Embracing Pure Foods
By Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes
Excerpted with permission from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent's Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes.
Unfortunately, today's children live in a toxic world. Your child can be exposed to unsafe levels of toxins just by eating an apple. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to protect your child against these environmental factors. Here's a program and tips for keeping environmental toxins from harming your child.
Buy Organically Grown Food
As much as possible, buy organically grown foods for your children. This is becoming increasingly important as the levels of pesticides, chemicals, toxins, and other harmful substances are increasing in our environment and in our food and water supplies.
High Risks for Children
Since World War II, most crops in America have been grown using pesticides and chemical fertilizers. These toxins pose a much greater health risk for children than for adults, because a child's mind and body are still developing. It is well documented that certain pesticides and toxins can have a seriously detrimental effect on the developing brain. A special committee formed by the National Research Council noted that exposure to certain pesticides early in life can lead to a greater risk of chronic diseases in adulthood. Such effects include cancer, neurodevelopmental impairment, and immune dysfunction.
In recent years, research on animals has made scientists suspect that pesticides may cause developmental problems in children, such as impaired ability to learn and remember, autism, hyperactivity, and aggressive behavior. Each of these is dramatically on the rise. Just as one example, autism, a neurological disorder that in 1985 affected one in 2,500 children, is now occurring at the rate of one in 500. Researchers cannot rule out pesticides and other neurotoxins that can have lasting effects on the developing brain.
Why Children Are More at Risk Than Adults
Children can more easily ingest higher concentrations of pesticides because they have smaller body weights and consume more calories per unit of body weight than adults. The average American child also tends to devote a larger portion of his diet to certain foods that are high in pesticides, such as apples (including apple sauce and apple juice). A Consumer's Union report found that seven common fruits and vegetables — apples, grapes, peaches, pears, green beans, spinach, and winter squash — actually contained pesticide levels that were hundreds of times greater than those of other foods. Some apples are so toxic that just one bite can deliver an unsafe dose of organophosphate insecticides to a child under five.
According to a report by the Environmental Working Group, which analyzes statistics supplied by the U.S. government, more than a quarter million American children ages one through five ingest a combination of twenty different pesticides every day, and overall more than one million American children under the age of five eat an average of eight pesticides a day. Every day, 610,000 preschool children consume a dose of neurotoxic organophosphate insecticides that is above the amount considered safe for adults. These multiple pesticides are known or suspected to cause cancer, hormone interference, and brain and nervous system damage.
Despite the obvious risks for children, toxicity levels have been calculated for adults only. The safe levels for children are not yet established. In their 1993 report, Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children, the National Research Council recommended that new tolerance levels be established for children, since safe adult levels could be toxic for some children. Yet this has not yet happened, and it will take years to test the hundreds of pesticides on the market and to set tolerance levels for children.
Laws are slow to change. In the meantime, it is up to you to protect your children, for the government will not necessarily do it for you. On a good note, the EPA banned the use of two highly toxic pesticides (methyl parathion and azinphos-methyl) that are used on apples, peaches, wheat, rice, sugar beets, and cotton. In making their decision, EPA officials cited studies that measured the effects of these pesticides on children rather than adults.
The health risks are even greater when children are exposed while in the womb or while of nursing age. There are brief moments, or windows of vulnerability, when exposure of the fetus or newborn to high levels of toxins can alter the development of organ systems. Even chemicals that are relatively benign may combine with other compounds to multiply toxic effects.
DDT Is Still Here
The most harmful fat-soluble toxins, including PCBs, dioxins, and DDT, are actually increasing in the bodies of Americans even though these chemicals have been banned in America for more than two decades. In the 1980s these chemicals were shown by researchers to be declining in the bodies of Americans, and at that rate their presence should be about zero by now. Researchers suspect that there is a sudden increase because these deadly substances are still used in many developing nations, who do not have bans on them.
In recent years, the United States is importing large amounts of fruits and vegetables from Mexico and South America that are grown using highly toxic chemicals that are banned in America. (A government report estimated 7.3 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables that were tested had chemicals in them that are illegal in the U.S.) These chemicals are also borne in water and air, causing some amount of background exposure for almost everyone. Ironically, Mexico purchases many of these chemicals from companies in the U.S., who are banned from selling them in America but are free to sell them in developing countries.
Some of the health risks for these toxins may include forms of cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive problems, suppression of immunity, neurological problems, cognitive disorders, liver damage, and skin problems. High levels of these toxins found in utero or in nursing children have been linked to decreased cognitive ability and increased behavioral problems. Indeed, during the last twenty years there has been a dramatic rise in cancer rates for children and adults, and the link between breast cancer and toxins in the environment has been suspected by numerous researchers. Cancer is the third leading cause of death in American children today.
This is why I urge my patients, especially children, to eat organically grown food whenever possible. Organic foods are becoming common even in commercial supermarkets. Look for the "Certified Organic" label. If you and other consumers ask for it, your supermarket will start to supply it. The organic foods sector is the fastest growing part of the commercial foods market, with a growth rate of 20 percent, so you will not be alone.
You can also try to purchase locally-grown produce at your local farmer's market, because small farmers tend not to use as many pesticides and chemical fertilizers as on large commercial farms. Many local farmers use no chemicals at all. When you can meet the farmer face-to-face, you can ask him or her directly how much he is spraying the crops.
Be sure to wash all your produce thoroughly with a vegetable brush and a mild detergent. This removes surface pesticides (and also removes any fertilizer residues from organic produce). Be sure to rinse thoroughly. Peel any fruits or vegetables that have been waxed (such as apples and zucchini), because the wax traps the pesticides. If you have a green thumb, try starting a vegetable garden. The veggies will be fresher and much safer for your child. And an added bonus: children tend to have more positive attitudes toward eating fresh vegetables when they have been involved in growing them from seeds.
Avoid Genetically Modified Foods
Another reason to buy organic foods is that there is now a new health risk for children: genetically modified (GMO) foods. In just the past few years, much of the soybeans, corn, and canola oil for sale in the U.S. has been grown using genetically modified seed. Thirty genetically modified foods are currently on the market, and many others are slated for release during the next few years. Since so many commercial products contain soy oil, cornstarch, corn syrup, or other corn by-products, it is estimated that as much as 70 percent of the food on your grocery shelves contains one or more components of genetically engineered foods, without any labeling to identify them to consumers. Since organic foods do not contain GMO ingredients, buying organic is the only way to be sure you are not eating GMO foods.
Unfortunately, these radically modified foods have been approved by the FDA without adequate testing to guarantee their safety. There are many reasons for parents to be concerned. You and your children are, in effect, being used as guinea pigs to test the safety of a new scientific technology.
What Is a Genetically Modified Food?
First of all, let's clarify what a genetically altered food is. Perhaps you have some vague memory of your high school biology class, where you learned how the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel crossed tall and short pea plants and discovered the secret of dominant and recessive genes. This method of crossbreeding plants of the same or closely related species was later used to create hybrid corn and other agricultural advances. Unlike these methods, which use nature's own reproductive methods of cross-pollination, genetic engineering involves cutting, splicing, and recombining genes of two completely different species in the laboratory. Scientists actually take the genes of one organism and inject it into another to create completely new DNA blueprints and new organisms. A cold-water fish gene, for instance, was injected into a tomato to make it more resistant to cold. The genes of viruses, bacteria, insects, and even human genes have been injected into crops.
Genetically Modified Foods Currently on the Market
Corn — corn and all related foods such as sweet corn, cornstarch, popcorn, cornmeal, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and polenta. Does not include blue corn.
Soy — soy flour, soy lecithin, soy oil, soy powder, soymilk, tofu.
Canola oil — fifty percent of the North American canola oil is now genetically modified, and it is found in many health foods and packaged foods in commercial grocery stores.
Milk and Dairy Products — thirty percent of the nonorganic milk in the U.S. is from cows that have been injected with the genetically modified recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). Scientists in Canada and Europe have banned its use due to concerns over its safety and possible links to high toxicity and cancer. Because rBGH weakens cows and causes them to need more antibiotics, dairy products from cows injected with rBGH contain higher levels of antibiotics. They also contain higher levels of growth hormone factor IGF-1. There may be other differences due to the stress and hormonal cascades created by rBGH in the cow.
Yellow Summer Squash and Zucchini — several varieties of yellow summer squash and zucchini are genetically modified, including yellow crookneck squash.
Cottonseed Oil — cotton and cottonseed oil are genetically modified.
Additives, enzymes, flavorings and processing agents — many of these genetically modified additives are found in thousands of processed foods on the market. A genetically modified version of rennet is used to make cheeses. The diet-sweetener, Aspartame, is genetically engineered. Xanthan gum is often genetically engineered, as are many bacteria and fungi used in the production of enzymes, vitamins and processing aids.
Other Foods Approved for Release but Not Yet Marketed — sugar beet, wheat. Genetically engineered tomatoes, including cherry tomatoes, are approved but are not currently being marketed.
Health Risks for Children
What are the health risks of genetically modified foods? There are far too many to discuss here, but here are just a few.
Food Allergies. One health risk is increased allergies in the people who eat genetically modified foods. Because genetically modified foods might involve the splicing of a fish and a tomato, people who are allergic to fish may then eat those tomatoes without realizing that they are actually eating fish genes. Researchers have already noted that the introduction of genetically modified soy several years ago is correlated with a 50 percent increase in soy allergies and digestion problems caused by soy during those same years. Researchers at the York Nutritional Laboratory in northern England noted that this time period coincided with the dissemination of genetically modified soy products, and concluded that the findings raise serious questions about the safety of genetically modified soy.
Decreased Effectiveness of Antibiotics. Scientists are routinely splicing antibiotic-resistant genes into GMO foods as "markers" to test whether gene modification has been successful. This practice has already raised concerns among scientists, who claim that these may encourage the growth of antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases.
New and Higher Levels of Toxins. Biotechnology firms aim to develop plants that kill pests. This means even greater levels of pesticides in your child's food and in the water.
The EPA recognizes this problem of increased toxins in genetically modified foods. They now classify corn and potatoes that have been genetically engineered to kill insects as pesticides rather than vegetables. That is truly astounding — that the corn and potatoes your child may be eating are actually so toxic as to be classified as pesticides.
Unknown Hazards to Human Health and the Environment. Scientists simply do not know how these new species will affect the environment. The ecosystem consists of millions of smaller organisms. Even a teaspoon of soil contains 1,000 different types of bacteria. No one knows how genetically engineered foods will change the delicate balance of nature. Already there are signs, though, that the effects could be disastrous. Headlines were made when a research study published in Nature magazine showed that the caterpillars of Monarch butterflies were killed when they ate the pollen of corn that had been genetically modified.
Fortunately, consumers are starting to wake up to the potential hazards of GMO foods. A panel of Canadian doctors voted to ban the use of rBGH in Canada, citing research that revealed harmful levels of toxins in the cows injected with the genetically modified growth hormone. They also cited increased lameness and udder infections, which could increase the need for antibiotics, as reasons to ban its use. They felt the toxic effects on the cows could also be experienced by humans, and asked that more testing be done before putting it on the market. Unfortunately, rBGH has been approved by the FDA since 1993, which is why, in the U.S., organic milk is safer to drink.
The point here is that the effects of eating genetically modified foods is unknown. Yet they could be potentially dangerous to health. To ensure your child's safety, buy organic soy, corn, and dairy products.
Encourage Your Child to Drink Plenty of Pure Water
Headaches, constipation, and fatigue are sometimes caused by not drinking enough water. Drinking five to eight glasses of water a day is a simple and inexpensive way for your child to boost his or her health.
To be effective, it's important not to drink too much at mealtimes. One glass of water is enough to aid digestion and quench thirst. More than one glass of water could douse the digestive fire and cause ama to be produced. It's best to drink larger quantities of water between meals, as it cleanses the stomach and helps the body flush out toxins.
Drinking water is especially important before and during sporting events. Children should be advised to drink several glasses of water a half-hour before the event starts. If the event lasts more than an hour, they should also drink at rest periods throughout the event. Dehydration is especially a risk during the summer months.
It's important that the water be pure and clean. City water that has been treated with chlorine should be purified with a carbon filter. You can buy simple carbon pitcher-filters (which are easy to use because you just fill the pitcher with water and let it drip through the filter) at most discount-variety stores. You can also buy a charcoal filter for your showerhead, which is a good idea because you absorb water through the skin when you bathe.
If you suspect that there may be nitrates or other harmful chemicals in your drinking water (which is highly probable if you live in a farming area), then you may want to purchase a good-quality water purifier that will filter out chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Buying spring water for drinking is also a good idea, but be aware that there are few governmental standards for spring water and no guarantee of the quality. Be sure to read the labels and investigate the legitimacy of the company's claims if you plan to buy it on a regular basis.
Avoid Chemically Harsh Household Cleaners and Detergents
Commercial detergents can contain many synthetic ingredients that could irritate your child's skin. Also, breathing strong household cleansers can contribute to allergies, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses.
It's best to use the most gentle, nontoxic detergents and household cleansers. Many different nontoxic brands are available in health-food stores, and even discount stores sell nontoxic lines of detergents and cleansers.
You can teach your child the environmental advantages of using household products that are free of harmful chemicals and phosphates. The health of our waterways and the fishes and other creatures that live in them is something that we all need to be concerned about, and by teaching your child at an early age to respect the environment, you will be teaching an important lesson for life.
Provide Natural and Comfortable Clothing for Your Children
The skin is the largest organ in the body, and it needs to breathe to be healthy. Children have sensitive skin, and it's best to keep synthetic clothing and bedsheets away from them.
Synthetic clothing, such as polyester and acrylic, can feel more like a plastic bag than breathing, living fiber. It can cause wide-ranging discomforts, from skin rashes to headaches. Cotton, linen, flax, hemp, wool, cashmere, and angora are natural fibers that allow the skin to breathe. Natural fibers are cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Organic cotton is much less toxic than commercial cotton. Commercial cotton is a crop that is sprayed many times with highly toxic pesticides, and these have an effect on the skin. Cotton is also genetically engineered.
Clothing should be comfortable and not too tight, especially around the stomach. Tightness there can disturb digestion and cause unhealthy side effects.
Avoid Exposing Your Child to Environmental Toxins
In May 2010 the President's Cancer Panel urgently recommended new research on the link between cancer and the nearly 80,000 chemicals that American children and adults are exposed to in the air, water, food, and everyday objects such as bedding, plastic toys, and car seats. The effects of only a few hundred of these chemicals have been researched.
One of the most toxic environmental hazards for children is lead. Exposure to lead has been linked to mental retardation and learning problems in children, and a new study shows that lead exposure is also linked to dental cavities in children and adolescents.
Much effort has been expended to eliminate lead in paints, water pipes, and ceramic dishes in the U.S., yet tests show that nearly 900,000 children under the age of six harbor dangerously high levels of lead in their tissues. A recent study also shows that if lead is stored in the mother's bones, it can be released (as calcium is) and passed on to the unborn child.
Most of the children at risk for lead poisoning are underprivileged children living in older buildings with lead pipes and walls painted with lead-based paint. Yet any child could be exposed to lead poisoning in older buildings. If you suspect there are lead pipes in a building where your child goes to school, lives or visits regularly, it would be a good idea to have the pipes tested.
Avoid Too Much Direct Sunlight on the Skin
The sun is not quite as benign as it used to be. Although it's important for children to be out in the fresh air and sunlight every day, and sunlight helps the body absorb calcium by supplying Vitamin D, fifteen or twenty minutes of direct sunlight on the face and arms is enough. Too much direct sunlight can increase the risk of skin cancer.
As has been widely reported in the media, the ozone layer is thinner now due to pollution, and thus the sun's ultraviolet rays are stronger than before. You'll want to keep your child out of the sun at noon in the summer, when it's the strongest. Providing hats and light clothing will also protect the skin from the sun.
It's especially important to protect fair-skinned children with Pitta imbalances from excessive sun exposure. Severe sunburn (to the point of blistering) in childhood can lead to skin cancer later in life. It's up to the parents to be on the alert during the summer months, when the sun is hot, the beach is inviting, and it's easy to forget how abrasive and painful a sunburn can be.
Give Your Child Maharishi Amrit Kalash
All these harmful environmental influences accelerate the production of free radicals. As you'll remember from Chapter Ten, free radicals are thought to cause many diseases. But try as you might, it's not possible to protect your child from all environmental toxins at any given moment. It could even be harmful to be so restrictive. Children need to feel like they are a part of the world, and need to feel free to experience new foods and new environments without fear.
By giving your child Maharishi Amrit Kalash on a daily basis, you can help diminish the production of free radicals caused by environmental toxins, greatly minimizing their negative effect. Thus, even if your child is exposed to more toxins than you would like in our imperfect world, this is something you can add to the diet to protect him or her from negative environmental influences.
Purify Toxins with Daily Abhyanga (Ayurvedic Oil Massage)
Daily abhyanga has a remarkable ability to purify toxins from the cells of the body. This is because the oil penetrates the skin and even the cell membranes, which are composed of lipids (fats). The fresh, uncontaminated oil molecules actually replace the old, tired, toxic lipid molecules, creating a cleansing, purifying effect. As discussed earlier, be sure to use pure, organic sesame oil that has been cured. You can purchase oils here.
Use Vedic Architecture to Create Health
To help your child's health, make sure that the buildings he lives in and goes to school in are healthy. You have already learned about the problems of sick-building syndrome, which can arise when children are exposed to poor ventilation, toxic carpets, and toxic building materials.
Maharishi Ayurveda takes the concept of healthy buildings to a much deeper level. In the Vedic science of architecture, also known as Maharishi Sthapatya Veda® design, buildings are designed to be in harmony with nature. The Sanskrit root "stha" means "established," meaning that the buildings themselves contribute to the inhabitants becoming established in pure consciousness.
The buildings are placed on a carefully measured site, called a Vastu. The Vastu is enclosed in a low fence. In order to make maximum use of the sun's energy, the Vastu is measured on a true east-west, north-south axis and faces east. The ideal Vastu brings positive influences from the sun, moon, and planets. It defines the individual's connection to the universe, and creates a positive influence for every person who lives or works there.
The buildings on the site are designed to harmonize with natural law using three major principles: orientation, placement, and proportion.
Orientation. Buildings are oriented toward the sun, the main source of energy on earth. When the door of the building faces east, the morning sun falls on it during the first twelve minutes after sunrise. North is also considered a life-supporting direction to face, but northeast, south, southeast, west, southwest, and northwest all create negative effects on the inhabitants. These effects include anxiety, depression, illness, chronic disease, blocks to creativity, bad luck, financial loss, obstacles to progress and success, disharmony in relationships, breakdown of family life, and antisocial behavior.
Placement. Each room is also placed in alignment with the sun as it moves across the sky. The kitchen, for instance, where food is cooked, is placed in the southeast corner of the house, where the sun's rays fall during the preparation of the noon meal of the day. The living room is in the western half of the house, since people tend to relax there when the sun is setting. Rooms that are used for quiet study are in the northern end of the house. Thus every room is oriented to take advantage of the sun's energy to support the specific activity usually performed in that room. If the rooms are placed in the wrong place, it can cause an imbalance. A kitchen in the wrong place can cause digestive problems, for instance. A kitchen in the right place can help balance the doshas.
Proportion: Just as the design of the human body reflects perfect proportions, so the proportions of a building should harmonize. Lack of proportion in the height, width, or length of the rooms could cause an imbalance in the people living in them. You've probably had the experience of feeling cramped or restricted in a room that is too narrow, and you may also experience a sense of relief when you walk into a room that is balanced and harmonious in its proportions. The proportions of Maharishi Sthapatya Veda design create a deep and pervasive experience of relaxation, balance, and freedom in the brain, emotions, and body of the inhabitants of the home.
Even the furniture and appliances can create better health when placed in the right direction. Recent research has reported that brain cells fire differently according to different orientations of the brain. In other words, the firing patterns of neurons in the thalamus of the brain are altered by the direction you are facing, thus influencing the entire brain functioning and the whole physiology. When you are facing east, the brain is functioning differently than when you are facing north, south, or west.
Research shows that brain waves become more coherent and orderly when a person faces east. You can capitalize on this principle from Maharishi Sthapatya Veda design by facing your child's desk east so that when he studies he feels most alert.
Reports from Families Who Have Used Maharishi Sthapatya Veda Home Designs
Families who have built homes based on the principles of Maharishi Sthapatya Veda design have noticed a wide range of results. They report more clear and creative thinking, better decision-making, greater health and happiness, increased alertness, more restful and refreshing sleep, more energy, greater peace of mind, and less fatigue and stress.
Sandra, mother of Matthew, twelve, and Emily, three, notices that their Sthapatya Veda home radiates a nourishing quality for the whole family. "The center area of silence, called the Brahmasthan, is nourishing the whole house. I feel like there's an underlying quality of wholeness that's protecting my son, Matthew. Whenever his friends are here there's a light, happy feeling, just because the house itself feels light and happy, and that permeates everything. The children can't help but feel it.
"I also notice that he wants to stay home with the family more since we've moved into our Sthapatya Veda home. He's still very social and loves his friends, and does well in school, yet he knows when he needs to be by himself, nourished by our home. He seems to be very balanced. The house moves in wholeness, I just feel like that."
Another mother said, "We don't live in a Sthapatya Veda home, but one night we stayed overnight in a Sthapatya Veda hotel. We noticed a difference in our daughter. Usually, no matter how tired she is, she likes to stay up late and avoid going to sleep. At the Sthapatya Veda hotel, it was the opposite. We were watching a family movie and she said, 'Mommy would you like to turn off the TV and go to bed?' In that environment she became more coherent, happy, and settled. She was more in tune with her body's needs. The change in her was dramatic."
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.