Food Detective: Could Gluten Be Connected to Trouble Focusing?
Author Kelly Dorfman, a.k.a the Nutrition Detective, uses diet plans to help determine and overcome the causes of health issues in children.
By Rachel Rabkin Peachman
Photo: Media Bakery
“Clean your plate!” You may want to scrape that old admonishment into the garbage disposal — at least until you learn more about the connection between your child’s diet and his health and behavior. Researchers today are pointing to certain elements in foods as triggers for a growing list of kids’ physical and emotional ailments, beyond the occasional upset tummy. Everyone’s talking about gluten, a protein found in wheat, but there are others to be aware of.
To better understand this issue, we turned to Kelly Dorfman, M.S., author of What’s Eating Your Child? The Hidden Connections Between Food and Childhood Ailments. Dorfman, a.k.a the “nutrition detective,” uses diet plans to help determine and overcome the causes of health issues in children. Here, she takes you through some steps to examine the link between your child’s diet and her wellness.
Parent & Child: First, what made you decide to write your book now?
Kelly Dorfman: Children today have the highest rate of food allergies, obesity, behavioral disorders, autoimmune disease, and learning issues ever recorded — and I believe this is often diet-related. Many times, parents don’t realize that the food their children eat contributes to these problems and can also cause a host of other issues as well like reflux, insomnia, fatigue, eczema . . . the list goes on and on.
P&C: How is food connected to all of those different problems?
Dorfman: Food is the raw material that powers every cell, thought, and function in your body. For instance, if you’re trying to remember something, there is a chemical process associated with thinking that runs on specific nutrients. Feeling low? Energy levels are often directly linked to what’s in your meals and snacks. If you have a sensitivity to a food that is connected to a key process in your mind or body, it can muck up that process.
P&C: What foods do you find children most often have sensitivities to?
Dorfman: Gluten and casein [the protein in milk] are the two most common. It’s astounding to see so many symptoms — including neurological ones — clear up after these foods are removed from a diet.
P&C: How do gluten and casein contribute to neurological issues?
Dorfman: One theory is that some people’s bodies can’t break down these proteins properly. The proteins are misinterpreted and processed as if they are painkillers. The results can be drug-like symptoms such as spaciness, sleep disturbance, and appetite changes.
P&C: What can parents do if they think that their child might have a food intolerance?
Dorfman: It can be tedious, but trial and error and elimination diets (in which foods are not eaten for a period and then reintroduced) are most effective for finding an underlying cause. If you suspect gluten, for instance, eliminate it and observe what happens. If it’s a big food group, like dairy, talk to a nutritionist first.
P&C: Gluten-free is a big food trend now. Are more people gluten intolerant today than in the past?
Dorfman: Higher awareness of food-related health issues has contributed to the growing trend, but research shows that gluten sensitivity is increasing. In fact, sensitivity to a wide variety of foods has grown, which many experts believe is due to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in food. GMOs are plants that have foreign DNA spliced into them to make the plants easier to grow, and the allergy properties of food increase with this process.
P&C: Are there other reasons?
Dorfman: For some, gluten sensitivity could be caused by excessive exposure to gluten. It’s not just in bread and pasta anymore. It’s an additive in many processed foods, so people who might tolerate gluten if exposed to it moderately can’t tolerate it because they are assaulted by it excessively and frequently.
P&C: Beyond food sensitivities, what proactive steps can parents take to ensure that their children are getting the best nutrition?
Dorfman: If I ran the world, every child would be eating fresh, unprocessed foods. Choose organic fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meats for your family when you can.
Rachel Rabkin Peachman is a health writer and editor who lives with her two children and husband in New Jersey.
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