Oh I hear you!! I remember it clearly. Plain rice, white bread with no spread, plain pasta, cheese (yellow I know), chicken nuggets, potato in any form (preferably as chips) and ...... well actually I think that was it! Sadly looking at that list, it looks just like a kids menu in a restaurant!
This is so common. So common that whenever I see a family with concerns about their child's health, asking if their child has a preference for white foods is the first question. In answer to that question, the first thing that springs to mind is the possibility of a zinc deficiency rather than labelling the child as a "fussy eater."
Zinc is so important for healthy growth of children. If zinc is deficient in their diet, children may have stunted growth, be underweight for their age, and it can lead to all sorts of brain disorders including dyslexia, mental developmental, mental lethargy, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, oppositional and defiant disorder and it can have a marked effect on emotional and addictive behaviour. Addictive behaviour can even take the form of white foods. Zinc deficiency is well known as one of the contributing aspects of anorexia nervosa and bulimia along with the fussiness we are seeing in young children. The reason for this is that it has been noted that people with zinc deficiency lose the sense of taste and smell and often have a limited appetite and limited range of food choices.
Unfortunately often the white foods of choice are actually making the situation worse because processed and refined cereals, white bread and pasta actually further deplete zinc.
Besides fussiness, what are the other signs that your child (or you) may be zinc deficient?
Take a look at your child's fingernails. Look around for those white specks. Also inflamed gums, pale skin, lowered immunity (catching everything going around), eczema, poor wound healing are all indicators. A common sign of zinc deficiency in adults (especially women who have carried a baby) are stretch marks. Teens with acne and anyone suffering dermatitis, psoriasis may require extra zinc supplementation.
When we are zinc deficient, we are unable to often detect the subtle flavours of different foods; especially vegetables.
Why are we zinc deficient?
Twice Nobel prize winner Linus Pauling was quoted as saying in his studies on soil mineral depletion "you can trace every sickness, every disease and every ailment to a mineral deficiency." Our soils are sadly deficient of many vital nutrients and minerals since the use of artificial chemical fertilisers, loss of organic composting (most goes to landfill now), along with a complete dysbiosis of the soils bacteria, fungi, plant and animal life.
Combine the depletion in our soils with the excessive consumptions of many components in our modern diet including wheat, sugar, alcohol, high calcium (dairy), copper and low protein which all have the effect of inhibiting appropriate absorption of zinc.
So many of our children are born zinc deficient due to nutrient deficiencies maternally preconceptually and in utero along with nutrition in infancy (which has changed so dramatically over the past 100 years).
Where can we find zinc in our food?
High zinc foods include oysters, lamb, pecan nuts, green peas, shrimps, Brazil nuts, egg yolks, almonds, ginger root and pumpkin seeds. Absorption of zinc is often hampered by foods high in phytic acid which are called anti-nutrients because they bind minerals in the gut before they are absorbed in the body. Foods high in phytic acid include processed cereals and refined cereals such as breads and pasta.
How do we test for zinc deficiency?
The problem with a blood test to detect zinc deficiency is that the majority of zinc is stored inside cells rather than free in blood. Therefore these tests are generally not accurate and having a result of an adequate zinc blood level does not necessarily reliably measure zinc sufficiency. Another test used is a Zinc Taste Test which is looking at diminished taste acuity (loss of taste sensation) since depletion of zinc leads to decreased acuity. However this test lacks sensitivity and specificity to assess zinc status in humans (J Altern Complement Med, 2012, 18(6):541-550).
Often zinc deficiency goes hand in hand with other mineral and nutrient deficiencies such as iron, magnesium, phosphorous, B6 to name a few. A urine test may be of benefit if both zinc and B6 deficiency are suspected which could potentially be due to a genetically determined chemical imbalance known as pyroluria.
By visiting a health practitioner, other symptomatology and issues can be discussed and appropriate testing and possible supplementation can be prescribed.
Our white food only child now adores olives, avocados, prawns, vegetables of every colour of the rainbow, curries, stir fries, bone broths and that is just for breakfast...!! In all seriousness, the journey away from white didn't happen overnight. We started by removing gluten, dairy, soy and sugar and we noticed pretty quickly that this was basically the whole basis of our child's diet. Slowly but surely we proceeded to add in foods. We also have a supplementation regime and we are now very aware of the signs when any of our three kids are very low on zinc (often lowered immunity is the first sign in our house).
It is estimated that it can take at least 7 exposures to a new food before a child will even touch/play/taste it (sorry I need to dig out this reference, the prediction has been firmly imprinted in my brain!). We keep this in mind whenever a new food is introduced. Platters are a hit with the kids and we find they will always try new foods if served on a platter. We have a few other games and tools that we use to make mealtime fun and this has helped establish a great relationship with foods (keep an eye out for some tips to make mealtime fun!).
There are other reasons why children may be very selective in their food choices but considering zinc deficiency as a possible underlying factor is incredibly important.
Last November my husband and I made a decision to leave everything we had come to know and love for over 10 years in Tasmania. It wasn't an easy decision. All of our beautiful girls were born in Burnie and we had formed friendships which were as close as family bonds. In the 12 months before we left I had made connections through my new passion with so many like-minded people and I was gifted the opportunity to share a snippet of so many amazing journeys. So despite the decision being made quickly it wasn't easy.
November and December are actually a blur! There is proof I must have been around because there is a cookbook with a December print date on it! We had our house on the market, an operation for our youngest, cookbook deadlines and all the end of year commitments including Christmas and a family wedding. Sleep dropped down to a couple of hours a night at best and stress saw me land in hospital a couple of times with gut issues. My thyroid went into overdrive and I was insulin resistant again which I hadn't been for a long time and it was certainly not brought on by eating too many carbs; in fact food was the last thing on my mind! The irony was I would be talking about sleep and stress in my group sessions only to leave and head straight to A&E. I was so disconnected with my mind and my body that I couldn't feel anything (except the pain in my gut!) and couldn't recognise the effects stress was having on me. My answer to everything was "it's all good!" I will be fine when...... How many times do we have this self talk? I will be happy when......, I will feel better when........., I can sleep when........,?
The beautiful family wedding came and went as did Christmas and we hit the road with as many worldly possessions that would fit in our cars. After three full days of driving we rolled into Yeppoon, Queensland. We made it just in time to see in the new year in our new location. I remember thinking now I can relax. Now I can wind down and in a couple of weeks I'll be ready to go again. Not even one week in our new adventure I was having scans for a lump which fortunately turned out to be benign. The sleep I was longing for was not there. I was wired and pacing the hallway all night. By day I could be mid-sentence with the kids and then passed out in a puddle of drool. But I was learning to become present. I loved the time with my girls and Dan. We started the day not knowing what it would bring. Some days took us to the library, talking to birds in our yard and other days we could be sitting on a camel! Having no furniture was a blessing. There weren't all the distractions that "things" bring. I started to have fun. REAL fun where you get lost in the day and have no idea what the time is. We all commented on how long the days were; I haven't had that feeling since I was a kid. I cried more on the girls first day at school than I did when they started school for the first time!
When they started back at school, I put the pressure on myself to get back to work. I had so many things I wanted to do, a tonne of emails to reply to and people I had to contact. But I couldn't do it. I would return home from the school run ready to climb back into bed. I would get up and go for a walk to try to recharge but again would return and find myself on the couch unable to move. I was very conscious of eating well for energy and making sure I was getting a broad range of nutrients in but still was not feeling much better. After a couple of weeks of a lot of rest, I started to pick up a bit. I felt I was ready to go to a boxing class! This was the straw that broke the camels back. I was near bed-ridden for 5 days with barely enough energy to lift my head.
I was fortunate to meet a wonderful doctor in town who took one look at me and linked everything together and not just my current presentation. He could fill in my history without me saying a word and just smiled as we talked. He ran some tests and when I saw him he commented that if I wasn't as conscious about my nutrition and lifestyle, he would certainly be seeing me in hospital at best.
Whether it is chicken or egg is still to be determined. However underlying EVERY presentation over the past 8 years including gestational diabetes, T2 diabetes, ovarian and breast cysts, hyperthyroidism, heart arrhythmias, swelling (abdomen and ankles), protein malabsorption just to name a few is a condition labelled adrenal fatigue which develops in response to intense or prolonged stress. You may have heard of it because at the moment it feels like the buzz diagnosis!!! But why is that? We only have to imagine life a couple of hundred years ago without watches, electricity, adulterated food, devices and work pressures to look at the contrast today. The stress we previously reserved for a getaway from a predator is now occurring for many people most of the day without us being aware. We are falling asleep (if we are lucky) stressed and waking up stressed.
But what happens to our body when it is in stress response?
* Increase cholesterol and fatty acids in the blood for energy production
* Increased blood pressure
* Decreased protein synthesis, digestion, immune and allergic responses
* Increased metabolism, faster heart rate and respiration
* Faster blood clotting
* Localised inflammation (redness, swelling, heat and pain)
* Increased production of blood sugar for energy
Is it no wonder that today we have elevated incidence of cardiovascular disease (blood pressure, cholesterol, fatty acids, inflammation), diabetes (increased blood sugar), autoimmune disease, allergies, digestive issues including decreased protein synthesis, hormonal dysregulation which can impact the thyroid, reproductive hormones, pancreas and so many couples require assistance with reproduction? The scary thing is that when we are chronically stressed, we don't even know we are stressed because we have such a skewed perception of normal!!
If our adrenal glands are not functioning as well as they should, there are a number of things which can exacerbate symptoms. These can include:
* Dieting - fasting and low calorie eating can be perceived as a massive stress on the body in someone with adrenal fatigue
* Poor nutrition - high inflammatory foods such as refined carbohydrates, refined sugars, processed vegetable oils, preservatives and additives - many modern foods are entirely foreign to our body and they can place a burden on the body to deal with them
* Sugar, adrenaline, caffeine and alcohol - sugar needs to be controlled by cortisol (the life sustaining hormone produced by the adrenals) and in adrenal fatigue, a sugar hit is massively taxing on the adrenal glands which is felt as a crash. Often sugar cravings ensue as a way to try to increase energy so it becomes a cycle. Stimulants such as adrenaline, caffeine and alcohol often counterbalance the fatigue however the need for stimulants increases while actually providing greater stress to the adrenals
* Important to note that some supplements can also contain sugars which can exacerbate the symptoms of adrenal fatigue
* Strenuous exercise (stimulates adrenaline) can be a stress so focusing on exercise that does not reduce energy, but increases flow such as light walking, yoga can be beneficial.
If you have an illness, or basically live in the modern world, you are likely to be experiencing extra strain on your adrenal glands! We can be eating the best "real food" diet and exercising like a pro but if we are living with emotional stresses, carrying expectations and perceptions in our head, living on social media or burning the candle at both end then we can be eliciting a response we once reserved for a wild tiger.
We were fortunate enough two weeks ago to have a life evaluation event thanks to mother nature. Seven weeks into living here, we received news that we were in the direct path of Tropical Cyclone Marcia. At first it was all a little exciting; it was first thought to be a category 1 or 2 at worst. But at 4am at category 5 strength, we received an automatically generated text message to evacuate. We decided to stay in our padded laundry but we put a few "special" items in the boot of the car which seemed the safest spot. The essentials like important documents, a few keepsakes, photographs and the children's achievement folders (thank you Dan for making these folders for the kids!) were thrown in. For 24 hours the ONLY thing we thought of was the safety of our children. We poked our heads out of the laundry a couple of times to see debris flying past the windows, our fences disappear and our lounge room, study and room upstairs had new spurting water features in them! Our electricity disconnected a few hours in to the storm but it was quite comforting to have updates through facebook and the internet on our mobile phones and through the battery operated radio (we had to purchase the day before!).
In the calm following the storm, the first thing we did was go and check on our neighbours (we had only met them the day before in the lead up). Our landlords called in and checked on us. At 7pm that night we lost our phone reception, and without power, we couldn't access the internet using our modem. It was the start of our recalibration! With only torches, we were fed and in bed by 7pm. The mental and physical exhaustion of the lead up and during the cyclone saw us all enjoy a few 12 hour sleeps (on the nights where it wasn't 29deg without a breeze.....!). People started talking. In the street people made eye contact, spoke and reconnected. Offers of support to the whole community were coming from far and wide. At night yes it was ridiculously hot but the sky had a thick blanket of stars and besides the occasional helicopter and the hum of some generators it was just so quiet. School was cancelled so we were able to enjoy more of "nowhere to be, nothing to do." The sight of young and old dangling fishing lines into the water to catch a meal was not unusual. People shared and people cared. Something I heard in the documentary Origins last year was on loop in my head: "There are 4 needs in life, water, food, shelter and fire. Everything else is a want."
What a gift. We were handed a REAL stress to finally make it as obvious as day that all the other stresses are insignificant yet they are having a significant affect on our health. It gave us a week to discover in a modern way (with access to food and water) what it is like to live without a watch and be in bed at dawn and up at dusk. We discovered that despite being newbies, we were part of a lovely community. I've since spoken with a number of people who like me have questioned what is really important. When "life was switched back on" with social media alive again I saw the mindless natter about the colour of a dress, and why one diet is better than another, ads to get more clients and why we need a fruit infusing water bottle. Seriously does it matter? I saw how just glimpsing this information daily can immediately fill my head with useless chatter and how it can impact my day and thoughts just logging onto social media. I asked myself why I bang on so much about good nutrition. When I dived into that question further I still came up with the same response which is without optimal nutrition, I wouldn't have the health to have fun with my family and since they are my number one, this means that nutrition to me is a very high priority.
So I've had a chance to really think about the things that are really important to me and the things which I will be working on to de-stress over and hopefully recover over the coming months while still doing what I love.
Each day I see more clearly that there are many aspects to our overall nutrition which are so much more than just food and in this current world we live in we are over-complicating life so much. I am clearer than ever that I want to educate people around holistic nutrition which includes identifying real foods, healing, minimising toxins, de-stressing, increasing mindfulness and I want to do this in a community environment through talks and group sessions. We really are all just the same but it would be great to get back to our "realness"!
For more information about adrenal fatigue, I encourage you to discuss your own personal symptoms with a Naturopath or Biomed Physician. For further reading, start with the webpages created by these well researched experts in adrenal fatigue: