Think Color in Your Diet

Choosing foods to aid health, thinking colorfully when it comes to fruits and vegetables, including protein in those snack attacks, and more…

To help ensure that children obtain the wide variety of nutrients available in fruits and vegetables, they should eat a rainbow. Each color of the rainbow represents different nutrients contained in foods, so as a rule, nutritionists recommend eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. You can encourage your children to participate and enjoy eating this way with the “Today I Ate a Rainbow” kit. It lets kids easily track the fruits and vegetables they eat and encourages healthy eating by charting the foods according to each color of the rainbow. You get a food chart that sticks to the refrigerator with magnets, four sets of rainbow-colored magnets, a color-coded shopping list, bookmark, and a “Rainbow Bunch” book

The chart teaches children to become more aware of the foods they eat throughout the day, and encourages them to try new things. In addition, the book is well written and fun—it’s all about kids’ adventures in eating delicious, healthy foods that come in all colors of the rainbow.

I love this kit, and I highly recommend it. It’s simple, cost effective, helps encourage kids to eat healthy, and it’s not only good for kids but even for us moms—it helps me to remember and track what foods I’ve fed my toddler (and myself!) throughout the day.


The “mainstream nutrition” principles you read in the media and dietetics community focus primarily on quantitative factors such as counting calories, grams of fat, levels of sodium, etc. Mainstream nutritionists and dietitians view the human body as a machine with different moving parts that don’t necessarily affect each other, and believe the “fuel” (food) you put in is burned at an equal rate, regardless of the functioning of the machine (body) or the type of food you eat

These principles don’t work for holistic nutritionists, because even with cars, most people believe that different qualities of gasoline affect the “pings” and running of the engine. In “holistic nutrition,” great attention is paid to the quality of food. Holistic nutritionists consider the effects of artificial ingredients on the liver or brain, how monosodium glutamate (MSG) affects hyperactivity and damages the hypothalamus (an area of the brain that produces the hormones that control hunger, thirst, sleep and mood, among other functions), the effects of sugar on yeast, the inflammatory nature of certain foods and how they affect the gut, and how nutrients (and nutrient deficiency) influence brain function.

It’s important to consider such factors when choosing foods to aid our health. The increase in nutrients, absence of artificial additives, reduction of refined sugar, and avoidance of pesticides garnered from a holistic nutrition paradigm play a big role in maintaining and preserving health. When applying a nutrition intervention, you want to supply the body with the building blocks it needs for good health, while reducing additives and toxins that may overburden the body.

Science-based, holistic nutrition principles provide helpful guidelines to supporting the health of your child through good food and nutrition choices. Holistic nutrition considers the amount of nutrients present in organically farmed vegetables and fruit. It promotes the value of live probiotics in fermented foods—the good gut bacteria that are necessary for life, and especially needed given the pervasive use of antibiotics. The fresh, living qualities of foods and cooking/processing methods are emphasized.

Holistic principles support a healthy GI system that positively affect digestion and absorption of nutrients and protein to aid growth and development.

The level of nutrients present with organic, biodynamic, local, and pasture-raised farming is unsurpassed and vital. Nowhere in life are these principles more important than with children, and with autism spectrum disorders. Whenever you can, eat organic and locally grown produce, and be sure that any meat you consume comes from grass-fed and pastured livestock, as opposed to intensively-reared animals that are fed on a diet that contains artificial ingredients. It makes a difference to your health and the health of your children. So don’t miss a thing when it comes to nutrition—be sure to embrace a holistic perspective.


Fermented foods are a great addition to everyone’s diet, but are particularly good for those with autism because they contain beneficial live bacteria (probiotics) that support digestion, break down toxins and used substances, and support immune function.

It’s important that your fermented foods contain live cultures—read labels carefully to check. Fermented foods that have been pasteurized after fermentation don’t contain these live bacteria, so you want to see “raw” or “live cultures” on the label.

If there is added vinegar, most likely it isn’t raw. Also, you will always find live cultured foods in the refrigerated section. If you’re following a GF/CF diet, simply choose dairy-free yogurt or other fermented options. Try:

Yogurt and Kefir

Yogurt is the most popular fermented food in our culture; kefir is similar (both are dairy-based) but a little more pourable. There are non-dairy forms—I suggest choosing an option made with coconut rather than soy (as soy can be inflammatory). There are also “water kefir” varieties that are often made from coconut water, as used in the Body Ecology Diet.

Lacto-fermented vegetables and fruits Raw sauerkraut, cultured vegetables, and kim chi are all types of cultured or fermented vegetables. They are crispy and crunchy shredded vegetables that are sour and taste very different that pasteurized sauerkraut.


This is made from sweetened black or green tea and fermented with a culture of bacteria and yeast. The bacteria and yeast feed on the sugar and convert it into beneficial components that help with digestion, detoxification, and immune function.

All cultured foods are sour (because of acidic bacteria), so serving them mixed with something sweet can be helpful—adding a splash of juice to a fermented beverage can turn scowls into smiles! For kids who don’t like sour, my favorite way to serve sauerkraut is to mix it with half shredded fruit (like apple/pear) and half sauerkraut—in my cookbook, Cooking to Heal, I call it Apple Kraut. One of my toddler’s favorite foods is raw sauerkraut—I cut it up into small pieces and she eats it like a finger food.


A recent study discovered that pollution in the air we breathe could cause changes in the genes associated with glutathione production. Glutathione is a nutrient produced in our bodies: it serves as a potent antioxidant and detoxifier, and helps support proper immune function and inflammation. Children with autism have been found to be low in glutathione.

This new research studied older men who didn’t have autism, and found that the chemicals originating from burning coal and wood (black carbon and sulfate respectively) caused gene changes associated with glutathione pathways.

The gene changes noted were not to the genetic sequence—they were changes in gene expression: the ability to turn certain genes “on” and “off” in order to rapidly adapt to alterations in the environment. Nutrition and toxins can influence these changes in gene expression (the study of changes produced in gene expression is called epigenetics).

In this study we learn that toxins can affect gene changes that hinder one’s ability to detoxify the very same toxins. This is very relevant for those working with autism, as it demonstrates how specific toxins affect gene expression, and particularly glutathione status—so important for this population.

These are fascinating findings that further support the notion that autism stems from a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental assault. It also underscores the importance of keeping our home s and children as toxin-free as we can.

The study is published in Environmental Health Perspective, July 2011.


Most “snack foods” that kids eat today are not much more than prettied up carbohydrates—crackers, rice cakes, cookies, pretzels, chips and more. Even if they’re gluten-free, these foods offer barely any nutrition, and eating them burdens our body’s blood sugar system. When we eat too many carbohydrates (even whole grain varieties) that aren’t part of a balanced diet, blood sugar spikes. The pancreas has to deal with the spike by releasing insulin to handle the carbs that have just turned to sugar. This roller coaster of blood sugar causes ups and downs in energy and mood, and can even be harmful over time. Moreover, carbs don’t provide growing and developing children with the protein and nutrients they need to think at school, sustain their energy throughout the day, and grow. This means it’s vital to include a combination of protein, fat, and carbohydrates at snack time, and it’s simple to plan and prepare these healthy snacks (see sidebar for ideas). Just remember to add some protein with each snack, and you will be on your way to creating balanced and healthy snacks for your loved ones.

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