HeartMark Health logo with the heart hand gesture invented by Tali Lehavi
(Below is my article that was printed in 2008 by AZ Parenting magazine.)

As parents, we all want our children to be as healthy and as bright as possible. We feed them a mix of healthy food and the occasional junk, hoping the healthy food will cancel out the junk. However, if your children have learning disabilities or behavioral issues, you should probably pay extra attention to maximize their potential through optimal nutritional choices. In nutritional terms, you should care that they will receive the best nutrients from food, and avoid all products that prevent the digestion and absorption of these valuable nutrients.

The journey to optimum nutrition may seem overwhelming if you don’t make the changes gradually. First, focus on natural foods that your child may eat—those which lack hidden ingredients. Focus on fresh and unprocessed foods like chicken, seasonal fruits, vegetables, raw seeds, beans, eggs and raw nuts if your child is not allergic. Offer crunchy snacks of sprouted seeds such as peas, lentils, garbanzos and soy. You also can cook whole grains that are easy to digest like rice, quinoa, potatoes, and corn. Look for non-dairy treats high in good bacteria such as soy yogurts (that are also a great source of calcium) and mix them with fresh fruits that your child will love. Finally, for maximum brain power and hormonal balance, add cold pressed vegetable oils such as olive, canola, or sesame oil to reap extra omega 3’s.

Next, eliminate foods that interfere with the digestion and absorption of all the healthy foods your child does eat. For example, refined sugar often does not digest completely in children. As a result, bad bacteria over populate on the sugars leftover in the gut. It is much better to give the body simpler and easier to digest sweeteners to restore the flora balance. Alternatives to refined sugar such as molasses, maple syrup or agave nectar use their own natural enzymes to help digestion. Unlike sugar, they are also rich in natural nutrients. Look for labels that do not list sugar, glucose, or high fructose corn syrup on the ingredient list.

Once you adjust to avoiding sugar, begin to eliminate grains that break into a protein called gluten. About 15% of the population is sensitive and 1% allergic to gluten. However, many other undiagnosed children discover that they feel, focus, and behave better after avoiding it for some time. Avoid food labels that list starches like wheat, barley, and rye, spelt, kamut, triticale, semolina (durum wheat), farina, einkorn, bulgur, couscous, graham, modified wheat starch, wheat starch, wheat germ, wheat bran, whole or cracked wheat, cake flour, malt flavoring, matzo flour and matzo meal.

Begin by eliminating one ingredient per week, and build on that new habit. Remember—you can still enjoy rice, corn, buckwheat (kasha), quinoa, amaranth, oats, millet, teff, soybeans (but watch out for soy sauce fermented from wheat), montina, quino, and sorghum. Quinoa flour works especially well in recipes for cakes, and pancakes. You can also steam quinoa with a beet to dye it a fun fluorescent red that your child will want to try!

Next, you may also choose to avoid or minimize casein, which is the protein in milk. Many parents of autistic children have found dramatic improvements in their children by switching to a diet without any dairy products.

At home, you the parent can make the special effort to provide the right food choices to help your child feel, focus, and behave better. The extra effort it takes to pay attention to food choices will free you with time to focus on how special your child really is rather than what would have been special problems.

Tali Lehavi Hamer is the recipe writer for Iguana Magazine for children and creator of the Planet Heart™ and HeartMark™ product lines. In her free time, she colors quinoa with beets with her young daughters. Trademarks are property of Tali Lehavi Hamer.

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