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How Diet Affects Kids’ Behavior: An Interview with Kelly Dorfman

Kelly Dorfman, author of "What's Eating Your Child?" answers questions about gluten sensitivity, Crohn's Disease, probiotics, sugar and more!

Have you been convinced yet that what you feed your child has a significant impact on their health?

My notes from a talk by Kelly Dorfman, author of What’s Eating Your Child?, (Cure Your Child with Food) seemed to resonate with many people. It’s always so clear to me that what we eat affects our health, our mood, and our children’s behavior.

It’s not so clear to the rest of the world.

I was pleased to get a chance to sit down with Dorfman after her talk and have a one-on-one chat with her about nutrition. I brought questions from readers and my own curious thoughts, and here’s what we talked about.

RELATED: Behavioral Symptoms of Food Sensitivity in Kids

Well-behaved child eating an apple.

How Diet Affects Behavior

Kitchen Stewardship®: Why is it so hard to convince doctors and the general population that diet affects both behavior and health?

Kelly Dorfman: They’re just not trained. You don’t ask a plumber about electricity – medical education is subsidized by medications, so that’s what they learn.

Kelly Dorfman, author of "What's Eating Your Child?" answers questions about gluten sensitivity, Crohn's Disease, probiotics, sugar and more!Do GMOs Cause Allergies?

KS: What’s with gluten sensitivities being so prevalent nowadays?

KD: GMO grain combined with higher exposure because gluten is in everything.

KS note: I had found similar reasons when I researched gluten intolerances the year before. Read more HERE. This post also talks about how glyphosate may be contributing to gluten problems.

KS: Can some food allergies or sensitivities be reversed through a gut cleansing diet? Which ones? Is there a difference in probability of “healing” with gluten intolerance/sensitivity and a true allergy (celiac)?

KD: Yes, it’s definitely possible; it doesn’t always work cleanly and neatly, but it often works. You can’t just remove the trigger food, but you have to eat foods that heal too…Probiotics and enzymes, etc.

Celiac is a narrow type of reaction, an auto-immune disease – but gluten sensitivities can have just as many reactions as a true celiac.

Celiac takes 11 years on average to diagnose. [That probably won’t get any better, as there’s] no push to get quicker at it because there’s no cool drugs to treat it. Traditional diagnosis for gluten sensitivity is to rule out celiac, and if you still have gluten problems, you are sensitive.

[Every person has a total] gluten load, the amount of gluten in a lifetime that your body can handle. At some point you reach your load and then the colon stops functioning.

We chatted a minute about my husband, who has Crohn’s and a gluten sensitivity, but we’re not sure what the gluten does to him, really. Kelly mentions VSL-3 as the strongest probiotic on market – by prescription only and great for Crohn’s – in 21 days, many see positive changes in healing in IBD. (It’s wayyyy pricey though.) She also said Garden of Life probiotics (what we do take) is not strong enough. Nothing wrong with mixing it up and taking 2 a day of EACH one. (Ugh, more expensive yet. Food for thought for me; I haven’t done anything other than look at the website and make note of the high price.)

Kelly Dorfman, author of "What's Eating Your Child?" answers questions about gluten sensitivity, Crohn's Disease, probiotics, sugar and more!Why is Sugar Harmful?

KS: How does white sugar harm not just those super sensitive to it, but everyone who consumes it?

KD: Nature isn’t wasteful; God didn’t create junk. Sugar is just space – taking calories of diet with no nutrients with it. Dead space. It’s not unusual for a person to eat 20% of their diet in sugar – [if you do that,] you’re operating at 80% efficiency.

Honey is a whole food and has other nutrients with it. I’m not a fan of agave. Although the sugar alcohols are non-caloric, xylitol is fermenting – yeast will gas you up with them. Erythritol is non-fermenting, but still not good. The diabetic candy [with it] makes some people have diarrhea. Unrefined cane sugar is marginally better, but still pretty concentrated.

Katie’s thought: That’s pretty much what I’ve determined through the Sweet, Sweet Summer series. You can also get all of your sweetener questions answered HERE.

Are Beans Good For You?

KS: Do legumes play a role in a healthy diet?

KD: Legumes are a hard sell for kids, but they absolutely have a role in healthy diet. Even vegetarians under-utilize legumes. Americans don’t have great bean cuisine.

“Aha!” Katie thought. I have a whole book about beans, including lots of kid-friendly recipes! Plus, dear reader, I’ve even gotten beans into the second edition of Healthy Snacks to Go!

It felt like we had a much longer interview than my notes would make you think – so much more I probably could have asked her!

Be sure to check out part one of Kelly Dorfman’s talk about good nutrition for children.

This interview was eye-opening. But really just scratching the surface. What we feed our kids truly has a HUGE impact on their health, not only physically but mentally. We all need to make smart(er) choices when it comes to feeding our children.

Have you observed a change in your children when removing processed foods and toxins from their diet and life? Do you have any other burning questions we didn’t cover here?

Note: Since Kelly mentioned probiotics, I thought I’d include my list of up-to-date probiotic recommendations (this gets updated a couple times a year, no matter what):

Some Quality Probiotics

Some of these I’ve used, some I’m planning to use, and some have been recommended by friends and professionals alike. It’s good to remember a few things about probiotics: 1. People should get different colonies of probiotics, so switching brands/strains every so often (6 weeks?) is good practice. 2. What works great for one person’s needs doesn’t always work for another.  I’ve personally tried:
  • Just Thrive Probiotics – this one can be taken during antibiotics and not be rendered ineffective, which almost all other probiotics are! It’s the top-recommended probiotic overall by Paleo Mom Sarah Ballantyne. 😮 (Be sure to use the code Katie15 for 15% off; also found on Amazon and from Perfect Supplements where you can use the coupon KS10 for 10% off!)
  • Seed Daily Synbiotic – the new player in the field but recommended by superstars like Chris Kresser for its unique probiotic/prebiotic synergy. Here’s my full review including a number of surprises for my thinking and a 15% off code!
  • Note: If you’re struggling with digestion, especially constipation, or you feel like you really need to populate your gut with healthy probiotics, I would recommend Saccharomyces Boulardii in addition to any other you choose (except any above which include this strain). Saccharomyces Boulardii is research-proven to get through the digestive tract without being killed, which is rare. 
  • Balance One probiotics with a unique time-release formula (use the code KITCHENS15 at either Balance One’s site or even Amazon to save 15% either place! Wow! Use the code at checkout on Amazon btw.)

For Little Ones (we use all of these):

  • Mary Ruth’s liquid probiotic is a liquid probiotic that doesn’t need to be refrigerated and tastes like…nothing! It’s my new favorite for administering to kids! (Use code KCRF15 for 15% off!)
  • WellBelly by WellFuture (9 strains of probiotics in apple and banana carrier – it’s a powder)
  • Buddies in my Belly probiotic powder (2 strains of probiotics + potato starch carrier and prebiotics) or chewable tablets
Recommended by experts I trust:

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

About The Author

21 thoughts on “How Diet Affects Kids’ Behavior: An Interview with Kelly Dorfman”

  1. Pingback: What’s Eating Your Child {Book Review}

  2. just bought this book.. I shared on my FB and some of my friends bought the book!!! Thanks for all of your info Katie!

  3. Thanks for the info. Katie, did she mention a good probiotic to take. We also take Garden of Life and she said its not strong enough? Thanks.

  4. Thank you for pointing me to this fantastic book! I ordered it after your post last week and am so grateful that I did. It is a gold mine of information. I hope many people will read it and benefit!

  5. Guess I should go peruse your sourdough section again, but was wondering if anyone has heard anything about lower effects/amount added to total gluten load when eating sourdough (or sprouted or soaked wheat)?

    1. Emily,
      Eh, some say maybe, but it’s really unproven. Lowering the gluten load is best done by eating less wheat period, or trying spelt which is slightly lower in gluten (but still not safe for celiacs or many gluten sensitive people). Gluten is a protein, and shouldn’t really be affected by the good processes of soaking/souring/sprouting, unfortunately (although I wish it did). 🙂 Katie

  6. Holly @ Faithful Womanhood

    In nursing school we were rarely educated on any natural remedies. It was all about pharmacology and medical interventions. I assume the same goes for med school. It’s all about money out in the real world and pharmaceutical companies have the power, unfortunately. Thanks for this fascinating post series!

  7. !!Fantastic article..thanks so much for sharing!! Very interesting to someone recovering…so slowly..from ulcerative colitis (among many other things it led to) from a gluten sensitivity! I stilll claim it was worth the trial bc it has caused our family to wake up to truly healthy eating/living and has improved quality of life for each one of us! Aaand helped reveal a gluten sensitivity in my child, which I was told was “just their makeup.” Praise God for taking something so horrible and using it for good!
    anyway…I wanted to let you know “SEELECT”
    Of sells natural food coloring (I found it at my local community natural food store. I just purchased purple for my dter (life is boring w/o color, you know)’s made from purple carrot extract. I haven’t tried it yet, but i’m pretty excited for the opportunity to present itself. Of course, I’ve heard of making your own, too…but one more thing wasn’t on my itinerary right now. 😉

  8. Use your food coloring to dye playsilks! That’s what I mostly use mine for: direction at Make Baby Stuff

  9. Emily @ Random Recycling

    I read Kelly’s book a couple of months ago when it was first released ( and I passed it along to a friend who’s daughter has severe allergies and eczema. I got a lot out of the book, especially the chapters about ear infections. We started limiting the diary for my daughter and we’ve only had once since then after 3 in a row last winter.

  10. Katie – I quickly looked on the VS3 site to see what local pharmacies were carrying it. My area showed only Costco so I called them and they told me it’s only $40. Which might just be worth renewing my membership there 🙂

    1. Thanks, Tiffany! I’ve been pondering getting a membership at Cosco…$40 for how many days? The probiotic we’re taking is maybe $50 for 3 mos. or so… My DH isn’t on any prescriptions, but he did have surgery 8 years ago…
      🙂 Katie

  11. I didn’t know your husband has Crohn’s. I have it as well but have almost zero symptoms so I haven’t done any food modifications. I do take Pentasa to keep the inflammation down (and help avoid a future surgery), calcium, vitamin D and a probiotic recommended by my naturopath. I’ve had it for 15 years and so far, so good. Hopefully another 50 years of relative healthiness.

  12. Sheesh – parabens in food coloring?! You have to read the label on everything!! This is a naive question, but what foods do you eat that have food coloring in them? You seem to avoid processed foods . . .

    1. Jenna,
      We still have candy floating around our house, but I was actually just putting away the food coloring itself (for homemade frosting and crafts) and noticed it!
      🙂 Katie

  13. Oh how I wish the internet was around way back when – my husband had ulcerative colitis, and we only treated with meds. We didn’t try anything else because we didn’t know, and totally trusted the doctors. He ended up having surgery to remove his colon due to the severity of symptoms and no response to the meds available at the time. What if we hadn’t been so young and dumb, and had the internet to read blogs like yours? Who knows what we could have prevented with probiotics and dietary changes!!

  14. I’ve been reading Kelly’s book & just got results of celiac test for my 4 year old. Negative.

    Relief but…..

    Still reading and we are still going GF for 3-6 mo.

    Thanks for posting notes.

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