So what's the deal with cereal?

I think it's safe to say that most of American children's diets include this food category (if you can really even call it food...it's definitely not REAL food) and it's a contributing factor to the growing epidemic of autoimmune conditions among our pediatric populations, including obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The Food Babe, has done a nice job of sharing her thoughts and research of why this American breakfast staple has such detrimental effects here so I won't reinvent the wheel but only offer a few facts about our ever declining pediatric health because it just makes me so darned mad.

Did you know that

  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. 1

  • Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. 2

  • Recent research suggests that diabesity, as it's referred to by Chris Kresser,  is characterized by chronic, low-grade inflammation and a continuous stimulation of the innate immune system. 3 

  • Inflammation nearly always accompanies both obesity and diabetes and is independently capable of causing it without overweight – as evidenced by the presence of T2DM in Asian populations that are relatively lean. 4

Generally, in most parts of the world, whenever cereal-based diets were first adopted as a staple food replacing the primarily animal-based diets of hunter-gatherers, there was a characteristic reduction in stature, an increase in infant mortality, a reduction in lifespan, an increased incidence of infectious diseases, an increase in iron deficiency anemia, an increased incidence of osteomalacia (softening of bones through vitamin D deficiency), porotic hyperostosis (porous bones of the cranium) and other bone mineral disorders and an increase in the number of dental caries (cavities) and enamel defects. 5 All of these tend to be indicative of nutritional disorders and in anthropology, the presence of these conditions has been considered evidence that a past population suffered chronic or episodic malnutrition.

Not only were we not meant to eat cereal grains, but they have significant nutritional shortcomings. They are absent of Vitamin A, C, D and B12 as well as beta-carotene. As we add more and more of this nutrient empty source of food to our diets, they displace the calories that would otherwise be provided us by nutrient dense foods like meats, fruits and vegetables.6

"But my cereal says  it's Fortified"
Unfortunately there is just no good substitute for the real thing. Researchers have long argued the value of synthetic supplementation which is exactly what fortification is. This is the case for cereal as well. When cereals are fortified with synthetic vitamins to "boost" their nutrient value on paper, your body doesn't recognize the vitamin as a natural source because it is absent of it's usual cofactors. Often times, the body treats synthetics like a toxin and quickly expels them. 

The Food Babe also talks about the huge problem with this packaged product called cereal: GMOs. This is a HUGE problem, in my opinion. I'd argue that largest portion of the American diet that contains GMOs, comes from cereal. I'll have a longer post about GMOs in the future but for now, just realize that the major components of cereals are from GMO sources: corn, soy, canola, rice and sugar beets.7

For an explanation of why GMOs are so horrible for your health, causing allergies, allergic reactions to other foods, liver problems, reproductive issues, as well as permanent digestive issues you can read here and here and here

So, "what", you ask, "should one actually eat for breakfast?"
That's great question. I always encourage people to get back to the basics. Like cooking. Yes, you will need to turn on the stove and actually make some food. How about a couple of healthy pastured eggs with a nice orange choline-packed yolk. How about some bacon or sausage to go with it? Not a fan of cooking in the mornings? Try a shake with a grass-fed protein powder or nut butter, some full fat coconut milk, a few frozen organic berries, a banana and some spinach or kale. I don't tolerate eggs (as much as I wish I could) so I often saute veggies together with some butter or ghee and some leftover meat from dinner. Don't get stuck in the breakfast box! Breakfast can look like any other meal. 

My general rule of thumb for every meal is make sure it contains lots of fat (butter, ghee or lard), some vegetables and some protein. So skip the cereal and you'll be better for it and so will your kids! Your blood sugar will thank you, too! 

1: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm

2: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm

3: http://chriskresser.com/the-autoimmune-inflammatory-model-of-diabesity

4: http://chriskresser.com/the-autoimmune-inflammatory-model-of-diabesity

5: http://www.2ndchance.info/birdlover-cerealsword.pdf

6: http://www.2ndchance.info/birdlover-cerealsword.pdf

7: http://naturalsociety.com/kelloggs-cereals-double-dose-gmo-pesticides-antibiotics/

 

Importance of sleep

One of the most important parts of living a healthy life is actually not eating all the right food and getting the right exercise, although those are a very close second. Experts are now calling sleep the number one most important factor in leading a healthy life. 

Dr. Mercola, in his recent article about the detriments of sleep deprivation on your health, lists the following health consequences of poor sleep:

  • Inhibits your body's ability to properly regulate hormones, specifically melatonin, which is responsible for stopping cancer cells proliferation. 

  • It decreases levels of your fat-regulating hormone leptin while increasing the hunger hormone ghrelin. 

  • Increases the activity in genes associated with inflammation, immune excitability, diabetes, cancer risk, and stress.

  • Found to be the strongest predictor for pain in adults over 50.


There are plenty of reasons to make sleep a priority because putting it bluntly, lack of proper sleep can increase your risk of dying from any cause! 

I believe that sleep is especially important for children. It is well documented how poor sleep patterns can harm the brain by halting new neuron production. Sleep deprivation can increase levels of corticosterone (a stress hormone), resulting in fewer new brain cells being created in the hippocampus. Animal studies show that younger animals are more sensitive to the effects of mild sleep deprivation than older ones. Between 2 and 5 years old, children are supposed to spend equal amounts awake as they do asleep! We need to give our children's brains the best chance at operating at it's highest potential from the start! 

We all know what sleep deprivation feels like and how poorly we feel following an interrupted night of sleep. Multiply that by a hundred and that is how our children must feel who have poor sleep habits. 

So what do we do about it? Good news. There are quite a few things we can do to encourage healthy sleep. 

Establish a night time routine and stick to it. 
This may look like a bath or shower each night. Reading a book for 15 minutes (not on an electronic device preferably). A quick body massage by a parent or spouse. Or all of these. Whatever it is, plan to do it every night. 

Go to bed at a decent hour. 
This applies to children and adults and seems like a no-brainer but I can't tell you how many parents I speak with who do not establish a reasonable bedtime for their children and wonder why their days are filled with tantrum city. My children (5 and 7yo) go to bed at 7pm during the school year. We do not participate in activities that will prolong their bedtime. I feel very strongly about their brain's need for sleep that this is a rule for them. 
Many adults are guilty of late nights too. Leave your work for tomorrow and know that you'll be operating on all cylinders because you went to bed on time.  

Everyone sleeps in their own bed. 
We do not co-sleep with our children. I know...and I call myself a natural mama! Gasp! This was a decision that I made very early in my parenting. I know my body and how I respond to interrupted sleep by having a child's body kicking me throughout the night or nursing all night long. This was a personal decision for both myself and for my marriage and for what I feel was best for my children.  I also have strong opinions about not feeding on demand during the night for very similar reasons but I'll open that can of worms later, or maybe I won't. 

Magnesium is crucial to healthy sleep. 
Dr. Mark Hyman calls magnesium the most powerful relaxation mineral available and I'd wholeheartedly agree. Anything that is tight, irritable, crampy, and stiff — whether it is a body part or even a mood — is a sign of magnesium deficiency. Everyone of us is deficient of this mineral as our soil is so depleted of minerals now. You can read all about how important and crucial this mineral is to your health on Dr. Hyman's blog here
If you or your children struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, night terrors, leg cramps or restless legs, I recommend adding epsom salt to your bath, taking a chelated magnesium supplement and using a topical magnesium spray on your legs before bed. For children who can't swallow tablets, Natural Calm makes a magnesium citrate powder that can be added to water or coconut milk and taken before bedtime. 

Apply essential oils before bed. 
I make a sleep spray that I douse all the bed linens and pillows with right before we start our slumber. My children ask for it each night and my husband swears by it. You could also diffuse a number of oil blends next to your bed. RutaVala, Cedarwood and Gentle Baby by Young Living are my favorites. For more info on essential oils, go here

Get regular sunlight exposure. 
Your circadian system (the clock in your brain) needs bright light to reset itself each day. Ten to 15 minutes of morning sunlight will send a strong message to your internal clock that day has arrived, making it less likely to be confused by weaker light signals during the night. More sunlight exposure is required as you age.

 

Turn off artificial light. 

Numerous studies suggest that blue light in the evening disrupts the brain’s natural sleep-wake cycles, which are crucial for optimal function of the body. Artificial light from the use of artificial lighting and electronic devices, emit light of a blue wavelength, which tricks our brains into thinking that it is daytime. If you are not ready to turn off those electronics at a decent hour, I'd suggest getting some blue light blocking glasses to wear at night.

 

And finally, Just Eat Real Food. 
Otherwise known as "jerfing" (just eat real food-ing), this has been my mantra for some years now. You may wonder how food has anything to do with your sleep, well, let me explain. One of the most common causes of feeling tired or run down during the day is post-meal hypoglycemia, which is related to your inability to effectively burn fat.

By eating real food that is nutrient dense and you guessed it, mainly low-carb, you are switching your body over from primarily burning carbs to primarily burning fats for fuel or becoming “fat adapted." This will virtually eliminate such drops in energy levels. To switch to fat-burning mode, you’ll need to swap out unhealthy carbs (i.e. non-vegetable carbs such as grains) with healthy fats, which include the following: olives, olive oils, raw nuts and nut oils like almond and hazelnuts, coconut and coconut oil, grass-fed butter, pastured eggs, avocados, grass-fed and grass-finished red meats, and pastured white meats. 

This is especially crucial for children who tend to be picky eaters, sustaining themselves on crackers, chips and breads (white foods) all day long. If you have a child who seems always hungry and asks for a carbohydrate snack what seems like every second of the day, then your child is not getting enough fat in his/her diet. Cut back on the carbohydrates and increase the fats and proteins. A great way to do this is by replacing the typical Standard American breakfast food, cereal, with a fat and protein loaded smoothie or some nutrient dense eggs with the yolk.  Read my thoughts of cereal here

I hope this has given you some ideas to help with some sleep issues that you or your family may be facing. If so, please let me know by leaving a comment. For some light reading (sarcasm), you can find a clinical guide for practitioners here called A Clinical Guide to Pediatric Sleep Management by Jodi A. Mindell PhD and Judith A. Owens MD MPH.