Ghillie James chats to Nutritional Therapist Jo Saunders about kids with food intolerances and why ‘gut health’ are the buzz words of the moment.
Ghillie: Jo, you co-author the website cookingthemhealthy with chef Georgie Soskin, as well as running your own business Jo Saunders Nutrition, helping adults and children with their nutritional needs. So I think it’s safe to say you are passionate about kids health! A lot of the advice you give as well as your recipes focus on dairy, sugar or gluten-free. Is that because you have kids yourself who are intolerant to these foods or do you think it’s just healthier to remove them?
Jo: I don’t eat gluten for health reasons, and see many children in my practice who are unable to eat either gluten or dairy, or both. Our motivation for starting the website was to provide options for those who are unable to eat gluten and/or dairy. A diagnosis can be daunting, and we aim to reduce the fear by providing plenty of gluten and dairy free recipes with ingredients that are easy to find and to cook with, with all the nutrition needed to raise healthy kids and most importantly delicious results!
Ghillie: Though there are those who have to cut out a food because they are allergic, do you believe there are lots of children out there who also really benefit from cutting out dairy or gluten?
Jo: My aim as a Nutritional Therapist would be for all children to eat a healthy whole food diet with a wide variety of different foods, and it is certainly not in my ethos to remove foods unnecessarily. In reality, however, there are children who are not able to eat gluten and/or dairy due to a health condition so it is important to provide delicious and nutritious options for them. Conditions such as eczema and asthma can be triggered or exacerbated by eating dairy, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity is now a widely recognised trigger for a number of symptoms, such as ADD and ADHD in children so it is important that these families don’t have to miss out.
Ghillie: Should mums of dairy or gluten-free kids replace these foods with other things so they don’t lose out on vital nutrients? Is there a supplement for kids you recommend?
Jo: In serious conditions such as Celiac disease, a child’s ability to absorb nutrients can be significantly impacted due to damage to the small intestine (where nutrient absorption takes place) therefore it is essential to ensure an optimal diet. It is really important to support calcium intake in a dairy-free diet, of which there are many options. I would recommend a good quality multi-nutrient for any child with a less than perfect diet, something of an insurance policy and a back-up for those days you haven’t been able to provide your best for them – us mothers are only human after all! I would also strongly recommend a quality fish oil to support brain health and often a probiotic.
Ghillie: I know you are a big fan of ensuring good gut health in kids. Why is that and how can mums work out if their child has a strong gut?
Jo: Around 80% of our immune system is based in our gut (a hugely significant amount!), therefore from a nutritional and naturopathic viewpoint, gut health really is the foundation to our health. There are many factors that affect gut health, the type of birth, the way a child is fed, how/when they are weaned, medications, food, stress and of course antibiotics can all have an impact. As part of the website, there is a great section with suggestions about how to improve gut health and solutions as well as nutritious recipes for families to try. Within the Supercharged section (recipes with a specific nutritional focus), there is a Digestive Support section, focusing on recipes and tips to support gut health. If you feel your child is in need of more targeted help, a personalised Nutritional Therapy consultation would certainly be a sensible approach.
Ghillie: On a weekly basis is there anything you recommend that children should eat to keep good gut health?
Jo: Where possible we recommend trying to include fermented foods in your child’s diet. Not only are they easier to digest but they provide a welcome boost of beneficial bacteria. This includes foods such as sourdough bread and natural yogurt, (rather than the ones with added sugar), if they can tolerate dairy. Yogurt is a lovely food for children and a great base for breakfast as in Bircher Muesli, and also can be served as dessert with fresh fruit or fruit puree, or simply a drizzle of honey. There are also dairy-free alternatives such as coconut yogurt, which is delicious. Kefir is another lovely option, a fermented milk drink packed with good bacteria. It makes delicious smoothies as well as loads of recipes and would be a great tummy friendly addition to a child’s diet. Although foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi may seem ambitious for children, it is always worth trying, you may well be surprised!
Ghillie: What are your fave recipes on the website?
Jo: My personal favourite is the Chicken Coconut Curry, it’s so quick and easy and totally delicious. I love that it works equally well served in a bowl curled up on the sofa, as a speedy tea for the children or boosted with a sprinkle of chopped coriander and flaked almonds to serve as dinner with friends. Many of our recipes are designed to be versatile in this way which we love. Georgie is a big fan of our Pear & Cinnamon Breakfast Muffins which work as a speedy brekkie on the go, or as a perfect tea time treat. We like to use fruit to sweeten recipes, which enables us to reduce the need for sugar.