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MindCheck is the Weekly Wednesday Kids Mental Health series with Dr. Ray Pataracchia, N.D.   MindCheck provides in depth information on the orthomolecular approach to coping with mood and/or behavior disorders. The MindCheck Health Series is endorsed by the Mindful Network – ‘A Better Future for Children’s Mental Health’.


Orthomolecular Lifestyle for Kids


Ray Pataracchia ND  ©  2013


In addition to having good nutritient and biochemical balance, our child’s well-being is dependent on lifestyle factors, factors that we can do so something about.


Force of Habit

To have a healthy lifestyle, kids need a routine of good habits.  The aim of this blog is to propose healthy eating and lifestyle changes that kids can readily incorporate by repetition and ‘force of habit’.  Good habits described herein are part of a conglomerate of healthy living principles adopted by naturopaths, chiropractors, and orthomolecular medical professionals.


Dietary Habits

Cold foods/drinks are a no-no.  Don’t eat right out of fridge; cold temperature deters digestive enzymes from reaching their reaction potential and therefore inhibits food breakdown and nutrient assimilation. Drink water without ice; remember to ask for water without ice at room temperature when you are eating out.

By contrast, warm foods/drinks are good.  Warm foods, especially liquids, with high nutritive value, are received well by the digestive tract.  Soups for example are warming and a great food choice, perhaps the most easily utilized nutritive meal that we can consume.  Soups can be loaded with high quality protein (e.g. meat, eggs) that the digestive tract can most readily assimilate.

Eat dinner for breakfast; in today’s fast paced society, eating left over dinner meals for breakfast or lunch can be quite convenient.  Here it is important to prepare night time meals that are nutritious, tasty, and keep well. Although left overs can be consumed within 4 days, ideally they should be consumed the next day as it is here that they retain the most nutrient value; in oriental medicine it is said that left overs retain their chi when consumed sooner rather than later.

To reduce evening cravings, eat sweets in the morning.  There is an obvious limit to this so keep that in mind.  In oriental medicine, the spleen (the digestive energy ‘organ’) is most receptive to sweets between 7-9am.  Limit fruit to one or two per day as fructose is a fast sugar that does not provide sustained energy to the same degree as protein or fat.  Eating sweets in the morning and high quality protein with main meals can dramatically reduce night time cravings for sugar and junk food.

As much as possible, don’t mix fruit with main meals as the pancreas in one digestive effort has difficulty releasing multiple digestive enzyme arrays needed to assimilate nutrients from fruit as well as other starchy/protein/fatty food items.

Smoothies are becoming mainstay in today’s busy lifestyle.  Fruit smoothies with non-allergenic protein powder at room temperature are great but need to be consumed away from main meals for optimal absorption.  Smoothies are not intended to be a meal replacement but can be packed with high quality nutrients; you ideally need to eat a separate main meal with high quality protein (e.g. meat, eggs).

Eat three solid protein meals a day (see my blog on protein for kids).  Many schools are formatted with two food breaks per day instead one lunch break and this is fine because many kids graze; within these two grazing periods, one solid lunch meal (i.e. with high quality protein) should be consumed.

Eat a big breakfast.  This is the most important meal of the day but one of the most challenging for many kids.  I consult with so many kids that leave the house either without eating or after having eaten only fast carbohydrates at the last minute;  for example, gluten-containing cereals with cow’s milk or farinaceous/bready items that are ‘comforting’ and require little preparation.  Better to have a warm cereal with gluten-free grain, carrots, and honey and, a high quality protein (eggs, meat) serving.

Don’t eat large meals late in the evening; this disturbs sleep.

Don’t eat foods that make you sick!  This is a hard learned principle for some but the benefits can be rewarding.  Dr Abram Hoffer was a big endorser of this dietary approach (a good read on this topic can be found in: Hoffer, A.  Dr Hoffer’s ABC of Natural Nutrition for Children with Learning Disabilities, Behavior Disorders, and Mental State Dysfunctions.  Kingston, Ontario.  Quarry Press Inc.  1999).  With kids, although it is a struggle to eliminate specific food items, especially those that they enjoy, it can be accomplished if you approach it methodically.  For example, if you are trying to eliminate gluten, it is best not to have any gluten/gliadin-containing food items around the house, and it is best to have viable alternate options so your kids don’t feel deprived.  I’ll often get parents to determine 7-14 winner recipes that the family enjoys, recipes that provide enough variety to make mealtime enjoyable.  This will take some work but it is rewarding once you have this preliminary recipe scenario as a tool at your disposal.  Remember that you have to go back to the grindstone if your kids are not eating what you make, as they need to maintain protein and caloric intake to provide their body with the building blocks needed to make neurotransmitters to control behavior (mood/thinking/perception).  Finally, save the re-introduction phase (the phase when you introduce a food sensitive item after a period of at least 3 weeks elimination) for a weekend when your child’s behavior can be readily observed.  After eating a food sensitive item you, the child, and everyone in the household, will need to observe the negative behavior and acknowledge it.  This acknowledgement (which is for the child an immune awareness form of acknowledgement) will serve as a force to keep them compliant; the is negative re-enforcement, that is, every time the child is exposed to this food sensitive item, an undesirable effect emerges, and that effect should stimulate them to avoid the food item/group that ‘makes them sick’.  My blog on food eliminating principles provides more specific details on this approach.

Treats are acceptable.  No child would accept a diet without getting some sweets and there are great alternatives available.  Many gluten-free processed products are out there for the choosing and consumed in moderation for that purpose alone should be okay for overall health.   Home-made alternatives are also a great idea – frozen bananas dipped in dark chocolate with gluten-free sprinkles, popcorn, vegetables with dip, etc.  Be creative.


Hydrotherapy for life

Many naturopaths will tell you to alternate hot and cold water while taking a shower, then end the shower in cold water.  ‘Cold water’ in this context needs to be a tolerable cold and the healthier you are the more able you are to tolerate colder temperature extremes.  This alternating hot/cold therapy boosts your immune system, a body system that consumes a huge amount of our energy reserve.  This is important because in low energy states our moods tend to be low and it is said that you can’t be depressed if you have energy.  You can also get your kids in the habit of doing neutral baths with Epsom salt, this can be very calming for those kids with difficulty falling or staying asleep.


Good Sleep Habits

For good sleep hygiene and principles, see my blog on good sleep habits for kids.


Get your Exercise

Exercise is healthy for kids and adults.  Exercise improves sleep and reduces stress.  So get outside, get fresh air (called ‘air baths’ by eclectic naturopathy pioneers) and exercise.  Many families get outings that include passive or active exercise that has an obvious health advantage.  Sports involvement can be an easy way to get kids the exercise needed for health; any sports are good and team sports have the advantage of encouraging teamwork which is a developmentally important skill.  Raising the heart rate for at least 15 minutes a day is a good goal; it can be as simple as walking the dog or using a scooter or skateboard for commuting, etc.  It is important to get exercise on weekdays and weekends.


Reading versus Electronics

Though both reading and electronics activities are passive in terms of physical exercise, the difference is in the stimulation.  Kids can become easily overstimulated with electronics and there needs to be a balance.


Health bowel, healthy life

Kids need to eliminate efficiently as this is usually a sign that they are absorbing nutrients well.  It is important to have adequate fiber and water intake to aid in efficient elimination processes.  Kids therefore need to consume adequate amounts of vegetables (and other fiber-containing food choices) and water every day.  A child’s large intestine is somewhere between 3 to 6 feet long depending on their size of the child.  There is no nutrient value in food that sits in the lower digestive tract for more than 3 days and based on that premise stool clearance per day should be between 1-2 feet.  Adequate bowel movements also aid in heavy metal elimination (if this is at issue) and general detoxification.


One-On-One Time with Parents

Kids need a supportive environment where they feel special and loved.  For development reasons it is very important to take time out for events that you can do with your kids.  Seasonal activities are great for one-on-one time; sports such as skiing, snowboarding, swimming, fishing, camping, etc.  Experiencing nature to its fullest can be very grounding to kids and adults; for example, walking the dog, playing street hockey together, riding bikes, nature walks, etc.  Other one-on-one activities may include playing a quick game of cards, working around the house, doing a woodworking project with your son or crafts with your daughter, mother-daughter cooking time, etc.



If we are constantly bombarded with the rigidity of life stresses it makes sense to have some dramatic relief.  All of us can intercede and lighten the load by using a little humor.  Inside family jokes for example are a great way to lessen the seriousness of life at home.


Good Posture and Stretching

Good posture can improve our mental state.  Good posture is discussed in school but needs to be reinforced at home.  It is not uncommon to see kids with poor sitting postures or poor gait.  Instead of slouching and the laxity in walking gait, we need to maintain vertical alignment.  Self-monitoring of posture involves awareness and is not a passive process.  Daily stretching can be a good way to reset and encourage vertical alignment with the added benefit of loosening muscles and relieving stress; this can be done while watching television.  Nap sacks should be worn on both shoulders to distribute weight evenly.



We are seeing more and more kids starting to incorporate yoga into their lifestyle. I also have a good number of adult clients that benefit from yoga and type A personalities do very well here.  Yoga exercises reduce stress and can improve concentration.


Good Study Habits

See my blog on good study habits.


Good Choices

Although our orthomolecular biochemical environment is important to well-being, your child’s mental state is also dependant on encorporating healthy lifestyle changes.  I hope that this information has been helpful in this regard.


Disclaimer Note: Principles discussed herein are not intended for patient self-prescription; herein provisions of information are not to be considered as advice.