Read an Excerpt
Disease-Proof Your Child
Feeding Kids Right
By Joel Fuhrman
St. Martin's Griffin Copyright © 2005 Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
All rights reserved.
Understanding Superior Nutrition
In order to better understand how our human bodies are programmed to process nutrients, we need to take a look at our closest wild relatives. Based on genetic information, gorilla and human DNA only differ by 1.8 percent. Chimpanzees are a little closer to humans, as their DNA differs by only 1.6 percent. Both humans and the larger primates share many physical and social characteristics: different body size for males and females, living in family groups, and mothers caring for offspring for a long time beyond infancy. Chimpanzees are dependent on their mothers until the age of seven. Primates are also very intelligent.
All primates (including humans) share certain nutritional requirements to maintain normal function and maintain excellent health. All primates can taste sweet and see color, and share a requirement for large amounts of antioxidants, phytochemicals, and other plant-derived nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. The appreciation of sweets and the color vision attract us to and enable us to recognize ripe, fresh fruits, an important component of the natural diet of all primates. This desire of primates for variety in their diet supports nutrient diversity, enabling primates to live a long, disease-free life. Without an adequate amount of plant-derived nutrients, immune system dysfunction develops. This reduced function of the immune system occurs as a result of nutritional inadequacies, which may then result in frequent infections, allergies, and, eventually cancer. Primates share this high requirement for natural foods found in nature's cupboard, the garden or the forest. The micronutrients that fuel the primate's immune system—derived from fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and, to a lesser degree, whole grains—must form the basis of the diet in order to expect normal resistance against disease.
Veterinarians and other animal-care workers are aware that for each species of animal to thrive they must eat a diet of natural foods that is uniquely suited to the nature of the species in question.
Humans suffer greatly from misunderstanding what our nutritional requirements are. We have evolved to a level of economic sophistication that allows us to eat ourselves to death. A diet centered on milk, cheese, pasta, bread, and sugar-filled snacks and drinks lays the groundwork for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune illnesses to develop later in life. It is not merely that sugar, other sweets, white flour, cheese, and butter are harmful; it is also what we are not eating that is causing the problem.
When you calculate all the calories consumed from the typical foods most children in America eat, you find that the calories coming from natural foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, raw nuts, and seeds is less than 5 percent of their total caloric intake. This dangerously low intake of unrefined plant foods guarantees weakened immunity to disease, frequent illnesses, and a shorter lifespan.
UNPROCESSED FOODS ARE THE KEY TO OPTIMAL HEALTH
There are thousands of plant-derived nutrients that are essential for us to achieve proper functioning of our immune system. Let's look at just a few of these as an example.
Folate is found in vegetables, beans, and fruit. It is especially high in green vegetables. It was determined that the low level of folate in the modern American diet is related to an increased risk of neural tube defects in the womb. More recently, low levels of folate in the diet have been associated with other diseases as well, such as heart disease and breast cancer. It is very likely that it is not lack of folate alone that is the chief player creating this increased risk, but also the lack of many other nutrients contained in folate-rich foods. Because the American diet is so low in fruits and vegetables, medical authorities advise women of childbearing age to take folate supplements. Instead of health authorities advising women of the dangers of a diet low in folate-rich green vegetables, they instead advise folate supplementation, as if dangerously low folate levels are the only problem with our nutritionally barren diet. Thousands of other health-supporting compounds would be ingested if women received their folate from greens, not pills. Typical nutritional advice, which focuses on individual nutrients instead of whole food, perpetuates the diet style that leads to serious illnesses.
Vitamin K is also found in green vegetables. It was found that low levels of vitamin K in mothers and their newborns increases the chance that the newborn will have a brain hemorrhage soon after childbirth. Because the American diet is low in vitamin K, all children born in hospitals in America are given a vitamin K shot immediately after delivery. Again, authorities offer fragmented nutritional advice instead of placing our respect in nature's nutrient sources, whole foods. Instead of advising mothers to eat more vegetables, and receive a symphony of valuable nutrients along with the vitamin K, we resort to giving all infants a vitamin K shot.
If women were instead educated about the critical importance of eating green vegetables and fresh fruit, instead of the present-day approach of encouraging folate supplementation and then giving all babies a vitamin K shot, possibly thousands of children would have been spared the tragedy of childhood cancers, from the improved dietary habits of pregnant women. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common childhood cancer and, after accidents, is the most common cause of death in children. The low consumption of vegetables and fruits right before and during pregnancy has been implicated in its causation.
As humans we have certain requirements for vitamins and minerals, and scientists have discovered many of these essential micronutrients and what role they play in the body. However, rather than eating whole foods and getting these nutrients in their natural state, we most often resort to supplements. Indeed, a billion-dollar nutritional supplement industry has erupted to the point where most Americans take many different nutritional supplements in an attempt to improve their health and prevent the development of diseases. However, this has not worked too effectively; those taking vitamin supplements are not granted protection from heart disease and cancer.
The problem with this fractionated way of thinking, simply replacing one nutrient or another through supplementation, is that there is much more than merely vitamin K and folate and a handful of other vitamins and minerals that are missed by not eating the required amount of fruits and vegetables.
Clearly, the modern American diet is inadequate, and in spite of most Americans taking nutritional supplements, the percentage of our population dying from the diseases of poor nutrition has not changed significantly in the last thirty years. Heart disease, diabetes, strokes, and cancer still kill more than 80 percent of all Americans. These same diseases kill those who take nutritional supplements and those who don't. We must look at the reasons why our society, so knowledgeable about vitamins and minerals, still suffers from such a high rate of diseases related to our diet.
Eating exceptionally healthfully is the foundation of our good health. Nutritional supplements add to the diet, and are not intended to take the place of healthy eating. That is why they are appropriately called supplements. A multivitamin is still a good idea for most people, and deficiencies of these commonly known nutrients do lead to higher risks of cancer. About forty vitamins and minerals are known to be required in the human diet. Deficiencies of vitamins B12 and B6, folic acid, niacin, iron, zinc, and selenium appear to mimic radiation damage by causing single- and double-strain breaks to our DNA. Half of our population is deficient in vitamins and minerals, and these chronic low levels of nutrients lead to higher toxic elements within cells. The accumulation of these toxic by-products of metabolism accelerates cellular aging and creates an environment favorable for cancer to flourish. Low nutrient intake is a factor in the development of cancer and heart disease. Taking supplements, which supply various nutrients, may help somewhat, but it is not a sufficient solution. There is more to the cancer story.
In recent years, scientists have discovered another class of micronutrients, now called phytochemicals, that also play an indispensable role in enabling our normal defenses against cancer. The wave of new research on more than 12,000 recently identified phytochemical nutrients in natural (unprocessed) plant foods has generated excitement in the scientific community unparalleled since the first vitamin was discovered in the early 1900s. These nutrients work synergistically to detoxify cancer-causing compounds, deactivate free radicals, and enable DNA-repair mechanisms. These 12,000 or so phytochemicals play a major role in human immune system defenses. Without sufficient amounts and a wide variety of this new class of compounds, scientists noted, cells age more rapidly and do not retain their innate ability to remove and detoxify waste products and toxic compounds. This new class of antioxidant nutrient's is essential to prevent the development of degenerative diseases. We cannot acquire a sufficient amount and diversity of phytochemicals in supplements; we must get them from real food, especially because many of them have not been discovered yet. When we pass up eating fruits and vegetables, we are turning our backs on a host of nutrients that can keep us from developing disease.
THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
What we eat creates the materials to build our cells. Eventually, we are what we eat. When we eat certain foods we will achieve a body that nature designed to be disease-resistant; when we don't or when we eat the wrong foods, we may create a body that is disease-prone. The foods we eat supply us with much more than fuel. They provide the raw materials that make up our organs, including the brain. Critical nutrients make neurotransmitters and brain-cell receptors that govern how we think. Our diet supplies us with the raw materials to manufacture every cell comprising our body. These cells, to function at a high level, need thousands of different chemical compounds that combine in an amazing fashion to make the most miraculous machine ever created. When a few of these necessary compounds are missing, we usually can still survive; the human organism is resilient and adaptable, but without all the necessary components the body loses its powerful potential for wellness. As a result, chronic diseases develop.
Eating right won't simply prevent disease; it will help you live life to its fullest. Eating right will enable you to feel great every day, without stomachaches, headaches, indigestion, constipation, or a runny nose. The right nutrition can assure that we wake up fully energized and have boundless energy, perform at our best, and maintain our youthful vigor as we age gracefully. Eating healthfully can maintain your excellent health for a lifetime.
Health is normal. The human body is a self-repairing, self-defending, and self-healing marvel. Disease is relatively difficult to induce, considering the body's powerful immune system. However, this complicated and delicate machinery can be damaged if fed the wrong fuel during the formative years. The chronic diseases commonly associated with aging—hypertension, coronary artery disease, Type II diabetes, degenerative joint disease, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's, as well as most cancers—are not the inevitable outcome of the aging process; they are born out of wrong food choices earlier in life.
Healthy living with nutritional excellence throughout life can slow the decline of aging. It can prevent the years and years of suffering in ill health that is so common today as people get older and become dependent on medical treatments, drugs, and surgery. Medical intervention does very little to slow the progression of illnesses and gradual mental and physical decline. Nutritional excellence is the only real fountain of youth.
VITAMINS AND MINERALS ARE NOT ENOUGH
Modern societies live mostly on processed foods. These foods have been developed to meet the requirements of mass production, shelf life, economics, and taste acceptance. These "fake foods" no longer resemble in any way the nutritional characteristics of real food made by nature. No matter how many vitamins or minerals are added to the power bar or breakfast cereal, it still does not contain the unique combination of thousands of delicate phytonutrients found in a strawberry or leaf of lettuce.
Natural foods deteriorate rapidly, have limited shelf life, and lose many of their delicate nutrients when heated, milled, or shot out of cannons. For example, cold breakfast cereals (which may have some synthetic nutrients that were lost in processing put back in) have as much phytochemical nutritional value as the cardboard box they are found in. We have adopted an eating pattern of the worst sort, consuming the majority of our caloric intake from processed foods, which pays us back with medical problems, unnecessary suffering, and a premature death.
Though many think that disease is the result of genetics or bad fortune, the reality is that for the vast majority, we will get what we have earned. Our body is formed from the foods we have consumed in our life. A body made from refined foods, white flour, oils, sugar, and other highly processed "fake" food develops into a sickly human, with allergies and autoimmune diseases, such as colitis, psoriasis, lupus, and asthma, who suffers from indigestion, reflux, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, fibroids, tumors, and fatigue in early adulthood. Serious diseases that interfere with one's quality of life are born out of our childhood diets. Junk food isn't cheap; we pay a steep price for it years after consuming it.
THE GENETIC COMPONENT OF DISEASE
While genetics play a role in the expression of many diseases, and while we all have genetic weaknesses and predispositions, for the vast majority of diseases that occur in the modern world, nutrition, exercise, and environment play a much larger role than genetics. For example, those living in rural China have less than 2 percent heart disease risk, but when they move to America their children have the same dismal risks as other Americans. About 50 percent of Americans die of heart attacks and strokes. When we abuse our bodies, many different problems arise and what happens to you then may be influenced by your genetics.
Heart disease is a recent phenomenon in the history of mankind. By 1916 it was already hypothesized by the well-known French scientist C. D. de Langen that overeating and a cholesterol-rich diet appeared to be a factor in the populations of those European countries experiencing a rise in heart attacks. We cannot consider heart disease to be primarily genetic, because it did not occur much before the last hundred years and pockets of populations inhabiting the world today have no heart disease. By the 1950s scientific investigations were able to explain population differences in heart disease rates by differences in the consumption of saturated fat (the most important determinant of serum cholesterol) and the inverse association with consumption of fresh produce. The less saturated fat and the more fresh produce consumed, the less heart disease occurs. Over the last fifty years, this causal relationship between saturated fat and heart disease has been observed and documented by thousands of scientific studies. The reality is that heart disease, the leading cause of death in the modern world, as well as the other leading causes of death (various cancers and strokes), is created by our modern diet. Very few people have genetics so favorable that they can eat anything without concern.
You cannot escape from the biological law of cause and effect. Food choices, especially food choices early in life, are the primary cause of disease and premature death. Health predictably results from healthy living. Inferior childhood nutrition has led to a nation with high levels of chronic illnesses and out-of-control health care costs.
Americans eat about 40 percent of calories from animal products, such as meat, eggs, and dairy.
Animal products contain no antioxidants, bioflavonoids, carotenoids, folate, vitamin C, vitamin K, or those thousands of phytochemicals that are essential for cellular normalcy and preventing DNA damage.
Americans eat about 50 percent of calories from processed foods such as oil, sugar, and white flour products.
Processed foods contain almost no antioxidants, bioflavonoids, carotenoids, folate, vitamin C, vitamin K, or those thousands of phytochemicals that are essential for cellular normalcy and preventing DNA damage.
To make matters worse, most of the animal products eaten by children, such as cheese and milk, are exceptionally high in saturated fat. Saturated fat consumption correlates with cancer incidence worldwide. It also raises cholesterol levels and causes heart disease.
Keep in mind that it is the type of fat, not the amount of fat, that is linked to higher heart attack rates and cancer. Both epidemiologic studies and clinical trials have implicated saturated fats and trans fats as the villains for humans. They promote both heart attack and cancer.
The nutrition committee of the American Heart Association has declared, There is overwhelming evidence that reduction in saturated fat, dietary cholesterol and weight offer the most effective dietary strategies for reducing total cholesterol, LDL levels and cardiovascular risk. There is no biological requirement for saturated fat.
In fact, populations with diets with little or no saturated fat have little or no heart disease. The development of heart disease begins in childhood. Not only do unhealthy childhood diets high in saturated fat and low in the protective micronutrients found in unprocessed plant foods accelerate heart disease, but they promote the aging process, and create a cellular environment favorable for the development of cancer.
Excerpted from Disease-Proof Your Child by Joel Fuhrman. Copyright © 2005 Joel Fuhrman, M.D.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Griffin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.