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Could Food be the Root Cause of Your Child’s Illness?

What's eating your child?

It seems crazy to me that so many people, medical professionals and normal folks alike, still believe that what we eat has little to do with behavior, mood, and physical health (like how food dyes impact behavior and how sugar is as harmful as cigarettes!). Turning a blind eye to that simple relationship prevents so many people from finding relief from their suffering, whether that be chronic pain or hyperactivity.

A few years ago I read Kelly Dorfman’s What’s Eating Your Child? (now titled Cure Your Child with Food) and was very impressed. Dorfman describes herself as a “nutrition detective,” and on paper she’s a licensed nutritionist dietician.

While many dieticians seem to be stuck in the low-fat world, you’ll be encouraged to know that Dorfman not only appreciates healthy fats but advocates elimination diets for kids, being tough on picky eaters, and cutting gluten for many. Her book is utterly fascinating.

How Food Impacts Your Child’s Health

If you have a child with unexplained maladies or behavior issues of any kind, from recurrent ear infections to eczema to lack of focus, I encourage you to get the book from the library, grab it from your local bookstore or buy it from Amazon.

Shortly after I read her book, Kelly Dorfman came to Grand Rapids and spoke to a small but passionate crowd at Schuler’s Bookstore. I’m sharing a summary of her presentation today, and then the conversation we had when I was blessed to sit down with her for an interview, armed with reader questions and my own (catch the interview recap here).

Nutrition detective work involves asking 2 questions:

  1. Are you eating something that hurts you?
  2. Are you missing something you need?
Are food and health problems in kids connected?

By answering these two questions you can create a game plan for your child’s diet and lifestyle.

What Foods are Linked to Ear Infections?

Ear infections have an enormously strong link to nutrition that most people don’t understand – a 90% correlation to diet!

A study in Washington, DC followed kids with ear infections/fluid in the ears:

They took kids off 1-4 foods, and the ear infections went away. That simple!!!

The four foods:

  • Milk
  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Gluten

Why dairy? Casein is a problem, because we’re not ruminants, so many people have trouble digesting those proteins. Some say no human should consume animal milk as it is designed for animals and is nutritionally very different from human breastmilk.

A close up of a child\'s ear

The protein in soy is similar to that of cow’s milk dairy, so often when people go off casein and switch to soy milk, they still have problems.

Why are Ear Infections a Problem?

With ear infections being so common, many say, “Eh, they go away, they just affect little people.”

Here’s why ear infections matter: As a child grows and begins standing up more than lying down, the ear infections go away, but then those same kids are sick a lot (the drainage just goes into the lungs instead of ear tubes).

Early recurrent ear infections are a sign of problems to come:

As a group, kids with many ear infections have more ADHD and distractibility in elementary, middle AND high school.

Learning is all about hearing when you’re so little; when the ears are plugged all the time in toddlerhood, the child never learns how to assign meaning to noise and turn noise into usable language, how to sort out the noise and filter it. The kids with chronic ear infections just can’t filter noise well and remain distracted.

So eliminating ear infections early on can have a profound impact.

Why are Young Kids Getting Bipolar Disorder?

Our brains are 60-70% fat, and the kind of fats we eat become the fats in our brain. Fats in fish are related to anxiety and depression with a one-to-one correlation. In a study of 70 countries, the more fish people eat, the less depression they have. For example, in Japan, they have low rates of depression, in New Zealand, high depression rates, low fish consumption.

The two fats in fish that might help:

  • DHA
  • EPA

EPA is particularly related to depression.

A close up of cooked fish

In one study people taking fish oil with EPA did as well as the people taking a prescription medication for depression.

In another study on kids, they looked at ADHD, social anxiety disorder, even dyslexia. They used a specific type of fish oil that is 90% EPA, same kind as Harvard researchers. The chapter in her book all about this is “The Worrier”.

Certain fats also enable you to remember knowledge and organize it. These include:

  • phosphytitol choline – an essential nutrient (discovered in 1998) – the deficiency syndrome for that nutrient is a decrease in the ability to learn.
  • Vitamin E – deficiency symptom include slow speech development, poor motor planning,… [and many others I missed!] Note that because E is fat soluble, your body will store excess. So don’t go overboard on supplements. Getting a lot of Vitamin E from foods is not a problem.
  • fish fats

Without sufficient amounts of these fats in the diet, a child’s brain may not function properly. This can lead to conditions like ADHD and bipolar disorder.

Is ADHD Over-diagnosed?

ADHD meds do not help school performance at all, studies show, but it does help behavior. It’s really just behavior management. Fewer boys graduate from high school and college than girls now! They’re not getting through the system – boys aren’t built to sit and learn, they’re built to move and learn. The school system isn’t right for them so we have to drug them to keep them in it.

Children running outside

Dorfman even talks about “Vitamin M for Movement.” In 30 years she’s rarely seen a TRUE case of ADHD, and there are NO long-term studies on giving kids stimulants (like Ritalin).

Some short-term studies show the medications increase anxiety and change the way the anxiety part of the brain operates. Brains in rats started early sign of neurodegeneration.

Teachers and parents just have to be creative with boys – get them MOVING more often. Just changing a tough class to after gym class has made a big difference in success in learning.

Do GMO’s Cause Allergies?

Kelly Dorfman addressed her chapter on GMO’s (genetically modified organisms).

Why are there so many more allergies now – peanuts, etc.? One reason is GMO’s. 93% of soy and 80% of corn is genetically modified. Fast food is packed with soy and corn.

GMO’s cause more allergy responses in foods.

One year after releasing GMO soy in England, soy allergies went up 50%. A year after they released it here in US, peanut allergies increased by a bunch of percent, too (I missed the figure).

The distortion of thinking about food is because we’re competing real food vs. some odd chemicals that food scientists can use.

How Zinc Impacts Picky Eating

Zinc deficiencies create picky eaters because when you don’t have enough zinc, it increases the intensity of the taste of food. Prenatal vitamins (use the coupon KS10 for 10% off!) have lots of iron which can interfere with zinc absorption! In general high doses of iron are not recommended.

Two-year olds are often picky because they finally realize that they have some control and cause and effect. “If I close my mouth, she can’t make me eat.” Ha!

In America we have a really weird concept that is completely wrong: If a child rejects a food one time, he doesn’t like it. No! It takes a long time to acclimate to certain things.

One of my favorite quotes of the day: “Crackers are the road to perdition.” Death to nutrition.

Kids love to eat crackers because they’re crunchy, pick-up-able, and salty. (I’m hoping homemade crackers would pass the test, but I was afraid to ask.)

Getting zinc and iron levels in balance can do a lot for picky eating.

Why You Lose Your Memory In Menopause

A woman with a bewildered expression

Yes, losing hormones during menopause negatively impacts your memory. Dorfman believes hormone supplements are a good thing. Check with your health care provider if you want to explore that option.

Choline affects speed of processing in the brain. One reason people start to lose their memory is that they’re losing speed of processing. This is impacted by both nutrition and exercise!

Dorfman recommends supplements to fill in the gaps. I’m a fan of getting vitamins and minerals from food. But she says you’d have to eat A LOT of fish to get everything you need. The problem with that is then you’re eating a lot of mercury, which is a brain destroyer. It’s so sad that it’s safer to take fish oil capsules than eat fish, because the fish oil supplements are distilled to take the mercury out. Here is my guide on finding the right fish oil supplement for you.

How Should We Eat?

So, what does this all mean? How should we be feeding our children to keep them healthy?

“Eat as much plain, ordinary, Little House on the Prairie foods as you can.”

Keep it simple, not processed foods and juices.

Stick to whole, real foods that don’t come in boxes and bags and don’t have a lengthy list of ingredients. Simple and nourishing. Try eating the way God intended.

Have you noticed a difference in your child’s health and behavior depending on what they are eating?

Check out my follow-up one-on-one interview with Kelly Dorfman where she answers some really good reader questions!

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

About The Author

29 thoughts on “Could Food be the Root Cause of Your Child’s Illness?”

  1. This book looks great! Katie, we take Garden of Life probiotics too. Did she happen to mention to you what one she suggests that isn’t prescription? I have always loved our Garden of Life!

  2. :laughing with tears: omigoodness what a timely post! I haven’t been keeping updated with my favourite blogs lately what with a complicated pregnancy and 2 littlies taking up the rest of my time but am on couch-rest for atleast the rest of the day with DH home after a minor pregnancy emergency and suddenly felt the need to check up on what wisdom has been shared. This hit the button so squarely on the head I cried then read it to DH!!
    Our 4yo has been an utter nightmare for approx 2 months now and while we’ve been over our diet and have it very clean nothing has really helped. Hes aggressive, fidgety, lacks focus, talks constantly, behaves totally randomly and has stopped sleeping pretty much altogether. I hit my wits end this morning after a bathroom incident involving copious amounts of food dye and on the way home from my emergency trip to the hospital (not related to the bathroom drama ;)) we detoured past the naturopath. Fish Oil, EPA and DHA were the things we talked about and they showed us their best quality Fish Oil/EPO mix which retailed at $70 – WAY out of our price range. God is blow-your-mind amazing though because then they told us that since the expiry was 02/12 (next month) it would be going in their $5 bin shortly so thats what we could have it for :jaw drop: then I come on here and read this and am just brought to my knees by Gods goodness and grace and provision! I know its not entirely related to this post but I’m so amazed right now and have to share.
    We’ll definitely be buying this book if/when we find it down here. Thanks Katie I really needed the encouragement and advice just from your post!

    1. Quick update – DS1 was noticeably calmer within 4 hours of the double dose suggested yesterday, he was in bed by 7pm, went straight to sleep and slept through til 6.45am (hasn’t happened in weeks – normally hes awake from 4am to 9.30pm regardless of what the day brings – this is a kid whos always needed 12+ hrs to function so it just exacerbated everything) and today hes been sooooo settled its shocking – in an awesome way. Hes been focused, obedient, cheerful and quiet. There have been a couple of impulsive incidents but NOTHING compared to the last couple of months. He’s spose to have an ADHD/ADD assessment next week but I’m starting to wonder if they’ll think I’m a crazy pregnant lady who just can’t cope coz hes just so calm LOL go Fish Oil/EPO!! Even if his attitude was a direct result of him not being able to sleep, the oil was clearly what his brain needed to wind down!

  3. My dh and dd have been able to STOP taking their asthma maintenance meds since starting omega-3 supplements. My dh has also remained at HALF the minimum dosage of his zoloft for YEARS after the dr said the minimum would no longer ‘be enough’.
    I’m looking forward to future posts on this topic, since my ds has some chronic ear issues, including recurrent perforations, that I’m sure don’t need to be treated with antihistamines or surgery. Dairy free would be really hard for him, but I have read that when it comes to food issues, sometimes we love and crave exactly that which is the root of our issues…:>(
    Thanks for sharing….I requested the book via inter-library loan tonight!

    1. Julie,
      You’ll learn a ton more from the book than you will here, but when you need a shoulder to cry on if you decide to go dairy-free, you know I’m there for you! 😉 Katie

  4. In the Memory and Menopause part, I wonder what she means by “hormone supplements are actually a good thing”? Surely not the prescription hormone replacements that doctors give menopausal women? Could she mean some type of natural/food type of supplement? Does anyone know about that?

    1. Laurel,
      Ah, I wish I could remember the details. I think she did mean prescription, but I wasn’t keeping close notes as well as on the part about kids…sorry! 🙂 Katie

  5. Holly @ Faithful Womanhood

    I am so excited to read more in the upcoming days! As a registered nurse who believes in natural, God-made living, this is just fascinating to me!

  6. So, what are you saying to do about the ear infection/milk connection? Does drinking raw goat milk make a difference or is it just the cassein? I thought soy was not so good for you.

    Sorry, this is a lot of information; maybe I need to get some sleep and try to read it again tomorrow! 🙂

    1. It is my understanding that the casein in goat milk is easier to digest than in cow’s milk. Also, raw milk of either type has all the enzymes intact which digest the protein and allow proper assimilation of calcium, among other things. Another possible source of problems could be that the casein in pasteurized milk is denatured by the pasteurization process. Fermentation of the milk (as in kefir or other types) can also help because it predigests the casein and other components of the milk, which makes it much easier to digest (as well as providing great probiotics, vitamin K2 and other good stuff).

    2. Valerie,
      I don’t know about the raw goat’s milk, but basically Dorfman was saying to take kids with chronic ear infections off all 4 of those foods. (And yes, soy is always bad for you, but lots of people eat it…)

      I hoe that helps! 🙂 katie

  7. I also read this book this summer; it was really great! Just today I was talking to my neighbor who said, “my son has been congested for a month straight, even after a course of antibiotics.” I told her maybe it was a milk allergy but I could tell she wasn’t interested in trying eliminating milk. It’s kind of sad because after reading that book, I saw signs of milk intolerance in all her kids.

  8. Jen @ TheUnProcessed Kitchen

    Oh Katie. Your last two posts have been just RIGHT THERE with me! About how living with extended family is unusual… but only in our country. And this, oh yeah. I made several dietary changes for my son and fought and fought and fought to finally get him OT services in school, he just needs to move around! I refuse to drug him just to make him easier to deal with for teachers. I remember seeing your tweets when you were at this presentation, but I’m thankful for this post because I forgot all about the author; definitely going to check this out. Thank you!!

  9. The timing of this is Providential. I just picked this book up from the library yesterday {brand spanking new at that!}.

    My reason for getting it ~ SAS {short hair growth or lack of}. I had her tested for Celiac as a formality going gluten free either way.

    Can’t wait to read the book to have more of a background in general.

    Thanks for the post.

    I’m signing up for KS….I need all the help I can get!

    God Bless!

  10. Wow, thank you so much for posting about this and sharing your notes. I have been having struggles with my 6 year old son on focusing and other such “behavioral” and “mood” issues lately, and have been at a loss by trying to correct things through discipline. You have encouraged me to look into our diet and learn more. Thank you so much for posting this.

  11. Wow, this book looks so good! I have 2 boys that have been diagnosed with ADHD and 1 with Aspberger’s as well. The medicine really does only help the behavior, but I do think that by helping the behavior it is allowing the kids to learn better. That being said we only medicate on school days.

    I am going to have to find a fish oil with EPA for kids. My 13 yr old (with ADHD) suffers from anxiety big time. I feel that we eat very well, I cook mostly from scratch, we avoid HFCS and aritifical colors, etc. but yet my boys still have all these problems. I also have 2 girls that have none of these problems. I NEED to read this book. Thanks for posting!

    1. we have been using Coromega Omega3 Squeeze…www.coromega.com
      they come in individual packets, and have the consistency of catsup or mustard, but the orange flavor of ‘baby aspirin’ (if you are old enough to remember that!)
      My dd who is now 9 has been willingly taking them off a spoon for about 3 years. I have heard that it’s also easy to hide in yogurt or something similar.
      The EPA is listed as 350 mg
      and the DHA is listed as 230mg
      HTH!

  12. Holy Cow! Katie, this is fascinating! I’m off to buy this book (and I’m usually too cheap for that.) 🙂 When my kids were home for two weeks over Christmas instead of at daycare, I noticed a change in health and behavior both. We eat a whole foods diet–not as organic as I would like due to cost–but still as healthy as we can be. They’ve only been back in daycare 4 days and I’ve already noticed my son’s eczema flaring back up and behavior issues starting up. Even before your post I fully believed in the link between the refined foods/white flour served at daycare and health and behavior issues, but this book, I believe, will provide me with so much more knowledge! I am anxious to read your follow-up post. Thanks!

  13. Ruby via Facebook

    She is our favorite Nutritionist (the only one!!!!) JP has come a long way nutritionally with her help.

  14. Ah! I ran into a church friend at the library last night and we were talking about behavior problems in our little ones (we have boys close in age). She commented on how well behaved mine was and how she struggled. I told her it was a long road. Never even thought of telling her about the changes we’ve made in his (our family’s) diet in the last year!

    Will recommend this book and your website to her!

  15. Have you looked into fermented cod liver oil?
    We’ve been taking that for years- Green Pastures Fermented cod liver oil- google their site or you can read more about it at WAPF as well.

    My children all have food allergies, and although we’ve always been a real food family, we’ve been on a healing GAPS diet for the past few years. My children are doing much better, we’ve outgrown several allergies, weaned off rescue inhalers, improved behavior etc.
    My youngest had a severe stuttering problem for a few weeks. The Ped was sending us to a specialist for it. I read about fish oil, got some salmon oil from our HFS, and within two hours of her taking that the stuttering stopped. She was fine for a week, started stuttering again, so we started giving her salmon oil daily and she was fine after that.
    We eat all pasture raised, grass finished meats, wild caught salmon, organic produce.
    My youngest and oldest are both allergic to corn, my two youngest are allergic to soy.
    I definitely believe the GM issue has a lot to do with the increase in allergies in children.
    Tina~

  16. I’d recently learned the connection between fish and depression and we’re planning to pick up some fish oil capsules, but they’re HUGE! I hate taking pills!

    1. Cherish,
      You could always try the liquid fermented cod liver oil: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2010/10/22/fermented-cod-liver-oil-our-experiences/
      🙂 Katie

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