So far in this series, we’ve looked at:
- What makes a healthy balanced diet } Post 1
- How to easily add more fruit and vegetables } “
- Super quick recipes for when you don’t have time to cook properly } “
- Additives in food and why they are bad } Post 2
In this third post I want to look at how food can help certain conditions which children may suffer from. Most kids will have some ailment or other, ranging from common conditions such as hay fever, eczema, warts, verruccas, asthma, to the more serious arthritis, diabetes, epilepsy etc. What we do and don’t eat can have a huge effect on how our bodies deal with these conditions and either excluding certain foods or adding others can make it easier to cope with the symptoms.
“The Food Hospital” on Channel Four looked at how food could affect common illnesses and health conditions. The programme proposed “Food affects our immunity to viruses, it affects our hormone balance and it affects the composition of our blood and the nutrients and energy available to our cells, so it stands to reason that some foods will help when a particular body system isn’t working efficiently, while other foods might exacerbate the condition”.
Most of the nutritional recommendations offered were based on published scientific studies, there was also some anecdotal evidence which has come to be accepted, for example, some people “feel better” when they don’t eat wheat.
The following is an alphabetical list of a few common childhood conditions and some ideas for foods to include/avoid:
Acne. Teenage acne is triggered by hormones, primarily testosterone and a low GI diet can help the body regulate hormone production more efficiently. The case study of Adam saw this recommendation being made.
The GI index is a way of measuring how quickly foods affect your blood sugar level and their potential for increasing insulin levels. Having high levels of insulin in the blood is thought to increase sensitivity to testosterone, which can aggravate symptoms of acne. Foods that have a low GI cause a more gradual increase in blood sugar and so help lower insulin levels which, in theory, could improve acne symptoms.The recommended diet for Adam consisted of 25% protein, 45% carbohydrates and 30% fat. Features of the diet included choosing wholegrain versions of pasta and rice; eating more protein and lots of vegetables; and decreasing sugar and saturated fat. Adam’s skin improved and you can see a video here showing the results.
ADHD. This is a common behavioural disorder that affects around 5% of children. Symptoms include having a short attention span, being easily distracted, hyperactive or impulsive, and persistent restlessness or fidgeting. It is usually diagnosed between the ages of 3 and 7, and it can have a negative impact on a child’s education and development. It is thought that ADHD runs in families and it can be a life-long condition.
Ezra’s case study showed a troubled teen who had been excluded from schools for poor behaviour. He was attending a tuition centre run by a charity. His mum, Michelle, found it difficult to get him to eat what she cooked for him, and he tended to gorge on sweets and sugary drinks. Like a lot of teenagers, he chose junk food and takeaways over home-cooked meals.
The Food Hospital recommended that Ezra try a ‘No E-number additives and plenty of omega-3s’ diet.
This included cutting out foods that have sodium benzoate and some food colourings, and eating an omega-3 rich diet. Research funded by the Food Standards Agency has suggested that consumption of mixes of certain artificial food colours and the preservative sodium benzoate could be linked to increased hyperactivity in some children.
The guidance says to avoid foods and drinks that contain sodium benzoate, including things like salad dressing, vinegar, fizzy drinks, jam and fruit juice; and to avoid foods with these colourings/E-numbers:
• sunset yellow FCF (E110)
• quinoline yellow (E104)
• carmoisine (E122)
• allura red (E129)
• tartrazine (E102)
• ponceau 4R (E124)
Ezra followed these guidelines and saw a big improvement in concentration and behaviour (especially when he plays football) and a massive 60% reduction in symptoms. To see the video result, click here.
Asthma. Foods containing sulphites should be avoided as they can trigger asthma. Sulphites are naturally occurring substances found in some food and drink. They are also sometimes used as a food preservative. Food and drinks that are high in sulphites include concentrated fruit juice, jam, prawns and many processed or pre-cooked meals. Most people with asthma do not have this trigger, but some may so it’s worth avoiding.
Diabetes. There are 2 types of diabetes, in type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin. As no insulin is produced, your glucose levels increase, which can seriously damage the body’s organs. Type 1 diabetes is often known as insulin-dependent diabetes. It is also sometimes known as juvenile diabetes or early-onset diabetes because it usually develops before the age of 40, often during teenage years.
Type 2 diabetes is where the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells do not react to insulin. This is known as insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1 diabetes. In the UK, around 90% of all adults with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. Increasingly, more children are developing type 2 diabetes as a result of being obese, this is a very worrying trend and easily preventable with a healthy diet.
By following a low GI diet, both types of diabetes can be controlled better. In type 2, a healthy diet may even reduce the need for drugs. See the entry for Acne above for an explanation as to how a low GI diet can influence glucose levels and insulin production.
Eczema. This is a condition that causes the skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked. ‘Atopic’ eczema is the most common form of the condition. It mainly affects children – about one in five children in the UK has eczema – and it often gets better as they get older. It is usually treated with creams to keep the skin soft or to reduce swelling and redness during flare-ups.
Eczema can be triggered by allergens (food and environmental), stress, exercise and irritants (cleaning products, soap, dust, wool). Sodium Laureth Sulphate is a common irritant added to soaps and toiletries, ironically it is also added to some aqueous creams prescribed by GPs to treat eczema, check the label before using!
The Food Hospital followed a little boy called Jack who suffered terribly and had to be bandaged to stop his skin bleeding. Following a pin prick skin test it was found that he was allergic to milk and dairy products. Eliminating these from his diet dramatically improved his skin. You can see the results here.
Psoriasis. This is a skin condition that causes red, flaky, crusty patches of skin covered with silvery scales. The condition is not infectious and most people are affected only in small patches on their body.
It affects around 2% of people in the UK. It can start at any age, but most often develops between the ages of 11 and 45.The severity of psoriasis varies greatly from person to person. For some people it is just a minor irritation, but for others it has a major impact on their quality of life.
The case study of Karen and Callum saw them both suffering from Psoriasis which is an inflammatory skin condition. The skin renews itself at an accelerated rate causing it to create swollen or scaly patches which can connect and spread over the whole body. It is very uncomfortable causing intense itchiness. Stress and throat infections can cause it but genetics also play a part being the cause of a third of Psoriasis cases. Four generations in Karen’s family have the condition. They both take medication for it and Callum even has regular visits to Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Karen and Callum continued taking their medication throughout their treatment designed by Lucy. Lucy put together an anti-inflammatory diet to avoid anything that might aggravate the condition. Omega 6 in fried foods aggravates inflammation of the skin by creating a rush of insulin so Karen and Callum avoided them. Instead they ate foods rich in Omega 3 such as oily fish, nuts and avocado. They also took a supplement of fish oil capsules in order for the Omega 3 to make a difference to their Psoriasis.
Karen and Callum followed the diet and it proved really successful with Callum’s dry patches clearing up completely. Karen’s raised patches of skin have flattened so they have both seen fantastic improvements. The fish oils seemed to make the biggest difference as improvements were visible almost immediately. Their skin is less itchy overall and Callum has even been discharged from Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Rheumatoid Arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is most common in older people, but it can affect people of any age. The Food Hospital looked at the case of Beth, she had had swollen joints since she was 14. Now 29, she has had to have both knees, both hips and an elbow replaced because of the damage the condition has done to her joints.
The Doctors carried out a physical examination of Beth which involved pressing joints and feeling for swelling and tenderness. Imaging and blood tests were also used to assess inflammation and joint damage. Her ESR level, which is a blood test indicating inflammation in the body, was very high. Beth was tested again after the 10-12 weeks to see what improvement could be seen.
The Food Hospital introduced Beth to an anti-inflammatory diet with fish oil supplements (omega-3). Omega-3 acts as an anti-inflammatory and has been shown to reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. The diet, which Beth was advised to follow for 10-12 weeks, would also promote weight loss. Beth was overweight, which puts more strain on the affected joints and is also a contributing factor to inflammation.
Beth lost weight on the diet, as well as introducing omega 3 supplements, which combined has helped her ESR level drop within normal range.
There is also some evidence that following a vegan diet and eliminating all animal and dairy products can improve symptoms but more research needs to be done. (Read diet: the only real hope for arthritis).
For more information on other conditions, why not take a look at “The Food Hospital” website? It’s packed full of good information for all ages.