Children, Nutrition, and the China Study – Part 2

Hi! Thanks for your great responses to the first part of this series! If you haven’t read it yet, please take a moment to do so – it will set the stage for this second post.

Here we go!

For generations, parents have attempted to follow the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein and other nutrients when it comes to feeding children. Now the RDA is being replaced by the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) and recommendations for protein consumption for adults and children have been cut nearly in half. Take a quick look at these stats for daily protein intake:

1-3 Years…14.5g
4-6 Years…19.7g
7-10 Years…28.3g

For teenagers, RNI protein intake varies from about 42 – 55 grams, depending on gender and age. These small amounts of protein can easily be consumed in a day with thoughtfully prepared meals, but as we discussed in Pt. 1 of this two-part post, the type of protein being consumed is what makes the difference between good and poor health, according to the critically acclaimed 20 year research project, The China Study.

Do Plant Foods Really Contain Protein?

If it make sense to you the eggs have protein but seems weird that broccoli does, you’re not alone. We were all raised to believe that only animal foods contain real, valuable protein, though just the reverse is true. Nearly all foods contain some amount of protein, and if The China Study is correct, it is animal foods that cause illness in children but vegetable ones that promote not only disease-resistance but the most vibrant health. The tides have turned, and it is now plant-based protein that scientists, informed doctors and nutritionists are backing as top quality for children and adults. Here are some quick figures on the protein in plant-based foods:

Serving of Chick Peas…16g
Serving of Baked Beans…11.5g
Serving of Tofu…10.3g
Serving of Peanuts…7.3g
Serving of Brown Rice…4.4g
Serving of Broccoli…3.1g
Serving of Potatoes…2.8g

Again, nearly all plants have protein and what this means is that a 12 year old boy whose RNI protein intake should be about 42.1 grams per day can enjoy excellent nutrition if a daily menu looks like this:

Breakfast: A tofu scramble with a side of fried potatoes, whole wheat toast, fruit.

Lunch: Peanut butter and banana sandwich on wheat bread with a side of raw veggies including broccoli and a serving of chickpea dipping sauce (also known as hummus).

Snack: Guacamole and corn chips.

Dinner: A burrito or wrap filled with baked beans, brown rice, hummus, and tasty fixings like tomato, lettuce, etc.

This menu meets and exceeds the RNI and every bit of protein on it has come from a healthy plant source.

Why Do I See Vegetarians Who Look Too Skinny?

With obesity at never-before-seen levels in both children and adults in Western societies, our picture of a healthy human being has become a bit vague. Humans were intended to be slender and muscular, but many people fear switching to a plant-based diet because they see vegetarians who look too thin. Unfortunately, many people who stop eating animal foods don’t understand how to eat well. They may be subsisting on
white bread and soda pop and saying they don’t eat animal products, and they are certainly incurring a different set of health risks and deficiencies by doing so. To enjoy a healthy, plant-based diet, follow these basic guidelines:

1) Don’t eat the same things everyday. Variety is crucial to good nutrition.

2) Cook the majority of your own meals from scratch. Processed foods have little food value.

3) Choose whole grains instead of refined ones. This means brown rice instead of white and wheat bread instead of white.

4) Eat organic foods in order to get full food value. *More on this below!

5) You don’t need to count every gram of nutrition you or your children consume. By eating a varied diet, rich in beans, whole grains and fresh veggies, you will not need to worry about malnutrition.

My example, above, shows the traditional 3 meals a day plus a snack, but nutrition experts recommend eating 5-6 small meals a day as being optimal. This means the human body has a slow, steady supply of nutrition to keep it going strong rather than creating troughs of fatigue throughout the day.

The B12 Rule

The one nutrient that families following an all plant-based diet do need to concern themselves with is B12. B12, also called cobalmine, does not come in nature from plants – it comes from bacteria. People eating an animal-based diet get this vitamin from the bacteria in meat and dairy products, but the actual daily requirement of B12 intake is only about 2-3 micrograms a day. It is easy to avoid any danger of deficiency of this important vitamin in a plant-based diet by taking a plant-based B12 supplement. Though vitamin supplements are not the way to proper nutrition, a good, complete B vitamin supplement is a good idea to be totally certain children are getting all the Bs they need!

Organic Foods Vs. Conventional Foods

Once upon a time, all food was organic and everything grown contained its full nutritional value because of the wonderful quality of the soil in which it was grown. Unfortunately, the monoculture and overly-intensive farming practices and chemical fertilizers that began to be employed in agriculture in the 20th century robbed soil of its ability to be healthy. Conventional farmers are dependent upon synthetics and carcinogenic pesticides and herbicides to make plants grow in ruined soils. The end result of these foolhardy, profit-driven practices is supermarkets filled with vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes that lack true food value in addition to being toxic to the human body.

By contrast, good organic farmers take abundant care of their soil. They create diverse habitats so that beneficial insects keep pests in check, and crop rotation and green manures keep the soil filled with the nutrients that create plant foods bursting with essential vitamins and minerals.

Children should be fed only organic foods whenever possible, and again, much of this comes down to being willing to cook from scratch. Though there are now many corporations producing organic processed foods, packaged foods will always have less nutritional value than ones cooked at home.

The other vital reason for feeding children healthy organic foods is that conventional foods may well be genetically altered. GMO foods are not safe for human consumption and have been shown to cause dreadful mutations in animals. Europeans have called American children the world’s guinea pigs because of the consumption of Genetically Modified Organisms in conventional foods. No Montessori instructor or parent would knowingly permit children to be used in this way, once they have the facts.

But What If My Kid Hates Vegetables?

My mother tells a story about her childhood loathing for spinach. Her family sat down to dine on limp, canned spinach several times a week. I can’t think of a less appetizing dish! Then, as an adult, she tried growing her own spinach because she knew of its nutritional value. Briefly sauteed in a little olive oil and garlic, sprinkled with some fresh ground pepper and salt and contrasted with some crunchy orange carrots, that watery, slimy spinach of childhood became a thing of the past.

Children who are picky eaters will find it hard to resist whatever is prepared to be delicious, and I’d like to share some links to cookbooks that are filled with completely scrumptious, completely plant-based recipes:

Veganomican by Isa Moskowitz
– This is basically an encyclopedia of fabulous plant-based (vegan) cooking. Everything from Flannel Hash to Caramel Cupcakes here. This huge cookbook has won rave reviews.

The Vegan Family Cookbook by Brian McCarthy
– Plant-based, mouthwatering versions of old favorites like lasagna, mac and ‘cheese’, pizza, french toast and pumpkin pie. This family-oriented cookbook has been highly-acclaimed and will help those new to plant-based cooking understand how to stock their pantry with healthy staples.

The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook by Jo Stepaniak
– One of the hardest things for many people who are attempting to avoid the dangers of dairy products is giving up cheese. Try out this cookbook and you’ll see how easy it is to get that rich, cheesy taste in foods without paying for it with risks to your health.

Vegan Lunchbox by Jennifer McCann
– Even your pickiest little eater will find this book and its recipes impossible to say no to. The lunchbox meals in this unique cookbook are not only full of nutrition, but they are so beautifully made, they appeal to all the senses.

Summing Up

What humans understand about good health and nutrition continues to change the more we study the subject. What we do know now is that the teachings of the past, the teachings of dependence upon animal foods for nutrition, are not serving our children well. Some of the world’s strongest athletes, most brilliant scientists and most compassionate humanitarians have stepped forward to advocate a plant-based diet as the very best choice for healthier human beings.

If this is a subject you’d like to learn more about, I suggest reading The China Study and I’ll wind up this post with a recommendation of two other books written by author John Robbins. Robbins walked away from the privileges of his life as heir to the Baskin-Robbins ice cream fortune after watching his loved ones being sickened and killed by their traditional Western diet. He couldn’t accept an inheritance he considered to have been won at the cost of public health, and his journey toward a life of truly good nutrition and new compassion is a fascinating read. Few people encounter Robbins’ writings without it changing their lives for the better, and Montessori teachers and parents will enjoy Robbins’ no-nonsense approach to food myth-busting:

Diet for A New America
– This is John Robbins’ first book and it created a tremendous stir in scientific and humanitarian circles when it was published.

The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World
– This is his latest book and a wonderful read.

You can also access information immediately by visiting John Robbins’ website.