Kids and Food Cravings
How often do you hear any of the following:
‘Mum, I really really want a cookie!’
‘Dad, when can we get some chips, I REALLY feel like some chips!”
Or even the pre-verbal toddler just pointing at lollies in the supermarket and then stomping feet just to make sure you got the message “lollies now!”
Children’s cravings are real, just as adults cravings are.
They start early on and are very strong urges. However, they are not always cravings for sugary junk food or fatty chips- a lot of the time kids have particular cravings that seem quite healthy and harmless. My son always craves cheese- whenever I ask him what he would like for breakfast/snack/lunch/dinner the answer usually includes cheese.
I’ve started doing some research on this as many traditional parenting books are of the opinion that kids crave what their bodies need. And the impression from these parenting books is that somehow kids ‘know’ what they need for growth, development and nutrition. This seemed to make sense on some level, until I noticed that the foods my kids often really wanted were the very foods that usually produced a negative reaction shortly after eating.
The view from medical professionals who have spent years treating kids with allergies and asthma (as well as ADHD and autism) is that kids crave the precise foods that they either: can’t tolerate well, are allergic to or their body is not capable of digesting efficiently. To me this new revelation made complete sense as my son tolerates dairy very badly- hence the cravings for cheese!
What is really hard to deal with is the fact that the cravings kids have are usually for problem foods- sugar, wheat and dairy. Why are these foods so desirable? The simple answer is because they make kids feel good and they are highly addictive. Yes, ADDICTIVE!
Here is what Dr Kenneth Bock, author of the fantastic book “Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies” has to say on the subject:
The most common cravings:
Many kids who show symptoms of hypoglycaemia have strong sugar cravings- the sugary foods alleviate feelings of discomfort (hence the tantrums!) that the absence of sugar and the subsequent dip in blood glucose produce.
Sugar distabilises blood glucose levels and feeds pathogenic gut bacteria. Sugar greatly impacts the immune system and has been shown to prolong the duration of colds. The high/low blood sugar level cycle is self perpetuating through the continued cravings. To quote Dr Bock “Almost all kids like sweets, but only hypoglycemic kids go crazy for them”.
There are many kids out there who just want to eat toast and pasta all day long. One factor in this is the sugar level in these foods described above. Another is the addictive nature of wheat. A large percentage of the population lack an enzyme (DPP4) that breaks down gluten. When wheat is ingested, it is only partially broken down and these partial proteins (peptides) mimic the chemical properties of opiates.
These opiate like peptides create a similar effect to the body’s natural opiates- endorphins (the feel good chemical we get after exercise). The peptides create feelings of ‘spaciness’- intoxication that makes kids feel nice. After they eat a nice bowl of pasta, not only do they feel full, they feel ‘spaced out’- or ‘high’ on the gluten. This feeling is very addictive.
Casein is a key protein in milk and an insufficiency in the DPP4 enzyme mentioned above also results in only a partial breakdown of casein. This creates ‘caseomorphins’ that cause the same type of intoxication, contentment and pleasure as the gluten peptides. This is different to lactose intolerance or milk allergy- it is an opiate- like effect. This can result in cravings and in the strong attachment that so many kids have to milk especially and other dairy products.
Wheat and dairy are also notorious for damaging the body’s detoxification process (methylation) in susceptible kids, making it very difficult for kids to clear heavy metals, pesticides and environmental pollutants from their bodies.
Of course not all kids have cravings and not all kids are super sensitive to sugar, gluten and casein. Whilst sugar can be easily avoided at least in the processed forms, it’s very difficult to avoid wheat and dairy completely. If your child has obvious cravings, consider that it may be related to a toxic effect a particular food has on his/her body. Watch their behaviour (not just the digestive symptoms) and see if there are patterns. The best bet is to eliminate the suspect food for a period of time to see if changes happen (minimum 3 weeks for casein and minimum 3 months for gluten).
Does your child have specific food cravings? How do you deal with that?