Building Your Children’s Health Cell by Cell

by margaret beeson, ND

It is no small task to take charge of giving your kids a healthy beginning. This used to be simpler, before there were so many alluring choices, from grocery store convenient food to fast food restaurants. It hard to remember when soda pop wasn’t a common part of a meal and too often, a substitute for water, when more food came out of the farmers’ markets than boxes, or when a tangerine in a Christmas stocking was a big treat. So how do you know what foods will prepare your kids for the future and best prevent chronic diseases? And how do you lure them into eating these foods anyway? Probably the best way is to introduce them to healthy foods, from the get go, by eating healthier yourselves. One thing is clear-- your kids learn more from what they see everyday than from what you tell them is right!

Let’s start with a basic building block--the cell-- and see what it needs to function well. Did you know that your cell membranes are made up of different types of fats, including cholesterol? This membrane is responsible for managing what enters and exits from cells. The quality of the fats that you eat is crucial to the function of the cell membrane. Fats come in different forms. Meat, poultry, pork products and eggs, all contain different amounts of cholesterol. Important fats called EPA are high in certain fish. And oils are fats that come from grains, nuts and seeds.

It is important to have a balance in these different types of fats. Cholesterol has gotten a bad name because meat is the predominant fat in modern day diets, and more prevalent in fast foods. Most readily available oils tend to be highly processed and there is a scarcity of the quality fats needed to create this balance. Nuts and seeds are delicate oils and come protected in nature, with coatings and shells, or buried within a fruit. When they are cooked at high temperatures and left exposed to air, their structures are altered and they no longer provide the nutrients that contribute to healthy cells.

Fats are also important in that they are the ingredients your cells use to make protective or inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals are called prostaglandins. They have a wide variety of functions. If there are too many of the inflammatory variety of prostaglandins you may notice more pain and swelling in muscles and joints, or even worse symptoms of PMS. These are only a few of the issues that are the result of elevated inflammatory prostaglandins. Remember it is a balance in the type and quality of oils/fats that influence the expression of dis-ease from prostaglandins.

Therefore, balancing meat with fish, or nuts and seeds, finding grain products that rely on the whole grain, and taking care to serve foods that have oils that are not hydrogenated or highly processed, will insure that these important cellular building blocks are optimal.

The mitochondria are the energy producing units of cells. These are responsible for making the energy you need for all of your functions. The mitochondria need a few key nutrients to be able to produce energy. The hope is that these nutrients are available each time you eat, or at least on a daily basis. While vitamins help, they do not provide all these important substances. (Think of the number of pills it would take if you put all your food from just one meal in capsules). There are many important substances contained together in foods that make them work better for your body. This is the idea behind a whole food diet. Bioflavonoids, amino acids, fatty acids, fiber, vitamins and minerals are present in combinations and support optimal cellular function. Some crucial nutrients, for the mitochondria to produce sufficient energy, are coenzyme Q 10, N- acetyl cysteine, carnitine, magnesium, alpha lipoic acid and B vitamins. These vital nutrients are well represented in a whole foods diet, including green and cruciferous vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans, meat, fish and poultry, whole grains, brown rice and avocados.

There is another very important aspect of your input into your child’s cellular history for consideration. This is regarding the place on the surface of the cell that allows sugar to enter. It is called the Insulin receptor. Sugar, in the form of glucose, is the main ingredient needed for energy production by our cells. But, as many of you may know, glucose cannot get into the cell without insulin. Insulin acts like the gatekeeper on the insulin receptor, allowing glucose to enter. The most common form of diabetes, in this country, does not come from the inability of the pancreas to secrete sufficient insulin. It comes from the inability of the gates on the cell to open to let the glucose inside. One reason this occurs is if there is consistently more glucose in your blood than your body can use. Keep in mind that soda pop, refined flour products, pastries and candy have large quantities of the readily available form of glucose. These substances don’t require any work or energy expenditure by the body for immediate absorption. When there is more than is needed, your body is efficient in inactivating the gates so that the glucose cannot enter. If this excess happens regularly, these gates may remain closed. When this occurs, there are mechanisms in place for your body to produce sugar internally which contributes to a further increased blood sugar... This sets up a vicious cycle, which results in increased weight and deposition of the excess sugar in the surrounding tissue, such as nerves, tendons and blood vessel walls. Sugar in these other tissues is destructive and leads to chronic disease. The only way to reverse this process is not exceed your caloric needs, lose weight and increase physical activity. Children need between 1200-2200 calories a day, depending on age, gender and activity. It is important to insure that these calories contain a combination of the important nutrients discussed above, and are not empty calories.

Bottom line—a whole foods diet is what food used to look like, until food stopped coming from our own kitchens and farms. Our bodies still require food as close as possible to how it comes out of the ground or off the trees. And your kids need this quality to develop healthy organs and prevent chronic disease. Real food tastes delicious and is simple to prepare. Check your grocery store for some of the more naturally prepared frozen foods, organic products and some greens that are new to you. Or try a whole foods grocery, like the Good Earth Market. Throw on a pan of brown rice, or quinoa, to eat with your stir fry veggies. For snacks offer a bag of walnuts and an apple, or celery and hummus. Your kids might surprise you and there will still be plenty of junk food, wherever they go! SFM

Here are a couple of great resources to learn more about whole foods, with great tasting recipes.


by Cynthia Lair, RD



by Dr. Daeman Jones

Margaret Beeson, ND graduated from Bastyr University, School of Naturopathic Medicine, Seattle, WA 1989. She practices integrative primary care at the Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic in Billings MT, which she founded in 1992. Dr Beeson is Chair of the Alternative Health Care Board of the State of Montana and Director of a Remote Site Residency Program for Bastyr University at the YNC.