The quick answer: School is starting. Give the kids a healthy lunch.
Last week we discussed how some things are unknowable—too complex for the human mind to sort out, PhD or not. If we are humble enough to accept this, we just might be on the path to wisdom.
The complexity of the immune system and the rise of the autoimmune diseases were presented as examples of the unknowable. Ditto for the related and ever increasing 4-A diseases of autism, ADHD, asthma and allergy. (A new study was presented last week as evidence that autism—the fastest rising diagnosis of the 4-A’s—is not caused by vaccinations. Unfortunately, though they’re confident it’s not vaccinations, the cause remains unknown.) It was also noted that the #1 killer, atherosclerotic heart disease, might be triggered by an autoimmune reaction.
Algorithms are simple rules that allow us to deal with complexity, the unknowable. We suggested a two-part algorithm for dealing with autoimmune diseases:
- Strengthen the immune system by living the healthiest life possible, and
- Protect the immune system by minimizing toxic exposure.
Food allergies are on the rise—they’ve doubled in the last decade—and that’s a troubling omen for the nation’s health. If food causes an adverse immune response it’s considered an allergen. (If the reaction doesn’t involve the immune system, you have food intolerance.) The common food allergens form an innocuous but potentially deadly group: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. Children in the first two years are especially vulnerable, so pediatricians guide the introduction of these foods as the immune system develops. The reported risk of a food allergy is 6-8%, but diagnosis is crude.
But there’s an opposite view. A 2008 study of Jewish children in England and Israel found a 10-fold greater risk of peanut allergy in England, where peanuts are avoided in the first year, vs. Israel where they are commonly consumed by the end of the first year. A study just issued found that allergic response (measured by immunoglobulin E, or IgE, which rises quickly in the first six months of life) is lower in children with prenatal pet exposure (i.e., the mom lived around a dog or cat during pregnancy). This leads to the hygiene theory of allergy that says living in an ultra clean environment deprives children of unknown protections, thus a higher risk for allergies. It’s a good theory if you don’t like to dust.
Food allergies—especially peanuts, tree nuts, or shell foods—can lead to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that requires urgent medical attention and a strategy for protection from future attacks. Know anyone that carries an EpiPen?
There is a familial influence: If one parent has allergies there is a 48% risk for the child; if both parents are allergic the risk rises to 70%. The elimination diet is the safest strategy for diagnosed food allergies and intolerances—simply avoid whatever makes you ill. In the case of milk, soy, and wheat allergies this is difficult as they are used in a wide variety of processed foods—another reason to do your own cooking. Children may grow out of food allergies—especially milk, egg, soy and wheat allergies—but adults typically don’t.
Prevention is better than treatment—this could be the motto for this blog—so the big question is how to prevent allergies. There is evidence that breast feeding the first four months is protective of milk allergies but there’s isn’t clear evidence of protection against other allergies. Perhaps it’s a complexity issue, but we just don't know how to prevent allergies.
Bottom line: The prevention of allergies is another of those unknowable things—Science doesn’t yet have an answer and likely won’t in our lifetime. But as allergies have increased with the modern lifestyle, it makes sense that protection lies in living by the olden ways, beginning with diet. In our view, this is especially important during the years of possible conception.
As school has started for some, we should talk about healthy lunches. For the last year or so there has been a public debate about the terrible things served in school cafeterias. Maybe you saw Jamie Oliver (the Food Revolution guy) crossing swords with the Los Angeles school board. The menu items I read about are revolting plus there’s the knavery of schools selling pouring rights to the soda companies.
It’s not our policy to attack Food Inc.—other critics are doing a fine job. So we’re not going to say anything about the Kraft line of Lunchables except to invite you to go on line and read the ingredient list. Scary.
Budget wisdom: Here are some affordable ideas for your kid’s lunch “sack”. Consult the kids; involve them in preparation as part of their cooking education:
- Fruits are easy: apple, orange, banana, grapes, dates or dried mangos with nuts, there are lots of choices, you can even make a fruit cup. Fruit can also be added to the low-sugar yogurts.
- Veggies like carrot sticks, celery, or hummus with cucumbers or cherry tomatoes are all good.
- Sandwiches are a little harder but if you use an insulated lunch box with ice packs, there are more choices: PB&J is a classic, or try PB on banana bread. Preserved deli meats have been sandwich favorites but limit use to once a week as suggested in this post. The tuna fish sandwich is another favorite; add lots of chopped celery; the lettuce can keep the bread from getting soggy.
- Try sandwich alternatives, like leftovers from favorite foods. You can also use pita pockets with cheese, or a quesadilla. When winter comes, warm soup in a thermos is comforting.
- Sweets should be a treat, an exception, not a daily expectation. Cookies made from healthy recipes also contain a bit of mom's love.
Please share what you to do to make an interesting but healthy lunch for the kids.
Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change reminder card. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.