My daughters both have disabilities, and over the years, we've struggled with allergies, medicines, alertness, sleep habits and other issues that for a long time we thought were unavoidable.
About a year and a half ago, my husband and I decided to try a new approach. We'd heard about a gluten/casein-free diet, sometimes referred to as the "autism diet," which many moms had encouraged me to try. We started by removing caseins - proteins commonly found in mammal's milk - and within a week my five year old, who had never slept through the night, was getting a full night's sleep. My older daughter not only lost her life-long sinus allergies, her teachers immediately noticed an improvement in school.
Improving your child's diet is worth the effort, but it can be challenging. Here are some tips that we've learned over the years that will help you ease your child into better eating habits:
When we started, we weren't big consumers of milk or cheese, so it was the easiest food to remove. Other simple things to start eliminating are products with high-fructose corn syrup, colorings and flavorings (natural or artificial).
Be careful when replacing.
You can find alternate sources of calcium in fresh foods, such as dark green leafy vegetables and almonds. The danger is in replacing one bad item with another, so I'd stay away from packaged or "enriched" replacements. Everything you need to eat right exists in nature, but when you can't find it, try appropriate supplements.
This is the most important change I've made in our home. If you don't know what an item is, look it up - you may be surprised. Now I try to only buy products that have real ingredients - nothing enriched or cooked up in a lab. It took me a long time to get here, so take your time and do your research.
There are lots of resources that show the benefits of a diet that is gluten-free, dairy-free or preservative-free. Find a group that does it for themselves - such as chefs who have Celiac disease and remove glutens or those who are lactose intolerant and remove dairy. You can get great tips, recipes and expert advice on replacement eating. Be sure to do your own homework on how the foods you are eliminating can hurt or hinder your child's intellectual ability.
Before making changes, make note of your child's behavior, sleep patterns and physical signs - such as barely visible rashes, diarrhea or black circles under the eyes. Then keep an eye on any changes to these factors - for better or worse. Often a child will have worse behavior for a while as their system withdraws from the toxic foods.
Join your children in eating healthy.
The easiest way to accomplish dietary changes is to make them for yourself. In addition, you'll know exactly how the food you are serving them tastes - what works, what fails - and you'll reap the health benefits as well. When I went gluten-free, I went down a whole dress size, without making any other life changes.
Avoid fast food and eating out.
There is no shorter path to eating disaster than fast food or a restaurant that considers removing croutons from salad as a way to provide a gluten-free item. (Glutens cannot even touch other foods items, for those who are sensitive to it.) Not only that, you can bring special food items for your kids from places such as sports arenas, to theme parks, to restaurants, to airplanes. We've been successful at all those venues. Think of the money you'll save, too! I do advise calling ahead to ensure you can do this without problems.
Those are some simple, beginner steps to changing your family's eating habits for better health, sharper thinking and improved behavior. Give yourself time to adjust and time for the changes to work. Getting a system clean takes time, care, patience and the love of a good parent.
For more information and to read more of Gina's posts, visit http://mom-blog.com/.