start with cereal for breakfast. Possibly juice, a Pop-Tart, or a donut.
- Then there may be processed carbs for lunch, or a burger or chicken sandwich with fries, a soda, and some cookies.
- And the last major meal of the day may consist of a pasta dish with sugary sauces, a salad with sugary vegetable oil salad dressing, a soda, and a sweet carb dessert.
- And interspersed during the day they enjoyed several snacks of crackers, processed nut butter spreads, chips, popcorn, sweet desserts and candies, and some more soda.
So, our kids are suffering, and diet is at the center of their poor development and their potential for chronic diseases later in life.
Kids’ Nutritional Needs
For the first time, the 2020-2025 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) includes guidance for feeding infants and toddlers from birth to 24 months old. These evidence-based guidelines emphasize the vital role of foods rich in iron and zinc (including meat). Iron-rich red meat, such as beef and lamb, are ideal first foods to help meet an infant’s nutrient needs starting at approximately 6 months old. And this 2022 article published in Nutrition Today explains the importance of introducing animal meat immediately following breastfeeding.
In another 2022 article published online by Cambridge University Press, the authors showed that animal-based foods improved the physical growth in 6 to 24-month-old children.
When it comes to physical development, this 2021 study shows that kids on a vegan diet were 1.2 inches shorter on average, had smaller and weaker bones, were three times more likely to be deficient in B12, and twice as likely to be deficient in iron than kids who ate an animal-based diet.
And when it comes to performance in school, here is an interesting study which was published in 2013. It was a controlled study of Kenyan children in school. Those kids who were given school meals which were animal-based excelled in school tests while those children who were given plant-based lunches in school performed less well in school testing programs.
Animal-based foods not only provide healthy development of children and adults, but they also have a positive effect on mental health. The authors of this 2020 peer-reviewed paper state that those individuals who avoided meat consumption had significantly higher rates or risk of depression, anxiety, and/or self-harm behaviors.
- Pregnant moms need to be aware of the water they drink and the foods they eat. Their lifestyle and food habits directly affect the developing fetus.
- Excessive consumption of carbohydrates is harmful to the body’s ability to function properly.
- An animal-based diet consumed nose-to-tail along with very specific plants can provide the necessary nutrients for pregnant moms as well as their children growing up to become healthy adults. ALL the nutrients essential for human health can be obtained from organs, meat, animal fats, fruit, and raw dairy.
- Staying properly hydrated with natural spring water replete with trace minerals is important.
- There are many defense chemicals in vegetables that could be harmful to kids like oxalates which can rob them of minerals, lectins which can damage the gut microbiome and trigger systemic inflammation, or digestive enzyme inhibitors that can mess up digestion.
- In my newest book, Eat As If Your Life Depends On It, I describe how I came up with my Better Belly Blueprint way of eating and how you could comfortably transition into this new lifestyle diet. It is based on the volume of a plate of food consisting of at least 70% animal foods and less than 30% specific healthy plants. There even is an interactive 3-day food journal for you to complete to monitor your new lifestyle way of eating.
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