Why, as a traditionally trained Paediatrician am I writing about food? How can I not? Real food is integral to the amazing machine that is our body, and I believe, an incredibly powerful “medicine” to prevent illness and achieve a strong, healthy body and mind. Oh, and incredibly fun & tasty too!
The Science of Food
Food has so much more to offer us than fuel to run our bodies. The right foods help our bodies grow, heal, move, breathe, learn and laugh. How fortunate we are to be able to harness this. Although Hippocrates said in c430BC “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” and traditional Eastern medicine has implemented this for even longer, it has taken centuries for modern medicine to look closer. There are now sciences dedicated to it. For example Nutrigenomics and Nutrigenetics study how food and our DNA (and genes) interact to create health or disease. Multiple experiments and studies have been done, analysing foods to the smallest compounds to understand how they impact on our bodies. And the information is mounting. So now when you tell your kids: “Eat your fish! It’s good for your brain” – you can actually prove it!
Making good food choices is only the first step towards health. The next is having a healthy gastrointestinal tract (gut) so that our body knows what to do with the food as it travels from our mouth to our bottom. So really, it is “you are what you eat and what you digest”. The gut is so much more than a conveyor belt moving food; it also carefully selects what will enter or exit the body, helps produce energy compounds and even directly manufactures some nutrients like Vitamin K. It’s also the bacteria that live naturally in our gut (gut microbiota or gut flora) that play a major role in this.
Did you know that our gut has 100 trillion bacteria in it? Yes, 100 trillion! That’s about 10 times more than all the cells in our body. So essentially, we are more bug than human! These bacteria are now standing centre stage and the world is watching. The US alone launched the Human Microbiome Project at the National Institute of Health with a budget of over $110 million to identify microbes found in association with both healthy and diseased humans. Europe has a comparable project, as does Brazil, and all you have to do is Google to see how many up-to-date studies are being published on the topic.
A Super System
The gut microbiota can almost be seen as a “super system” within us. So far, studies have shown that good gut bacteria are linked to healthy weight, limiting allergy symptoms, fighting infection and controlling inflammation in the body, as well as helping us absorb nutrients, manufacture vitamins and eliminate toxins. There have also been studies showing a clear link between gut health and mental health and behaviour. We are only just beginning to discover more.
Sorry to have my geek hat on, but fascinating stuff!
So how can we ignore this? And how can we not want to harness the full potential of our bodies to live a healthful and vibrant life?
The way I see it is that there are a few “pills to pop” and by this I mean following Dr Deb’s prescription:
- Eat real food
- Optimise nutrition and use foods as medicine
- Keep your gut healthy
- Keep your environment healthy
In my articles on foodforkids.com I will explore these aspects in more detail and in relation to specific paediatric issues. A variety of topics will be covered – such as how to have a healthy gut, foods and difficult behaviour, foods to boost immunity and food for skin troubles. I will also address any concerns or queries you may have, but please know that the information I share is not intended to replace formal medical assessment and care.
So, thank you Vicky, for allowing me to share my thoughts on how important a healthy diet and lifestyle is. I look forward to helping parents nourish their children and optimise their health and wellness. And to helping children learn the value of real food and the impact it has on their bodies, so that they develop good habits to last a lifetime. What a beautiful gift to give them.
Best,MBChB(hons), Dip Paed, FRACP (PEM) www.drdeborahlevy.com