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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Become a Kids' Nutrition Detective

Aug 01, 2014 03:23PM ● By Sylvia Haskvitz

Sometimes a beloved child is suffering from picky eating, reflux, stomach aches, ear infections, failure to grow, constipation, rashes, sleeplessness, mood disorders, ADHD, hyperactivity or speech delays.

When a child is being a picky eater, for example, and we are frustrated because meal time is not enjoyable for anyone, we may be concerned that the child is getting what they need to survive and thrive. Then often begins the cajoling, threatening, pleading, rewarding and punishing, in order to inspire cooperation around eating.

There may be a psychological component to picky eating because it is one of the few activities where children have real choice about their lives (they have to go to school, church, etc.). Short of installing a feeding tube, no one can make them eat. And there is likely a biochemical connection at play, as well.

If a child just wants to eat white bread, chicken, rice, tortillas, mac and cheese and other “white foods”, avoid self-judgment and judgment of the child. Rather than remain mired in wondering or questioning, parents may want to become a sleuth and see whether a biochemical component is part of the problem. Picky eaters, for example, may have a zinc deficiency, according to Kelly Dorfman, MS, LND, author of Cure Your Child With Food: The Hidden Connection Between Nutrition and Childhood Ailments.

All of those white foods some children eat are devoid of zinc, an essential nutrient that we need to stay healthy and is found in cells throughout the body. It helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses. The body also needs zinc to make proteins and DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Children with a zinc deficiency may actually be repulsed by the tastes or smells of certain foods, which could explain what we call picky eating.

Timing is key factor in this detective work. Ask, “What was happening around the time the problem started?” One example is when children begin having ear infections around the time they are switched from infant formula, which is easier to digest, to whole milk. Dorfman notes that ear infections may be actually connected to dairy intolerance, so making this determination at the proper time may help find the likely culprit.

Fats affect the way the brain functions and are calming. Mood disorders ADHD and hyperactivity may be connected to a lack of EPA, (the fats in fish oil) which can impact emotions and behavior. Because some foods trigger reactions in your child., parents may wish to follow Dorfman’s program:

E: Eliminate irritants that may cause a reaction

A: Add one food at a time

T: Try one bite of the new food each night for two weeks

The premise of this program is that it takes children a time to acclimate to new foods. People prefer what they know and get used to what they have been exposed to. Through this process, children begin to enjoy a wider array of food possibilities.

Although our first instinct may be to run to the doctor and have tests taken or find the right medication, we may also choose to hone our investigative skills. Before we label our children as complainers and picky eaters or slap a diagnosis on them, we may want to consider the biochemical component.

Many childhood ailments have their roots in nutritional deficiencies. Food and nutritional supplements may be our ally in putting the ailment to rest and getting beneath the symptom to address the underlying cause and support healing.

Sylvia Haskvitz, MA, RD, is a certified trainer with the Center for Nonviolent Communication and the author of Eat By Choice, Not By Habit (

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