An eight year old boy named Zach grasps his stomach with his hands. This is not the first time his stomach has been bothering him. His mother, Mills College junior Bathsheva Gladstone, kept him from school trying to determine the culprit of his stomach woes.
Friends thought she was crazy when Gladstone sussed out McDonald’s as the culprit and refused to bring him back. He’s now ten years old and Gladstone says he’s as healthy as ever.
What children eat is a subject of hot debate. Recently an Environmental Health study found significant traces of mercury in high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a common component in many children’s foods.
In an article about the study, the Washington Post reported that while most adults consume 12 teaspoons of HFCS a day, teens consume as much as 80 percent more on average. The debate over HFCS is one part of an overall large concern about what children are eating and how it affects their health.
After helping her mother transition into a healthier diet, Gladstone became interested in living healthier. She thinks that marketing of food towards children is designed around how much profit companies can make versus the lawsuits they might incur from people.
“I air on the side of absolute paranoia and I don’t trust a lot of the foods. I think it’s everyone’s personal preference what they want to eat but after a while you can’t justify it,” Gladstone said.
Gladstone glances up and down the aisles at grocery stores looking for fresh fruit, occasionally slipping up and buying something with sugar. For the most part, Gladstone says she sticks to a diet that’s almost vegetarian. But she admits that an understanding of nutrition is not always common. “I’ve gone shopping with some people here and they just don’t have a clue how to shop,” Gladstone said, describing friends who would spend four hundred dollars on jars of hummus and other packaged items.
Other mothers like sophomore Charmaine Young-Spurlin admit that making the transition between unhealthy to healthy is tough.
In a short time of changing their diet, her eldest daughter Kendra went through a sugar withdrawal that Young-Spurlin felt was close to that of an alcoholic. “It took a good two and-a-half weeks of her to go back to being my daughter. Her personality is a little different,” Young said. Soon after Kendra gave up sugar, she began to crave large amounts of salt to the point where she would pour on the palm of her hand and lick it.
“It was difficult to watch,” Young-Spurlin said.
The change came from a therapist who recommended Young-Spurlin either put her kids on a more organic diet or get them treated for ADD. She bought a book from Borders about an ADD and ADHD diet and another book from a health food store about a detox diet.
The change from unhealthy to healthy was gradual and in the end Young-Spurlin admits that it has to be. “I don’t see how you could change overnight. It’s expensive to switch out. You’ve got a fridge freezer and pantry filled with foods that all have these different ingredients. Unless you have the money sitting around to buy $1,000 worth of food,” Spurlin said. And for those mothers looking to change over, she adds, testing and researching the food is crucial.
Young-Spurlin’s day begins early in the morning, before 7:35 a.m., when she drops her two daughters off at school. She defrosts a whole chicken and plops it into a crock-pot, adds some green salsa, and make plans to cook couscous later that night.
Crock-pots are helpful to a busy mom, who can leave it cooking the whole day while she’s busy with school or work. And when she has a few hours to spare here and there, she preps meals and freezes them for later use.
Peanut butter has become her best friend.
“You can hide a lot of stuff with it,” Young-Spurlin adds. Snack foods in her household include fruit, celery, trail mix, yogurt, and carrots with natural ranch dressing. Smoothies are another favorite that works well with Young-Spurlin: “Before any of the fruit goes bad, I just throw it in the freezer and later I chop it up and use it for smoothies.”