Monday, November 30, 2009

How much calcium do we really need?

Are you thinking about cutting out the dairy but worried about adequate calcium intake? Or are you a parent concerned about the adverse health effects of dairy products, but scared that your child will suffer from calcium deficiency without them? Is there an alternative to supplemental Calcium tablets?

From the get-go I was apprehensive about milk with my daughter because I am so strongly lactose-intolerant (and possible casein allergy). It was touted as the only way for your child, so I initially thought that she would need dairy. I proceeded to do an extensive amount of research on the subject, starting with why omit dairy. Here are the main reasons:

- Calcium from cow's milk poorly absorbed (30% or less)
- Harmful effects of milk protein, casein (increased risk for cancer, increases autism syptoms, similar to gluten and may cause problems for gluten-intolerant)
- Lactose, nearly everyone is intolerant but in varying degrees (some tolerate more than others)
- Animal protein increases secretion of calcium to urine, and this loss is much more significant in determining calcium utilization relative to calcium intake
- Cow's milk is optimal for calves until they are weaned, not meant for (excessive) human consumption
- Especially O blood group was most prevalent long before agriculture, may be the reason that individuals with O blood cannot digest dairy (or grains) too well. On the contrary blood type A is common in agricultural societies and therefore are better adapted to consuming dairy products

Then, after reviewing the potential risks, I started wondering could milk be replaced by alternative calcium sources? Straightforward answer: YES it can! And it is easy. Excellent sources include:

Chia seeds 820mg/100g (123 mg in one tablespoon!)
Sesame seeds, unhulled 640mg/100g (95mg in tbsp)
Sardines, 92mg/sardine
Sunflower seeds 116mg/100g
Rose hip puree (ruusunmarjasose) 334mg/100g
Almonds 276mg/100g
Dried figs 250mg/100g
Raisins 50mg/100g
Sweet potato, raw 30mg/100g
Breastmilk 27-30mg/100g

Cow's milk, 1% 120mg/100g

But how much calcium is actually required? Recommendations vary a lot in different countries, in America often an adult RDA is 1200mg, whereas in Japan this is only 600mg. RDA's are however not minimum intakes, or even necessary intakes. They are based on statistics with margins to ensure that they are suitable for everyone, it does not take individuality into account. For example, consumption of animal protein increases secretion of calcium. Therefore a diet rich in plant protein and low in animal protein means you require less calcium. This is also true for infants not consuming any dairy. Many sources including AAP say that infants need 400mg calcium, but I have not succeeded in finding a minimum calcium intake for infants. This is probably because it is too risky info, they would rather have children consume an excess than risk any child getting less than what is required. I found this chart however, that lists values specific to age categories:

Infants, 0 - 6 months
210 mg
Infants, 7 - 12 months
270 mg
Children, 1 - 3 years
500 mg
Children, 4 - 8 years
800 mg
Pre-teens and Teens, 9-18 years
1300 mg
Adults (19-50 years)
1000 mg
Adults (50+ years)
1200 mg
Pregnant and Nursing (up to age 18)
1300 mg
Pregnant and Nursing (19-50 years)
1000 mg

This seems reasonable. I try to ensure my soon 1-year-old daughter gets 300-400mg calcium daily, and that I self (nursing) get around 800-1000mg daily. Like I said, for individuals who consume less animal protein the required intake of calcium is less. Calcium from plant sources is often highly absorbed, especially in the case of chia and sprouted sesame seeds. A diet rich in vegetables is also high in boron, which further increases calcium utilization and bone strength. Chia seeds also contain plenty of boron.

Clearly a diet rich in calcium does not need to include dairy. Contradictory to common belief, it does not require soy products either.

Tips to include calcium in infant diets:
- Chia smoothies (1 tbsp chia seeds, 1-2 times a day)
- Sprouted sesame seeds in porridges and smoothies
- Rose hip puree (on its own, smoothies, porridge)
- Mash a sardine or mackerel fillet (low sodium ones) in with a veggie meal
- Nutmilks (after first year)
- Dried dates, figs and prunes and raw grated veggies as finger foods
- Soak dried fruit or raisins in water for smoothies
- Dark leafy greens in smoothies (calcium from spinach not too well absorbed due to oxalic acid, also too high in nitrates for infants)

Remember that calcium absorption hinges on adequate vitamin D intake! And please take the time to sign this important petition againts aspartame in children's antibiotics.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Are you and your child getting enough vitamin D?

Do breastfed infants need supplemented vitamin D?
When to start giving your child vitamin D?
How much vitamin D do children need?
In what form should I give my child vitamin D supplements?

I'm sure these questions have plagued all parents for years now and unfortunately there still are no absolute answers. Ok, the state-provided health care system for expectant mothers and children (Neuvola), will recommend 10 micrograms (400 IU) every day after the age of two weeks. Is this reasonable? According to current research the prior RDA of 200 IU for infants is too little, and at least the current recommendation 400 IU is desirable. Last year American Association of Pediatricians (AAP) started recommending doubling the dose and starting this year the same has happened in Finland. With the knowledge we have today it is reasonable to have confidence that this dose is both safe and adequate for all children. The supplements should be started at latest at 2 weeks of age, AAP even recommends just after the first few days.

But is there individual variation? Can there really be one RDA from infancy until adolescence, which is the same even for children living in different climates? Naturally genetics, overall diet and exercise as well as sunlight exposure will affect how much supplemental vitamin D is needed. If an infant or child consumes no dietary added vitamin D, there is no indication that there is any risk of side effects due to excessive intake of vitamin D from a 10 microgram supplement. This is of course different, if a baby for example is consuming D-fortified formula or a child is drinking fortified milk and eating other fortified foods. In these cases the parent needs to make the appropriate calculations to make sure that the child is not exceeding the RDA on a regular basis.
Personally I do not advocate offering children any vitamin D fortified foods as these usually are foods that need to be fortified because they are otherwise deficient in nutrients (such as sugar-coated cereals). Some even contain the wrong form D2 instead of the needed cholecalciferol D3, such as Keiju oat milks in Finland. If at all possible, it is best to consume all food in it's natural and organic state, without anything added. Unfortunately due to our dark climate and limited sun exposure we need to supplement vitamin D.

There is some research into whether nursing babies need supplements or if they get enough from breastmilk. So far the leading consensus is that not enough vitamin D is transfered into the milk and therefore it is advisable that even breastfeed infants receive D-drops. As long as the 400 IU supplement is the only external source of vitamin D, it is considered safe.

Fatty fish are the best natural dietary source of vitamin D. For Finns I especially recommend herring (1627 IU/100g) and mackerel (cooked 345 IU/100g), because they are readily available here. Vitamin D in plants is usually in D2-form, which is why vegans especially need a good quality D3 supplement.

The best vitamin D supplement for infants 0-2 yrs and over I have found to date is Carlson's d-drops (picture above):

First of all, they are nothing but 400 IU of D3 in coconut oil. Second of all, you only literally need one DROP, which can easily be dropped on the nipple before nursing an infant or in food for older children. No GMO, gluten, sugars, additives, preservatives, alcohol or any other junk. They are even ridiculously cheap, that one 11 ml bottle contains enough for an entire year! Of course this also makes it eco-friendly. Iherb will also ship to Finland via airmail for 4-6 dollars.

Compare Carlson's drops to for example the commonly Neuvola-recommended Deetipat:
Ingredients: "Sakkaroosi, natriumsitraatti, makrogoliglyserolihydroksistearaatti, sitruunahappomonohydraatti, alfa-tokoferoli, keskipitkäketjuisia tyydyttyneitä triglyseridejä, väkiviina 96 %, puhdistettu vesi."
So 96% alcohol, sugar, saturated fats. I can't believe that this is even legal.

For adults a beneficial but safe dose is around 25 micrograms or 1000 IU. Some choose to take even more, I myself take 2000 IU daily. Now Food's supplements are high quality with minimal added ingredients and they are also far cheaper than many of the supplements sold here in pharmacies. Also available at iherb and many other online stores.

Breast milk as a source of vitamins, essential minerals and trace element. Christopher J. Bates and Ann Prentice. Nov 2002. DOI:10.1016/0163-7258(94)90011-6.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Help ban aspartame from infants and childrens antibiotics!

Outraged after noticing that an antibiotic prescription for my daughter's ear infection contained the extremely dangerous and harmful artificial sweetener aspartame, I felt a strong urge to do something about it. I will personally campaign to get enough names to submit these pharmaceutical companies to quit poisoning small children!

Link to my petition (in Finnish):

Please sign this important petition and spread the word! We as parents and as concerned citizens need to fight for the rights and future health of our children. There is NO reason to allow our children to be guinea pigs until we know just how harmful aspartame is. As long as there is ANY doubt about the safety of aspartame, it is NOT worth the risk.

I would greatly appreciate if fellow bloggers could post the link as well. In order for us to make a difference, we need visibility.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pure and nutritious baby food, Part I

I've been talking about a baby food post for who knows how long. Here is part I, I'm predicting this is a topic I'll keep coming back to. One reason why I've waited so long to post about this is because I've been thinking about how I should phrase my knowledge into words. I have so little experience in this type of writing, which is why I ask you to be open-minded and understanding. My way is not the only way, and there is a lot I don't know. If you have something to add or want to comment on anything, please do. If you have some good recipes or ideas, please share them!

First of all, I want to begin by stressing the importance of breastfeeding. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that babies should be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months. Some nurses in Finland practically push you to feed solids after 4 months, even though even here the national recommendation is 6 months. I for one was accused of starving my child more than once. Even when she was always just normal in weight, developing right on schedule or even early. Their answer to every growth problem is solids - if your baby weighs too much, "your milk is not enough" and if your baby weighs too little "your milk is not enough". Well, what do they recommend instead? Formula made with cow's milk, pureed potatoes, corn porridge? If your baby is underweight, substituting your milk, the natural source of nutrition tailored to meet your child's needs, for overcooked potatoes is definitely not the answer. And no matter how much your baby weighs, breastmilk is still optimized to meet his or her dietary needs. Remember, breastfeeding is one of the greatest gifts a mother can offer her child. But there is also no reason to beat yourself up, if you have a valid reason not to nurse. Guilting yourself will only hurt both of you.

But what should you do when your child is 6 months? I believe it is more important to watch for clues for whether your baby is ready for solids or not, there is no exact chronological deadline for this significant step in your child's development. Some tell-tale signs include: teeth(ing), sitting upright, signs of curiosity towards what you are eating and excessive nursing needs. My daughter actually started stealing food off our plates, which was a natural time to start introducing her new flavors.

What not to feed your baby (under 12 months):
Foods high in nitrates (beets, spinach, rutabaga), interfere with oxygen transport
Honey, increased risk of botulism
Any food additives (especially avoid artificial sweeteners and flavor enhancers)
Animal milk
White, refined sugar
Fructose (not fruit sugar as it is falsely called, it is made from corn starch by microbes)
Potato, deficient in nutrients and packed with starch which can cause tummy trouble
Liver, or any other animal product high in vitamin A
Corn, very often genetically manipulated and low in nutrients
Wheat, white rice
Soy, even organic non GMO, mimics estrogen (female hormone) in the body causing a harmful hormone imbalance
Nuts, mycotoxins and risk of inhaling
Cacao, caffeine, oxalic acid (lowers calcium absorption) and other harmful compounds for your baby

What TO feed your baby:
Chia seeds, good ratio of beneficial fatty acids, high in protein and fiber
Avocados, essential fats
Hemp seeds, perfect ratio of omega's, high in protein
Fresh organic fruit, berries and vegetables
Cold-pressed organic oils (coconut, canola, camelina etc)
Lucuma (highly nutritional, improves taste)
Quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet
Berry powders made by freeze-drying whole berries (high in nutrients, antioxidants and good flavor, especially sea buckthorn, cloudberry, aronia berry, blueberry)

I also believe fresh, wild-caught fish is good for you baby after 7-8 months age. Remember to give different species and to avoid ones which gather high levels of toxins, fish can be served 1-3 times a week. Avoid fish altogether if there is a family history of fish allergies, as the reaction can be severe. I do not recommend restricting your baby's diet because of your personal ethical viewpoints, but rather to ensure your baby is getting everything he or she needs. There is however good reason to avoid red meats not only due to ethics but health concerns as well. Fish isn't necessary, but if omitted care must be taken to provide your child other sources of healthy fats for optimal brain development.

Wondering what to do about milk? If you're from Finland, I'm sure you are aware of the "Calcium myth". The nurses and doctors will stress that dairy products are the only source of calcium. The national recommendation is giving your child cow's milk several glasses a day after 10-12 months of age. Did you know that only around 30 per cent of the calcium in animal milk is properly absorbed? Compare this with the 60% of total calcium content of sesame seeds that is absorbed (even higher when soaked in water for 8h and sprouted for 6h-3 days). Did you know that most zoo animal babies are fed goat milk because if they where fed cow's milk they would die or become very ill? Many of you are aware of these things, and those who aren't I strongly encourage to do your own research and then decide for yourself. Calcium is crucial for normal bone development among many other things, so cow's milk or nut milk or no milk, make sure your child is getting enough calcium. Remember also that WHO recommends breastfeeding be continued at least for the first 2 years and after that for as long as it feels natural for both mother and child. Because this is considered unrealistic and thought to guilt mothers, Finland ha s set a recommendation to nurse for the first year. My daughter will be a year soon, and I plan on breastfeeding until she is between 12-18 months (when most experts feel it is easiest to wean). I just started making her smoothies with sesame seeds a couple times a week. My husband and I both feel strongly about avoiding animal milk, especially because I get a strong reaction from it.

How to cook for your baby?
Does the food necessarily have to be cooked? All fruits and berries can be served raw for babies any age. For first foods, hard vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes, can be steamed briefly and then pureed smooth in a food processor. When it is time for finger foods, serve fresh vegetables and fruit. If you want to give your child cereal/porridge, I recommend grains like millet, spelt, amarath and quinoa. In Finland Holle makes organic baby cereal where you only need to add (breast)milk. No cooking or heating necessary. NEVER, EVER use the microwave for anything that your child eats.

All this text and no recipes? Well here are some:

Berry porridge (6 months and up):
Holle-cereal, preferably millet or spelt
Aronia berry, sea buckthorn, blueberry, cranberry or other berry powder to baby's taste
Hemp powder, to baby's taste

Measure out an appropriate amount of dry porridge flakes (4 or more tbsp usually). Express milk to desired consistency, stir. The natural enzymes in breastmilk will start breaking up the protein and other nutrients in the cereal and it will get a bit runnier, but there is no need to add cereal flakes. Stir in berry powder.

Chia-banana smoothie (6 months and up):
0,5-1 tbsp Chia seeds
1/2 C water
Berry powder of choice
Hemp powder or hulled hemp seeds to taste
(Lucuma powder to taste)
0,5-1 banana

Soak chia seeds in water until a gel forms. Blend in a blender with banana and berry powder. Add hemp powder or blend in hulled hemp seeds. My daughter loved this from the get-go, it is still one of her favorites. For variety, substitute banana for a pear, apple, mango or any other fruit or berry. You can also substitute Chia for soaked sesame seeds.

Sweet-potato salmon meal:
organic sweet potato, cubed
fresh, wild-caught salmon
coconut oil

Lightly cook salmon in coconut oil on low heat on a frying pan. Cook only until just done, don't brown. Steam the sweet potato. You can also steam the fish. Process smooth in a food processor. This is another favorite of my daughter.

Vegetable-chick pea meal:
1 part sweet potato
1 part carrot
1 part chick peas (soaked and boiled, start with smaller amounts)

Steam veggies, blend with boiled chick peas. Add water if too thick. Again, one of my daughter's all-time faves.

Suitable finger foods:
- fruit chunks, vegetable chunks
- dehydrated coconut-oil coated banana chips
- sundried organic raisins or other sugar-free dried fruit
- organic boiled eggs

A basic foundation for a healthy meal:
80% parts vegetables (raw or steamed)
10% part quality grain (such as quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, boiled until done to avoid indigestion)
10% part protein (fish, organic chicken, chick peas, lentils etc)

Avoid all soy products. Start feeding legumes slowly to see if your child can digest them. Your baby needs protein, but quality is more important than quantity. Nuts should be avoided due to risk of mycotoxins (highly poisonous or deadly compounds from Fungi) until at least 1 year of age, which is why especially vegan families need to be especially careful about adequate protein intake.

More important than specific meals is the balance. Most of your child's diet should be fruit or vegetables, and a significant portion of the food either raw or just lightly steamed. Always organic, because even if you can't afford all organic yourself, your baby eats so little it doesn't cost much. It is still cheaper than feeding all regular can food. Check everything twice for food additives, avoid them all. I invite every mom and dad with healthy baby food recipes to share these in the comment box, I hope this will trigger discussion and that everyone learns something new!

The picture shows my daughter with her veggie-chick pea meal, after she had poured water into it and tried to eat it herself first with the spoon and then with her little hands. :)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Schwartzwalder Cherry torte

It's been a while, but I just got an amazing job opportunity. That along with my university studies, 11-month-old daughter and my husband doesn't really leave time for blogging. I still have to write my post on baby food and in future hopefully do more educating rather than "just" recipes. Or what do you think, would you be interested in reading about nutrition and a healthy lifestyle? How to teach your child to enjoy pure food? Maybe I should just stick to making desserts ;) 

Cherry Chocolate cake:
140g ground almonds and 1/2 C soaked pumpkin seeds
raisins and dates to desired sweetness and texture
1/2 C cacao or carob powder
hazelnut/vanilla agave
coconut oil
pinch salt and cinnamon

Process until a uniform, thick ball of dough. Shape into three about 1/2 inch 
thick round layers (on separate dishes), chill to firm up in the fridge. 

Cashew-coconut cream:
about 50-50 cashews and thick, pure coconut cream
lucuma, raw honey, vanilla, pinch cinnamon

Organic, sugar-free (no artificial sweeteners!!!!) black cherry preserve OR
Fresh cherries pureed with sweetener of choice

Once the cake mixture is set, blend smooth in a blender. Spread first cake 
layer with cherry jam, dollop some cream and spread evenly. Add another
layer of cake, cherry jam and cream. Decorate with a layer of cream and
grated (raw) mint-chocolate. The mint really makes the difference. Put back
in the fridge until served, at least for an hour.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lingonberry lucuma brownies

A friend of mine came for a visit today. She has quite a few allergies, so I couldn't use any nuts. I thought of making chocolate brownies without nuts. As if that wasn't a challenge already, right when I was about to add the raw cacao powder into the food processor I realized she is allergic to chocolate. I asked her, if she knew whether she is allergic to pure raw cacao or just the industrial, processed chocolate. She doesn't know, and since I didn't want to risk poisoning her, I opted for carob. Raw cacao, although (falsely) touted a superfood, should always be consumed in moderation due to high caffeine content and other health risks.

1 C pumpkin seeds
1 C raisins
12 dates
1/2C carob or raw cacao powder
5-6 tbsp coconut oil
0,5-1,5tsp cinnamon, 2 tsp lucuma
dash Himalayan salt
1/3 C lingonberries

Process seeds, fruit, carob and spices into a firm ball. Fold in whole lingonberries by hand.
Shape into a square and allow to firm up further in the fridge.

Carob (or cacao) powder, coconut oil, vanilla or hazelnut agave

Stir with a spoon to combine. Coat the brownie squares with the forsting and serve.

These were a huge hit. The tartness of the lingonberries really works great with the richness of the brownies. The pumpkin seeds actually worked great, none of us missed the traditional walnuts. If you have a cup of them on hand though, feel free to substitute the walnuts for the seeds. If you want, you could also substitute part of the carob for cacao.

Isn't that red rose beautiful? I was so happy to come home from university today, my husband and daughter had had the best time together, the house was clean spot-free and there was a huge bouquet of red roses on the table. It's fathers' day this Sunday, I better make sure I show him just how lucky I am to have him as my husband and as a father to our daughter.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Greek orange fennel salad

Greek orange fennel salad:
small handful of sun dried tomatoes
cold pressed olive oil
1 small red onion
1 small bulb fennel
5 small oranges
Himalayan salt, freshly ground black pepper
Fresh parsley

Chop up dried tomatoes, place in olive oil to rehydrate them. Grate the peel of all 5 oranges into the olive oil. Add salt and pepper. Thinly slice the red onion and fennel into rings. Pour marinade over onion and fennel, add chopped parsley. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Allow to marinate for at least an hour. If you like, you could add some fresh finely chopped chili or sliced greek olives.

This salad is a combination of extremely nutritious foods: good quality olive oil, raw fennel, parsley and onion. Especially the fennel and parsley are packed with vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals. You remember my last post about fennel? I mentioned just a few of the numerous health benefits of consuming fennel, especially raw. I myself don't care too much for a strong anis taste, so I'm trying to find ways to mask that and enjoy live dishes made with fennel. This marinade definitely did the trick, the salad was extremely yummy. Try it out and let me know what you think!