Interview with Dr Maya Shetreat-Klein

In the paradigm-shifting book that Mark Hyman and Andrew Weil say will revolutionize children’s health, pediatric neurologist Maya Shetreat-Klein, M.D. warns that parents today are keeping their children away from the very things that are critical to their health and well-being: microbes, fresh food from healthy soil and time in nature. In a word- DIRT.

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What if our best-intended efforts to protect our children’s health were found to be a primary cause of today’s disturbing rise in chronic illness?

That’s exactly what medical evidence now shows.  One in 13 children now suffers from food allergies. In the last 8 years, the number of children diagnosed with ADHD has jumped nearly 50%. And one in 45 children now carries an autism diagnosis. Many parents have been told that their children will have these conditions for life, or are simply untreatable. Children are part of a growing and massive health crisis in which chronic illness has become the new normal.  The culprit?  Our national obsession with over-sanitization—of kids’ bodies, their homes, even the soil that grows their food-- that does far more harm than good.

In THE DIRT CURE, Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein proves that it's possible to reverse this trend by allowing our children exposure to microbes, feeding them fresh food from healthy soil, and encouraging time in close contact with nature.

Based on cutting edge medicine that she has pioneered, THE DIRT CURE empowers parents to transform their children’s health by understanding the profound connection of their bodies and minds to nature and to food from nutrient and microbe-rich soil. In a book that Dr. Mark Hyman calls “game-changing” and Dr. Andrew Weil says will turn “the prevailing paradigm on its head,” integrative pediatric neurologist and mother of three, Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein shows parents how to keep their kids healthy based on two essential principles:  First, heal them from the inside out (buy and cook the healthiest natural foods); and  second: heal them from the outside in (playing in nature). Both of these practices expose children to the health benefits of the rich repository of life-sustaining microbes and nutrients found in fertile soil.

Dr. Shetreat-Klein’s exhaustive research uncovers the most recent, groundbreaking science to reveal shocking and often counterintuitive affronts to our children's health.

•    Raw milk reduces allergy, infection and inflammation in children.

•    Mass water fluoridation damages children’s teeth—and overall health.

•    Viruses—not just bacteria--play a critical role in protecting children’s gut health as part of a “microvirome.”

•    Whole-fat milk and butter actually reduce the risk of childhood obesity.

•    Tap water is safer and healthier than bottled water.

•    High cholesterol levels improve immune and brain function in children.

•    Raw honey stabilizes blood sugar, while artificial sweeteners increase blood sugar and foster obesity in children.

•    Regular use of bleach is associated with more, not fewer, infections in kids.

•    Children who spend three hours outdoors daily are more likely to have perfect vision than those who spend the same amount of time indoors.

•    Children who spend recess time in a green environment, rather than on cement or blacktop, perform better on tests in the classroom.

I got the chance to interview Dr Maya myself and ask her some interesting questions about my own kids and my own concerns. If you're interested, please keep reading...

PureMamas : If kids just won't eat vegetables what can you do to be sure they are getting enough grounding, vitamin rich nutrients?

Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein: If your children refuse vegetables, there are lots of ways to help convince them. First of all, several studies show that it can take up to 30 tries before a child accepts a new food. Yes, 30! So, don't give up trying even if they've said no 10, 15 or 20 times. Keep trying! Another trick to getting veggies on board is using dips. And don't make assumptions--I know one child who liked to dip her veggies into strawberry jam. Go figure! Another trick to helping making more bitter vegetables appealing is to season them with a fat and an umami. Fats could be olive oil, butter or others. Examples of umami could be tamari or nama shoyu, parmesan cheese, ketchup, umeboshi plum vinegar, and many other options. If all else fails, I also recommend soups, because many of the nutrients of vegetables will remain in the broth even after the vegetables themselves are removed.

PM: At dinner my kids know to eat their veggies. What amount/serving size would you say is enough for them at one meal to justify them being finished?

 DR: It depends on the child, how old they are, and how much they love/hate veggies, and the veggie on their plate that day in particular. If it is something my child is not terribly fond of, I may require just a bite or two. In general, I expect that vegetables should be equal to or greater than the serving of protein or a starchy side dish. In fact, I often add vegetables or fresh herbs to those dishes as well to amp up the phytonutrients and flavor. And for veggies that my kids love, sometimes I end up having to allot the portions because everyone is fighting over who will get the most!

PM: I get asked about supplements a lot. What would you suggest most kids need? 

DR: It really depends on what they're eating and the quality of the food. For example, a child who gets outside plenty (and doesn't soap off the skin every night), and also who eats pastured eggs, cream or butter, and meat will have reasonably good Vitamin D. Same for omega-3 levels, especially if the child also eats small fatty fish like sardines occasionally (don't knock it until you try it!). Adding in bone broths, sardines, and blackstrap molasses are great ways to get in plenty of minerals, and I have tips and recipes for how to get kids to eat those in The Dirt Cure.

All that said, I think most kids can benefit from a teaspoon of fish oil or cod liver oil daily. Vitamin D in the winter is generally a good idea. Multivitamins can really vary in quality. You want to avoid ones that have cyanocobalamin (a synthetic form of vitamin B12) and instead choose ones with adenosylcobalamin or methylcobalamin. Folate is better than folic acid. You can usually discern a good quality product from bad just by looking at those two. If it doesn't specify (just says "Vitamin B12"), don't buy it. 

PM: IF a child doesn't eat much dairy or meat, what could a parent do to at least cover the nutritional bases?

DR: I don't think every child absolutely needs to eat meat or dairy (though I do think eggs--especially yolks--are extremely important for almost every developing brain), but high-quality pastured meat and full-fat dairy products are tremendously nutrient-dense. You have to work much harder to get those nutrients with a vegetarian diet and supplements, but it is possible to do. It's very important to limit processed foods as much as possible if your vegetarian (or mostly vegetarian) child restricts vegetables, because their demand for nutrients will be high, and processed foods will take the place of the nutrient-dense foods that are critical. The main thing is to ensure that your child is eating an array of healthy fats--sesame, coconut, nuts and nut butters, seeds, olive oil, etc--and getting plenty of minerals. I like teas as a way to boost mineral intake, as well as blackstrap molasses. For vegetarian kids, I like mushrooms like maitake and shiitake (they can be added to soup and then removed if your child doesn't like mushrooms). 

PM: I have eliminated a few ingredients from my sons' diets that cause inflammation. They get sick only once or twice a year, if that, and never get ear infections. I attribute this to the elimination of these certain foods from their diets but i'm not 100% sure that's it. Do you have any thoughts on this? for parents whose kids are sick quite a bit Would you suggest they get food/allergy tested?

DR:I actually think getting a fever a few times a year as a child is not a bad thing. It is very important for a child's body and immune system to have opportunities to fight and overcome small infections so that when the big challenges come along, their bodies know what to do. Also, while I'm fine with hand washing when kids get into the house, I think showers are best limited to a few days per week (unless they are truly dirty or smelly) because the oils on the skin are very important for health, and even for having adequate levels of vitamin D, which is a fat-soluble vitamin and relies on oils in the skin for absorption. That said, I do think that when kids eat processed foods that are high in additives, or foods to which they react, it can certainly lead to an immune system that's overburdened. An overburdened immune system may not be as able to fight and overcome infection. 

Children who are reacting to food and present with frequent illnesses and also have other symptoms, like eczema, asthma or rashes; constipation, diarrhea or gas; red cheeks or ears; spaciness, hyperactivity, poor sleep or even explosive behavior.

PM: Can you share with us what sparked your interest in food and nutrition? Did you study that much in med school? 

DR: No, I don't remember learning much at all about food or nutrition in med school. I was always interested in food and health--my mom brought me up with the idea that I should always have a rainbow on my plate and we grew a garden every year. I don't think I had an opportunity to think about it very much during my medical training, but when I had my third child, he became very sick when he started drinking soy milk. It took months to figure out what the problem was, because no one believed that his asthma, rashes, and developmental plateau were related to anything in his diet or lifestyle. We finally discovered he was allergic to soy, and when we stopped soy, he started to get better. That was when I really began my education about where food comes from, what we do to food, and how it can make us sick or healthy.

PM: What is your favorite thing about your job?

DR: I love getting to partner with families and kids to help them to be happy, healthy and function in as optimal a way as possible. Very often, the kids themselves become experts in reading labels and talking about healthy foods and getting out into nature. It's so gratifying. Many of my middle school and high school patients have even contacted me to let me know that they've read my book! 

Q: Do you have any cool "success" stories you can share with us / transformations you have seen from patients/families who have made changes to their lifestyles that you have suggested? 

DR: I had a family recently who came to me because their son was struggling in school academically and socially--he was highly anxious, having difficulty focusing, sometimes having outbursts. We eliminated synthetic food chemicals and dairy because he seemed to be reacting to his food with eczema, rashes and a history of frequent ear infections. The next time I saw him, his parents were amazed at how radically he had transformed. School was a dream--his teachers had asked whether they had started medicating him for ADHD, but they hadn't! Just changed his diet. This little boy was functioning really well with no more outbursts and had started to take a real interest in friends. It was wonderful to see. The pitfall is that when they start to fall off of the wagon with his food, he starts to struggle again--so they have to remain careful with his diet.

A big thank you to Dr. Shetreat-Klein for doing this interview with me and also, please check out her book, the DIRT CURE, on Amazon when you get a moment.