Revamping Kids’ Lunches.

Kids’ meals are one of the greatest contradictions. We need to drop the notion created by the food industry that children should be eating foods especially designed for them. The foods served in many café’s, restaurants, supermarkets, food courts, and at sporting events are highly processed fare, packaged to entice children, and far from ideal.

Young brains and bodies are soaring toward their potential and need the very best fuel not just for energy but to keep their biochemistry and immunity on track. These foods are whole foods rich in nutrients. These are the foods that we recognize and can name, rather than look on labels or be drawn to purchasing them due to their fancy packaging.

Many parents struggle to get their children to eat a range of foods, as well as to know what is in fact good for them. The food industry has however flooded the market with processed and industrialised foods sometimes designed from excess production, and in fact is having a negative impact on growth, learning, behavior and immunity.

The irony is that parents are falling for buying kids foods designed by food chemists in industry, and clinicians are faced with treating children with adult diseases such as fatty liver, hyperlipidaemia, high blood pressure, adult onset diabetes, obesity and early onset puberty.

As a guide, we will explore some of the superheroes of foods that keep our biochemistry in order. We all hear about antioxidants being a key fighter against disease, toxicity and anti-aging. But what are they and how do they work?

Glutathione is the most powerful antioxidant in the body and works constantly to neutralise free radicals, enhance the immune system and detoxify the liver. In this modern life of refined, industrialised foods, environmental toxins, reduced immunity and food allergies/ sensitivities at birth, the need for anti-biotics at a young age – these all rob the body of vital anti-oxidants. To stay healthy, it is one of the most important molecules in the body.

Much research is now pointing to free-radical induced illnesses common in middle age such as Alzheimers, some cancers and heart disease. In young growing children, high levels of free radicals due to illness, toxicity and a poor diet can lead to reduced glutathione as levels are used up. Symptoms can present as a sudden decrease in learning and speech, increased susceptibility to illness, low tolerance to vaccinations, fatigue, muscle pain, exhaustion, memory and cognitive issues.

Toxicity is a very real issue as our children are being fed processed and contaminated foods and as the body struggles to detoxify, it uses up more and more of your glutathione stores until it’s depleted. This is when you end up with toxic overload. This can be an environmental issue due to where you live and what you are exposed to, a result of lifestyle and diet, and sometimes lack of a gene crucial for making and recycling glutathione.

Glutathione is the mother of all anti-oxidants and found in every cell. Vitamins E and C do not act alone but rely on it for recharging and recycling so you never run short even during the most demanding of times.

It is made from three amino acids (protein building blocks) – cysteine, glycine and glutamic acid. Foods particularly rich in these amino acids are avocado, asparagus, spinach, and squash. These are not necessarily regarded as child favourite foods but it is time we started to be creative and look for recipes and ways to include all foods into their diet as we did when they first started eating solids. Mashed avocado, pumpkin and spinach were likely to have been a major part of their diet before parents started giving treat foods or falling for childhood tantrums and demands based on temptation and packaging.

Under healthy conditions, and in a healthy environment, our bodies keep us well and top up all of our biochemical needs, but  foods have changed from the way they are propagated, grown, harvested, refined, stored, packaged and processed into end products. This is what is depleting the body’s glutathione supply.

This free radical riff raff is actually about unstable oxygen molecules created by our metabolism. Instability is caused by a molecule with a missing electron which circulates to find a balance by taking another electron from its neighbor. As a result, that molecules turns into free radicals causing damage which grows exponentially to disrupt a cell’s integrity, and cause it to behave abnormally. Another analogy is metal exposed to oxygen which corrodes or becomes rusted, or an apple exposed to the air is oxidized and browns. Almost all chronic illness has been linked in some measure to free-radical-induced tissue damage.

It is not all about modern living and diet though as every breath we take, every calorie burned, every muscle contracted leaves some free radical residues which a healthy body endeavours to keep up with to prevent aging, DNA damage, immunity issues and disease.  Guarding cells from oxidation is where antioxidants, particularly glutathione, come into play. All antioxidants hinder oxidative stress, but because glutathione recharges and recycles its allies, it plays a valuable role in helping the body to keep up with the demands of a poor diet and exposures in the environment.

Boosting glutathione makes most impact in the liver, the body’s major detox organ. The liver takes the nutrients it needs and gives toxins the push. Detoxification occurs in two pahses: in phase one, liver enzymes bag up toxins and in phase two, glutathione is used to grab hold of the toxin and flush it out of the body via urine or bile. If glutathione stores are insufficient or unable to keep up, toxins are stored and liver function is compromised.

Glutathione owes much of its detoxifying competency to cysteine, an amino acid rich in sulfur which is smelly and sticky. It basically traps toxins to take them out. Foods high in sulfur, include garlic and onions, eggs and whey protein. Another plant substance, called cyano-hydroxy-butene is found in cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, which enhance glutathione production. Other foods are green tea, fish oil and resveratrol from grape skins which play a part in making glutathione.

Taking glutathione as a supplement has not shown great results and it is not clear how much oral glutathione reaches its final destination. Boosting amino acid intake with cysteine, eating glutathioine rich and cruciferous foods, exercising especially yoga and aerobic is the best bet to deliver the building blocks the body needs to make glutathione on its own.

Recognizing when the body is running low on glutathione can take some investigating. An oxidative stress/ oxidative capacity test or missing gene test can be taken, however a history of chronic illness, high levels of stress, certain medications, frequent infections and poor diet will all have nibbled away at the body’s glutathione levels. And many people freely admit they are not big fruit and vegetable eaters which is very likely to leave them deficient.

Some easy ways to boost your levels!

Foods high in cysteine Eggs, garlic and whey protein
Glutathione-rich foods Asparagus, spinach, avocado, squash, melons, grapefruit and peaches – raw if possible
Colorful, antioxidant-packed foods Strawberries, bell peppers and mangoes rich in vitamin C
Reduce toxins Buy organic and drink filtered water
Foods high in cyano-hydroxy-butene Cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale
Eat good fats for vitamin E and A Nuts, walnuts, avocados, carrots, fish oils
N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC): Amino acid l-cystein restocks the liver’s supply of glutathione and is a potent liver detoxer
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA Can overcome free radicals and is rich in organ meats such as liver and brewers yeast
Selenium A mineral low in the food chain (found in brazil nuts, meat and seafood, seaweed) and boosts the body’s ability to recycle glutathione
Vitamin C Vitamin C and glutathione work to rid the body of water soluble toxins

When we think brain boosting, the brain uses a good percentage of the bodies oxygen and can become awash with free radicals. Glutathione helps protect the brain against the damaging effects. This is the tie up with age related Alzheimers and Parkinsons .

Parents often struggle, though, to come up with creative, nutritious lunches that their kids will eat. Lunches do take time and effort, but they give your children the energy and focus they need to make the best of their school day.

Processed meats such as nuggets and hotdogs are loaded with soy protein substitutes and chemicals and especially excito-toxic glutamate.

Sweetened foods such as juice, sodas, flavoured milk, yoghurt and fruit compotes are highly sweetened with fructose corn syrup.

Granola bars are almost pure sugar and snack foods are refined cereals and trans fats enhanced with flavor and mono sodium glutamate (E621).

Taking a step back to the food options in the food groups which are not in the processed sections of the supermarket may require a little more love and creative attention to prepare, but they will also support your children’s developing brain and set them up for future good health.

Some ideas:

Meatballs with vegetables and bread crumbs, tomato salsa sauce, vegetable sticks

Meat and vegetable kebab with pasta noodles

Homemade chicken nuggets in breadcrumbs, cooked rice, wrapped in lettuce, guacamole.

Tortilla wrap with chicken or beans, grated cheese, salsa and avocado

Arabic bread with grated carrot, felafels, dressing in a small bottle (Daiso is great for these)

Tuna with kidney beans, corn and capsicum, Arabic bread

Wedge of baked egg, vegetable and cheese frittata

Try to add a fruit, dried fruit or fruit kebab every day, along with a small snack which should consist of a small amount of a carbohydrate food such as bread or crackers and a protein – meat, eggs, hummus, cheese.

While children do not always choose salad and adult foods when given a choice, there is no reason why they shouldn’t. These are the foods that are helping keep their liver in fine shape and boosting the power plant of their body. Don’t forget to nurture it along on a daily basis!

You supply the quality and let them manage the quantity!

Share your solutions to picky eating!