Raw food diets are an emerging trend. But what are they? And are they safe for your child?
Imagine feeding your kid nothing but uncooked vegetables, sprouts, beans, and seaweed. Sound odd? Well, more and more parents are shunning cooked foods for those in their natural state. But is this a harmless trend or are parents who ascribe to this diet harming their children's health?
"Strict raw diets are unhealthy and are a form of extreme parenting," says Stuart Ditchek, M.D., author of "Healthy Child, Whole Child." "Eating solely raw food robs your kid of protein, calcium and other nutrients essential for his growing development."
Why eat only raw foods? Here's the basic premise: Some parents feel that when food is cooked above 118 degrees F for three minutes or more, the heat breaks down the food's protein and natural fibers, diminishing 50% of its minerals and enzymes (which aid digestion), draining kids of the energy they need to maintain their tissues and organs. So by eating only unprocessed and uncooked foods, they feel food is digested in its most natural state.
The problem with this diet is two-fold: According to Ditchek, there is no real scientific evidence to support these claims. And by restricting children's diets to simply fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans, kids wont get the nutrients they need for strong bones and healthy immune systems. What's more, there's a greater risk of salmonella poisoning when eating raw foods.
Another hassle: "It's hard enough to get kids to eat the four basic food groups, much less a diet composed mostly of vegetables," says Ditchek. "And for picky eaters or kids in a food rut, this type of diet is almost impossible to maintain."
And consider the extensive and oftentimes unrealistic time and effort parents put forth to prepare raw food. Think about it: Gone are quick snacks on the road, nuking leftovers in the microwave, even Campbell's soup, since canned food is usually processed and heated to very high degrees to eliminate bacteria.
"Kids who only eat raw also have to supplement their diet with vitamins to ensure they're getting proper nutrition," says Ditchek. "Taking vitamins is certainly not a bad thing, but it's much healthier to get your daily intake from real food."
And for parents concerned about childhood obesity, know this: "A major pitfall of this diet is that by the time kids are old enough to make their own food choices, they may tire of only eating raw, and rebel by binging on junk food at school," warns Ditchek.
While it's certainly beneficial for children to eat raw foods, Ditcheck says parents need to find a common ground between eating raw and eating healthy. "Just like anything else, a child's diet should be balanced and eaten in moderation," he says. "There is room for celery sticks and chocolate chip cookies with no harmful effects to a child's health."
Do you agree?