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.