Book Review: The Dorito Effect

The Dorito Effect was a very interesting and perhaps somewhat alarmist book. In a nutshell, the book argues that modern agriculture has bred both our animal and vegetable foods to optimize transportability and yield and neglected to breed for flavour. The lack of flavour in our food is remedied by synthesized flavour chemicals that are added to make our food palatable. According to Schatzker, the major problem with this is that in nature, flavour is an indicator of nutrition. So our flavour-poor foods are also nutritionally-poor, and we are being coerced into eating these things because food additives are tricking our bodies into thinking we want to eat them.

There was a particular section of this book that interested me as a parent. I have included the two pertinent pages below (my apologies for the slight blurriness). These pages discuss a study done back in the days when there weren’t ethics review boards. Children of “teenage mothers” and “widows” were fed an experimental diet consisting of 34 different whole, unprocessed foods. The children were allowed to choose whatever they wanted to eat at each meal from the options, and permitted to eat as much as they wanted. Not every meal the children chose for themselves contained all of the food groups, but overall, they ended up with a balanced diet and were in excellent health at the end of the study.

 

At another point in Schatzker’s book he talks about how flavour chemicals are used in raising livestock. In that particular context they are referred to as “palatants” and they can make livestock consume many more calories than they naturally would and grow much faster (which is great for farmers to maximize profit).

This, in addition to his description of the nutritional experiment with children got me reflecting about RJ, who is still way at the bottom of the growth chart for her weight (somewhere around the 1 percentile mark). She is a good eater and we avoid giving her processed foods. I started to wonder where the numbers on the growth chart come from, and if perhaps the children on which the growth charts are based are fed more processed foods with flavour chemicals (aka palatants) than RJ is, and therefore they might inevitably consume more calories and be more plump than she is.

Fortunately another blogger whose work I really admire, Alice Callahan over at The Science of Mom had written a well-researched post on growth charts in 2011. I learned from her post that the WHO charts are based on the measurements of a total of 882 children from Pelotas, Brazil; Accra, Ghana; Delhi, India; Oslow, Norway; Muscat, Oman; and Davis, CA, USA. It turns out that children who were “super lean were excluded so as not to skew the data.” I can only speculate that many, if not all of the 882 children ate processed foods with flavour chemicals. According to Schatzker’s book, flavour chemicals are so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine that there are children in the world who aren’t exposed to them. I wonder what a growth chart from 100 years ago would look like, if such a thing exists. Would RJ have been at the bottom of a growth chart 100 years ago before processed foods, or would her weight be more average compared to those children of the past.

Although RJ is a skinny little toddler, she seems healthy and I feel that I am doing the right thing for her by feeding her whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. The Dorito Effect definitely underscored that belief.

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Cancer-causing meats and feeding the family

I’ve been feeling a bit disturbed about the WHO’s classification of processed meats and red meat as carcinogenic. Not that we eat a lot of processed meats in my family, but we do eat a fair amount of red meat, because I was all pumped this summer when I found a local grass-fed beef producer at the farmer’s market and bought a bunch of ground beef, which tastes amazing and is super versatile.

I heard a dietitian on the radio yesterday talking about processed meat alternatives for lunches. And for school lunches, peanut butter is out too, what does that even leave???

Tuna. She recommended tuna. And also she poaches chicken breasts in water with carrots and celery and then slices the chicken up for sandwiches.

These seemed like good suggestions, and I’d like to throw this question out to my readers…

What do you eat for meals that is super fast and healthy but doesn’t contain red meat or processed meats?

We’ve been eating a lot of scrambled eggs lately. We also have a local chicken hookup so we roast a full chicken fairly often and eat the leftovers for a few days. I really like the breaded haddock from M&M Meat Shoppe. I’m scratching my head to think of other easy and tasty foods we enjoy that I don’t put beef in. I guess I could start making vegetarian chili again like I did in my vegan days.

Please, load me up with suggestions, and even simple recipes.

Natural (“laid-back”) breast-feeding

I just finished reading this great (although somewhat longwinded) article about a better way to start breast-feeding in the early weeks after birth. This article also attempted to explain why breast-feeding is so difficult for so many women these days (and I think this explanation makes a lot of sense).

“…until very recently women didn’t need to be taught how to breastfeed. Their mirror neurons already knew. When they gave birth, mothers in the past were familiar with how to nurse their babies because they saw it growing up.

But most of today’s mothers don’t have this advantage. Many have never even seen another woman breastfeed without a cover. And the only breastfeeding images they usually see are of women nursing in sitting-up-straight feeding positions—positions that also make it impossible for newborns to help.”

So with that in mind, rather than trying to explain the how-to of this breast-feeding method to you, I will just recommend that you go to this site to watch a few videos.

Dangers of sleep deprivation for kids

I just finished reading this article from the May 2015 issue of the Walrus Magazine about the prevalence of sleep deprivation among children. This article cited research that has shown that ” [sleep] deprivation early in life can affect later cognitive performance and neuro-developmental functioning” and also have negative social and behavioural consequences.

So as much as it felt cruel to sleep-train RJ, now that she is regularly sleeping 11-12 hours at night and napping during the day I feel like I did the right thing when I come across information like the studies referenced in this article.

Review: The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook

Baby-led weaning seems to be a trendy thing in the mom-o-sphere right now, so I took this book out of the library. It isn’t hugely different than the booklet I was given about starting solids that is produced by the provincial health authority (see link for .pdf access). The main difference food is never puréed in baby-led weaning (BLW) and the baby feeds themselves with their hands (so the parent never spoon-feeds the child).

It sounds intriguing, but it also sounds messy. The authors admit that it is, and suggest laying a plastic sheet over the floor under the highchair. A more serious concern I have about this method is that I’ve been told that at 6 months a breastfed baby has depleted iron stores and needs iron-rich foods. Hence the advice to start feeding a baby meat and iron-fortified baby cereals first and then move on to other foods.

My perceived problem with BLW is that the book suggests that the first few months of solids is for exploring foods and that the baby may mainly play with the food, perhaps chew it and spit it out, not actually consuming very much of it. So how would I know if RJ is getting enough iron for her growing body?

This book does have some tasty-looking recipes for the whole family (because another principle of BLW is that the entire family eats the same thing) and useful advice about how to cut foods into shapes that are easily handled by a baby.

After flipping through this book I decided to give RJ a chunk of solid mango. I was nervous that she might choke, but as this book points out, a baby’s gag reflex is closer to the front of their mouths and babies will frequently gag when eating new foods: it’s very protective for them. RJ gummed the mango and swallowed some impressively big chunks. And things looked pretty well processed when they came out the other end. So it was an interesting experiment.

Ultimately though, I’m planning to continue feeding her iron-fortified baby cereal. She’s also had some jarred baby food, mashed tofu, banana, mashed avocado, and minced chicken so far. I am hesitant to feed her table food because of the recommendation that babies avoid cow’s milk until they are 8-9 months old, and many of our adult foods contain dairy products. Also, I tried giving her scrambled eggs a few weeks ago (as both the provincial booklet and the BLW book recommend) and she developed hives. So I don’t want to feed her anything with eggs in it for awhile. I hope she grows out of her egg sensitivity because eggs are great. On the other hand, I was a vegan pre-pregnancy so I am confident that I could run an egg-free household pretty easily if I needed to.

RJ's hives
RJ’s hives

The Bumbo

I had an appointment with my baby’s nurse practitioner this week: always an unpleasant experience because she is always nitpicking issues about my seemingly healthy baby. So for several days afterwards I am worrying and trying to be hyper vigilant about the things she has criticized.

For example: RJ is six months old and doesn’t really sit up well. The NP suggested if I knew someone with a bumbo baby seat I could borrow it, or she told me that she used to prop her baby up in a laundry basket with a phone book (which I thought sounded kind of weird and unsafe). Today I started looking on kijiji for a bumbo, but after reading this really great article by a pediatrics physical therapist on why bumbos are NOT good for baby’s development, I am going to forget about tracking one down. And possibly going to try to find a different health care practitioner for my child who won’t give bad advice…

Health News: Breastfeeding, Formula and Jaundice

RJ and I had breastfeeding problems after she was born. Then she developed jaundice which extended our hospital stay. When she was around 4 days old, the jaundice was bad enough to require medical intervention — phototherapy.

This is what RJ’s phototherapy looked like, except she had a blindfold on too

I cried. I felt that it was my fault for not suggesting that she be fed formula while we worked out our breastfeeding problems. None of the medical staff at the hospital suggested formula to me (although they bent over backwards to send in lactation consultants). A family friend (who works as a nurse in the Children’s Emergency department) had suggested that I feed the baby formula and pump like crazy until my milk came in, but after I gave birth I told the nurse that I intended to breastfeed (and she wrote it on the whiteboard in my room) and from that point on, the word ”formula” became taboo. I was too dazed and sleep-deprived for the first few days to do what, in retrospect, I should have done. Finally, after watching RJ starve for a couple of days, I surreptitiously rang the bell for the nurse at 3am and begged her to help me give some formula to RJ. I felt like a failure.

In reality, that was probably the moment that I found my mommy-voice and put some faith in my parenting intuition. But enough of the touchy-feely personal anecdote, let’s get to the research.

Jaundice is a common health concern in newborns: up to 80% of full-term babies will have some jaundice (Maisels, 2015). It can, however, cause brain damage if left untreated. According to a medical review in the March 17, 2015 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Canada has the highest rate of brain damage due to complications for newborn jaundice in the developed world (Maisels, 2015).

Phototherapy is not the last resort against brain damage caused by hyperbillirubinemia (the build-up of the bio-molecule that causes jaundice). Phototherapy is used to prevent the need for a blood exchange transfusion, which is a more serious intervention. This article, however, argues that we may be overusing phototherapy: for every 3000 infants who receive phototherapy, only one infant is prevented from requiring a blood transfusion (Maisels, 2015). This is no small matter, as DNA damage is a potential side-effect of phototherapy.

And this is where the article gets quotable. The author suggests that rather than jumping to phototherapy to treat jaundice…

we should consider other options, such as improved lactation support or formula supplementation. This latter option, although opposed by some, deserves serious consideration when one considers the alternative and cost of hospital admission and phototherapy to a blindfolded infant, an intervention that interferes with parent-infant bonding, interrupts breastfeeding, and is, at the very least, disturbing for the parents (Maisels 2015, p. 342)

The author then goes on to describe a couple of studies that have shown formula supplementation to be an effective treatment for jaundice. One study showed that substituting formula for breast milk for two days was as effective at treating jaundice as phototherapy (Maisels, 2015).

I know which one I’d choose.

Source: Maisels, M.J. (2015). Managing the jaundiced newborn: a persistent challenge. CMAJ 187(5), 335-342.