Childhood Obesity

by Angie Smith

The plump, reddish cheeks and fat fingers of babies and toddlers are sure to charm anyone. Certainly, nobody wants to have a bony baby. At a child's baby stage, plump is not uncommon, but when a child adds more weight than is proportionate to his height, it may be time to worry about obesity. After all, not all kids lose their "baby fat" automatically.

Simply put, obesity is an excessive amount of body fat. This condition leads to various health problems including diabetes, arthritis, cancer, respiratory problems and cardio-vascular disease, which can affect a child's health as they grow. My cute little cousin kept getting fatter until he became obese. Despite two heart attacks at an early age, his diet and eating habits did not change. He died at 15. This story is becoming more common as the number of obese children increases.

Childhood obesity not only leads to increased risk of physical problems and adult obesity, but it also takes an emotional toll as well. Obese children are subject to teasing and can be socially isolated by their peers. This is detrimental to their self-image and can lead to an increased consumption of food to try and lessen the pain.

It is important to help a child develop good eating habits from the start. It has been shown that a child's eating habits are directly affected by his emotional state and his relationship with his parents. Parents need to take the time to involve themselves in helping their children make healthy lifestyle decisions, even during the toddler years.

A diet that promotes normal body weight includes fresh fruit, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates. Even snacks can be highly nutritious and tasty as well. So, parents should encourage their children to eat less high-fat and high-sugar foods. They should be sure to have healthy substitutes like fresh juices, fruit, baked chips, whole grain crackers, and vegetables for their children to eat.

Parents should also remember that their own habits can have a great impact on their children. If the mother or father is constantly snacking or spends many hours watching TV, this will have a large impact on how the child decides to live their life because children often emulate their parents. So, children should be encouraged to spend more time outdoors playing ball games or riding bicycles. The more active a child is, the less likely he is to become obese.

Everyone should remember that kids need to grow. Their diets should not be restricted so much that it will be deficient in necessary nutrients or energy for proper growth and development. Low-fat diets are not usually the best for kids because fat is a source of energy for the body, but it is best to choose foods that contain unsaturated fat, like avocados, nuts and seeds, as opposed to the saturated fat in meat and dairy.

If you suspect your child is obese take him to a doctor to measure his body mass index (BMI). Should this show he has more fat than necessary, get professional help to safely get him back to his normal weight. Be supportive and help your kids have a realistic expectation of their bodies and themselves.

Parents Are Key to Reducing Children's Obesity

by Tandis Bishop

With January being the traditional month when millions of people rededicate themselves to exercise and healthier diets, it’s a good time to think about it for our children as well. Why? It turns out that parents influence their children’s weight more than one might think.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), the prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 more than doubled in the past 20 years, going from 6.5% in 1980 to 17.0% in 2006. The rate among adolescents aged 12 to 19 more than tripled, increasing from 5% to 17.6%.1, 2

With the rising rates of childhood obesity has come the unnerving reality that children and teens are now becoming high risk for diseases that used to plague only adults.

The CDC estimates that 61% of obese young people have at least one additional risk factor for heart disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.3 In addition, children who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.4, 5 Obese young people are more likely than children of normal weight to become overweight or obese adults, and therefore more at risk for associated adult health problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.6

In Hawaii, almost one in six public high school students is obese. A survey released last year by the state Department of Health on "Youth Risk Behavior" showed that 15.6 percent of public high school students—about 7,300—were obese in 2007. That was up from 10.5 percent in 1999.7

In his “Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity,” the U.S. Surgeon General said that the cause of children and adolescents being overweight is generally a lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, or a combination of the two.

Here’s the rub: Overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. This increases to 80% if one or more parent is overweight or obese.8

If your child is considered overweight or obese, there is yet another reason to be concerned. Research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Session in 2008 showed that many obese teenagers have the arteries of a middle-aged person.9

The sad part about all this is that so many children are at risk simply because their parents pass along their poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles to their family. Many of them—however well meaning—just don’t realize that all that fast food and too much TV can truly have a devastating impact on their childrens' health. As a result, instead of being a good role model and insisting on a healthy lifestyle, too many parents unintentionally enable their children to develop poor health habits. This can lead to lifelong illnesses and sometimes premature death.

A study in the January/February 2009 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that poor eating habits and a lack of exercise start as early as when children move from preschool to elementary school.10 So, it’s never too early to insist on a healthy lifestyle, and it’s never too late.

Virtually all the major scientific and medical institutions in the world agree that the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a host of other diseases is linked to a meat-based diet consisting of highly processed foods laden with fats and artificial ingredients. These institutions further agree that the risk is greatly reduced by adopting a healthy low-fat, high-fiber diet. At Down to Earth, we believe this result is best achieved by adopting a healthy vegetarian diet consisting of organic produce and natural foods.

In addition, since a plant-based diet is low in fat and cholesterol and high in fiber, vegetarians have been shown to have significantly lower rates of obesity and Body Mass Index (BMI) values than non-vegetarians.11 BMI is used as a screening tool to identify possible weight problems for both children and adults.

The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend the use of BMI to screen for overweight and obesity in children beginning at 2 years old. BMI is a number calculated from a person’s weight and height. It is a reliable indicator of body fatness. To calculate BMI for yourself and your children, and learn what your number means for you, , use a handy calculator that the CDC has posted on its website: .

While simply avoiding refined sugars and flours can help prevent and combat obesity, the most powerful weapon you can offer your child to achieve and maintain an appropriate body weight is a healthy vegetarian diet (based on whole foods and free from refined sugars and artificial ingredients). A plant-based diet is critical to the prevention of obesity and other diseases because it:

  • Tends to be lower in fat (especially saturated fat)
  • Has absolutely no cholesterol (except for dairy products, which are sometimes included in a plant-based diet)
  • Is naturally high in fiber when centered around unprocessed, unrefined, whole foods (fiber helps facilitate weight loss and prevent weight gain)
  • Is high in phytochemicals (nutrients that are only found in plants which have been shown to have cancer fighting properties)
  • Offers a good source of vitamins and minerals
  • Offers the right amount of protein for required daily intake, as opposed to a meat-based diet which provides excess protein (double the amount needed), which converts into fat in the body.

In short, parents can help lower the risk of their children becoming obese and developing related diseases simply by setting the right example and insisting on healthy lifestyle habits, including physical activity and a healthy vegetarian diet.12



  1. Center for Disease Control, Healthy Youth!, “Childhood Obesity”:
  2. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Flegal KM. High Body Mass Index for Age Among US Children and Adolescents, 2003-2006. JAMA. 2008;299(20):2401-2405.
  3. Freedman DS, Dietz WH, Srinivasan SR, Berenson GS. The relation of overweight to cardiovascular risk factors among children and adolescents: the Bogalusa Heart Study. Journal of Pediatrics 1999;103(6):1175-1182.
  4. Daniels SR, Arnett DK, Eckel RH, et al. Overweight in Children and Adolescents: Pathophysiology, Consequences, Prevention, and Treatment. Circulation. 2005;111;1999-2002.
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, “Overweight and Obesity: Health Consequences”:
  6. Ibid.
  7. The Honolulu Advertiser, “Obesity affects 15.6% of students,” Nov. 18, 2008.
  8. The Surgeon General's Call To Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity,
  9. American Heart Association, “Obese kids’ artery plaque similar to middle-aged adults,” Nov 11, 2008:
  10. “Eating Habits and Exercise Behaviors in Children Can Deteriorate Early, Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Science Daily, Jan. 12, 2009:
  11. Vegetarian Diets. ADA June 2003 (Vol. 103, Issue 6, Pages 748-765) :
  12. Daniels SR, Arnett DK, Eckel RH, et al. Overweight in Children and Adolescents: Pathophysiology, Consequences, Prevention, and Treatment. Circulation. 2005;111;1999-2002.

Organics Rid Your Body of Pesticides, Study Shows

Common sense suggests that fruits and vegetables grown without the use of hazardous pesticides and insecticides are safer to eat. This is particularly true of organic produce, which is grown without using conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.

While this is a very important point of differentiation with conventional produce, it is one of the least understood and most important considerations in choosing healthy food. A recent study published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science shows why parents should be concerned about this difference.

The peer-reviewed study found that the urine and saliva of children eating a variety of conventional foods from their local grocery stores contained traces of organophosphates (this is the family of pesticides derived from nerve gas agents created in World War II—including malathion and chlorpyrifos). According to Chensheng Lu, the principle author of the study, "It is appropriate to assume that if we are exposed to (this class of) pesticides, even though it's a low-level exposure on a daily basis, there are going to be some health concerns down the road."

In light of this study, it is undeniable that organic produce is a safer choice. When the same children ate organic fruits, vegetables and juices, signs of pesticides were not found. And when switching from conventional food to organic, the pesticides that were previously measured in the urine disappeared within 36 hours. Not surprisingly, the pesticide levels immediately returned when the children went back to the conventional diets.

While the EPA insists that "dietary exposures from eating food crops treated with chlorpyrifos are below the level of concern for the entire U.S. population, including infants and children," others beg to differ. Chuck Benbrook, (chief scientist of the Organic Center, a nationwide, nonprofit, food research organization) says that this statement by the EPA is simply "not supported by science.” Pointing to “the almost daily reminders that children are suffering from an array of behavioral, learning, neurological problems,” he questions, “doesn't it make sense to eliminate exposures to chemicals known to trigger such outcomes like chlorpyrifos?"

So what’s the solution? The gut reaction of some parents might be to limit the consumption of fresh produce, but that would be a big mistake. According to Lu, “It is vital for children to consume significantly more fresh fruits and vegetables than is commonly the case today." While it may not be practical for some people to switch to a 100% organic diet, parents should at least avoid conventional produce with high levels of pesticide residue (peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, nectarines, strawberries and cherries are among those that most frequently have detectable levels of pesticides).

For over 30 years, Down to Earth has been offering our customers a wide selection of organic and locally grown, fresh produce. While many of you already know that organic foods are safer, tastier and more nutritious (not to mention better for the environment), we hope that you’ll share this information with your family and friends.

At the end of the day, most people are very sensitive to the safety of the food they and their families eat and want to be confident that the food they consume is wholesome and will cause no harm. Going “organic” is an important step in the right direction, and they will appreciate information to help make healthy choices.


Raising A Healthy Vegetarian Child

Not long ago in our society, a person who did not eat meat may have felt like a complete outcast. Well things are finally changing for vegetarians, even to the point of government recognition. The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 states that “vegetarians of all types can achieve recommended nutrient intake.” Still, although vegetarianism is becoming more widely accepted by society, families raising their children with vegetarian ideals may encounter opposition or ridicule from others. Unfortunately, the vision of the typical vegetarian child as thin, weak, and anemic remains a common perception in the minds of those who have not accepted the meatless diet as a sustainable one for raising healthy children.

Fortunately, the negative stereotype is far from accurate. A study by the Department of Community and Family Medicine at the University of California at San Diego found that children on a vegetarian diet actually grew taller than meat-eating children. Other studies such as the Tennessee “Farm Study” (by The Center for Disease Control, 1989) and the China Health Study (by Dr. T. Colin Campbell) uphold the fact that vegetarian children reflect the same standard growth patterns as meat-eating children, sometimes exceeding the average build.

In regard to diet, the primary nutrition concerns are the same regardless of whether the child eats meat or does not eat meat. A child’s health is completely in the hands of his or her parents so it is the adult’s responsibility to make sure the child receives adequate amounts of all nutrients, especially protein, iron, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, and calcium.

Protein is always the first thing that a meat-eater assumes vegetarians are lacking. This is simply due to a lack of knowledge. High quality protein is found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, dairy, and even many vegetables. Sprouting and soaking beans, nuts and seeds produces an even higher quality protein. Eating a combination of protein foods throughout the day ensures that your child will get a complete protein. There are misconceptions about the amount of protein a child needs - meat is clearly not a necessity for assuring adequate protein. The average ten year old needs only about 28 grams a day. When a child eats a variety of foods throughout the day, a protein deficiency is highly unlikely.

Calcium is easily attained from dairy products. Young children should always be given whole milk rather than low fat or skimmed milks, which lack the fat soluble vitamins A and D. If dairy is undesirable for any reason, most soy and nut milks are fortified with Calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B-12. Other sources of calcium include tofu, dark green leafy vegetables, bok choy, broccoli, beans, figs, sunflower seeds, tahini, and almonds.

Vitamin D is manufactured naturally in the body with moderate sun exposure and is present in milk and fortified products. If you live in an area that receives very little sun, a vitamin D supplement may be a good idea for your child. While it is healthy to allow some exposure to the sun, always be conscious of how much sun your little one is getting. Keep his/her sensitive skin covered during prolonged exposure.

Vitamin B-12 is important for vegetarians and is found in dairy products, and in small amounts in yeast, tempeh, and mushrooms. Nutritional yeast is a great source of all the B vitamins and can be added to many dishes for a cheesy, nutty flavor that kids love.

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in America, affecting vegetarian and meat-eating children alike. Iron is found in dried fruits, soy products, broccoli, beans and nuts. Vitamin C aids in iron absorption, so it is beneficial to serve vitamin-C-rich foods or take vitamins C supplement along with iron-containing food. Some symptoms of iron deficiency include lack of energy, pale skin in the lining of the eyes, gums, and nails, rapid and forceful heartbeat, brittle hair and nails, decreased appetite, and disturbed sleep. If you suspect your child has an iron deficiency, see a doctor and investigate supplements. The Down To Earth Wellness department staff can help you find the supplements you need.

In addition to nutritional concerns, many parents worry about the influence of other children upon the self-esteem of their own youngster. Your child will realize at some point that his diet is different from that of his peers and he may encounter criticism from friends and possibly even adults. However, more often than not, a vegetarian diet is generally accepted in most parts of the country. You might remember having difficult experiences standing by your veggie values in your life; chances are it will be easier for your child growing up vegetarian in today’s world. In light of the rise in childhood obesity, heart disease and diabetes, a vegetarian diet is certainly not to be shunned. Still, it is important to educate your child on the reasons for his vegetarian diet. It is not difficult for a child to understand the cruelty of killing animals for food or the importance of maintaining a healthy body. Explain to him that other people may eat differently, but that it is important for him to be confident with his diet.

Raising your child vegetarian is an intelligent decision that will establish good eating habits for the rest of his or her life. If your child learns to enjoy a variety of vegetarian foods early in life and is allowed only a minimal amount of refined sugar, they will naturally be attracted to healthful foods later in life. In this way, you are helping your child avoid chronic health problems and encouraging him or her to be a responsible, caring, and compassionate person.

Healthy Kid Meals

When steering your children to a healthy lifestyle, it can be difficult to decide what to feed them. So, here are a few ideas for preparing tasty and healthy treats your kids will love! Try these ideas for school lunches:


  • Cheese sandwich in cookie-cutter shapes
  • Cheese and tomato on whole grain hamburger bun
  • Mini bagel with cream cheese
  • Avocado, lettuce, tomato, and sprouts on whole grain bread
  • Gardenburger with all the trimmings
  • Baked tofu (comes in teriyaki, savory, etc) with tomato and lettuce
  • Veggie hot dog
  • Bean/cream cheese/tofu spread sandwich
  • Good old peanut butter and jelly (or honey)
  • Almond butter and jelly

Hot food (in a Thermos)

  • Soup – many to choose from! How about cream of tomato soup with brown rice?
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Pasta primavera
  • Fried rice with chopped veggies
  • Baked potato or sweet potato
  • Baked beans with tofu dogs
  • Veggie corn dogs
  • Quesadillas
  • Corn on the Cob

Cold food

  • Pasta salad or three-bean salad
  • Baby carrots, celery, broccoli, red/green pepper strips with dip
  • Crackers with cheese, cream cheese, or peanut butter
  • Tabouli with finely minced veggies

Lunchbox treats

  • Dried fruit/fruit leather/raisins
  • Nuts, seeds, or trail mix
  • Oranges cut into star shapes
  • Fresh fruit: grapes, cherries, peaches, apples, pears,plums, pineapple
  • Mandarin oranges
  • Apple/apricot sauce
  • Apples with peanut butter/honey dip
  • Yogurt with real fruit mixed in
  • Healthy, whole grain cookies
  • 100% fruit juice in place of soda

Packing a Healthy Lunch for School

by Tracy Rohland

According to a 2004 report by the Institute of Medicine, the past three decades have seen the childhood obesity rate more than double for preschool children aged 2-5 years and adolescents aged 12-19 years, and more than triple for children aged 6-11 years. Currently, approximately nine million children over 6 years of age are considered obese.

Statistics like this can be scary to nutrition-savvy parents who are concerned with their children’s health. When children are at home, parents generally have control over what goes into their mouths, but what about when they go to school or day care? It can be a big challenge to ensure that a child maintains healthy eating habits even when away from home.

Most school lunches are loaded with refined sugars, saturated fats, sodium and artificial additives. Packing a lunch for your child (or helping them pack it) is the best way to avoid these negative nutritional influences. The trick is to prepare a nutritious meal that is also fun and tasty so your child won’t be tempted by the lunch line junk foods. Following are some tips to get your ideas flowing:

  • In addition to a main course, pack a variety of snacks that are tasty, colorful and low-calorie.
  • Luxuriate in vegetables, include a fruit, and avoid too many refined carbohydrates.
  • Many healthy items, such as carrots, celery, nuts and fruit, now come in convenient single-serve packages.
  • If your child won’t eat plain vegetables, try including a dip or topping such as nut butter or natural cheese.
  • Pack baked chips or soy crisps instead of greasy potato chips.
  • Focus on whole grains in sandwich bread and crackers.
  • A whole wheat veggie wrap is a great main dish that your child can help stuff with their favorite ingredients. Top it with a light sauce of omega-rich vegetable oil like olive oil or flax oil mixed with a bit of soy sauce and nutritional yeast.
  • A burrito is another convenient and healthy meal. Fill a whole wheat tortilla with whole beans and grilled vegetables.
  • See below for a delicious Mock-Tuna sandwich spread recipe.
  • Grill some tofu the night before to make a sandwich or eat with crackers.
  • Pack a bottle of water for during the day and organic milk or 100% juice for lunch. Don’t overdo the juice however, as even 100% juice contains a lot of sugar.
  • For dessert, pack something naturally sweet like all-natural fruit leather, whole wheat graham crackers, or a fruit & nut bar.
  • Finally, maintain a healthy relationship with your child by including a nice note telling them you love them and wishing them a fun day!

Down to Earth is your source for delicious, all natural and convenient lunch foods. We have kid-friendly snacks free of chemical preservatives, refined sugars, and trans-fats. Everything you need, always at affordable, down to earth prices.

  1. Childhood Obesity in the United States: Facts and Figures. INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES FACT SHEET • SEPTEMBER 2004

Organic Babies & Kids

by Tracy Rohland

The last fifty years have seen an alarming increase in the variety of synthetic chemicals in our everyday environments. These chemicals have inundated our food supply, personal care products, clothing, housewares, as well as the foods and products that we give to our children. It is the effect of these chemicals on babies and children that is most pertinent to address.

In a 2002 report shown on PBS’ “NOW with Bill Moyers,” Moyers states that “most of these chemicals have never been tested for their toxic effects on children. And scientists are concerned that recent increases in childhood illnesses like asthma and cancer, as well as learning disabilities, may be related to the environment — to what kids eat, drink and breathe1.” In fact, The Environmental Protection Agency does not require chemical manufacturers to conduct human toxicity studies before approving their chemicals for use in the market. A manufacturer simply has to submit paperwork on a chemical, all the data that exists on that chemical to date, and wait 90 days for approval2.

According to Dr. Leo Trasande, assistant director of the Center for Children's Health and the Environment at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, “children up to six years old are most at risk because their vital organs and immune system are still developing and because they depend more heavily on their environments than adults do (2).” For this reason, it is important for adults to be aware of the products and substances that their infants and children are exposed to.

The majority of baby products on the market today are filled with preservatives, dyes and artificial flavoring. Furthermore, very few of them are organic, so even if a product has natural ingredients, they are most likely tainted with toxins. This includes not only food, but creams and soaps that are readily absorbed into their gentle skin, plastic toys they play with as well as the carpets and couches on which they lay. The environment is filled with virtually unavoidable chemical toxins.

As a parent, the health of your baby is always a concern. It is clearly not practical to eliminate all environmental toxins surrounding our babies, but we can at least make efforts to reduce their exposure.

Fortunately, there are more and more products being produced these days with organic consumers in mind. Down to Earth carries a wide variety of organic, all natural baby products. We also carry natural detergents and cleaning products so you can reduce the toxins in babies clothing and around the home. Any small steps you can take to reduce the amount of toxins your baby is exposed to can make a difference in the health of their delicate bodies and minds.

  1. NOW, with Bill Moyers. “Kids and Chemicals”
  2. “Tests reveal high chemical levels in kids' bodies”

FAQs: Raising Vegetarian Teens

by Tandis Bishop

The teenage years can be difficult times for vegetarians or aspiring vegetarians. Peers, teachers and parents who are unknowledgeable about vegetarianism may question the teens’ dietary choices. The most common concerns are whether a growing teenager will get enough protein, calories, and other nutrients such as Calcium, Iron, and Vitamin D. In reality, a properly balanced vegetarian diet is ideal for optimal growth and development at any age. Vegetarian diets are loaded with essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals needed for proper growth. It also provides a host of health benefits including reducing the risk for obesity, heart disease, and more. The American Dietetics Association also agrees, “It is the position of The American Dietetic Association (ADA) that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”1 It is not difficult to obtain all the necessary calories, protein and nutrients from a plant-based diet. Following are answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding vegetarian nutrition during the teenage years.

Protein: Will he or she get enough?

Plants are by nature rich in protein as amino acids (the building blocks of protein) make up the structural cells, hormones and enzymes in plants. As such protein is found in all plants. Despite what you may have heard, plant proteins provide all eight essential amino acids. Therefore, protein-deficiency is impossible so long as calorie-needs are met. A vegetarian diet, based on whole, unrefined foods will easily account for all the essential amino acids the body needs. High sources of protein include beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, tofu, broccoli, leafy greens, and many other vegetables.

Calories and fat: Will he or she become weak and skinny?

Most teens, including vegetarian teens, consume more than enough calories for their daily needs. Many teens today are overweight and obese. A healthy plant-based diet will help teens lose excess weight and help maintain a healthy weight. Consuming enough calories for active, growing teens is simple as long as a teen is eating regularly and not skipping meals. If the busy schedule of your teenagers is making it difficult to do this, parents can keep quick, healthy snacks on hand.

Other Nutrients: Do they exist in plant foods?

Calcium and Vitamin D are necessary for building strong bones during the teenage years. Great vegetarian sources of calcium include kale, collard greens and other green leafy vegetables, broccoli, tofu, dried figs, tahini, seaweed, and blackstrap molasses. Vitamin D is fortified in many dairy products, breakfast cereals and breads. It is also produced in the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Adequate intake of vitamin D is important for those that do not have regular sun exposure. But most of us don’t have that problem in Hawaii. Iron-rich vegetarian foods include whole grain cereals and flours, green leafy vegetables, beans, chickpeas, and blackstrap molasses. Vitamin C greatly increases Iron absorption and is abundant in citrus fruits and tomatoes. Some foods such as broccoli and swiss chard are rich in both iron and Vitamin C. A double-dose of goodness! Vitamin B12, although not present in significant quantities in plant foods, is widely found in fortified foods, such as bread, cereal and soy milk. It is also found in Red Star Nutritional Yeast, which adds a cheesy, nutty flavor to food. B12 is also common in multivitamins. Vegans who do not consume any dairy might want to supplement with B12. A teenager who was raised vegetarian or who is making the choice to go vegetarian need not worry about getting the nutrition they need from a plant-based diet. If one simply eats a wide variety of vegetarian foods, avoiding too much processed food and sweets, the necessary nutrients will be supplied. Not only that, but a person with a vegetarian lifestyle will be at lower risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other diseases later on in life.

Diet Alters Your Children's Behavior and Health

Photo: Boy Frowning and Holding a Burger

As we prepare our children for the new school year, it’s time to think again about one of the most important and least understood aspects of their daily lives: nutrition. What’s good for them, and what’s not. We’ve all heard it many times, yet many of us ignore it—or at least don’t do much about it. We do so at our children’s peril.

Since the 1920’s parents and experts have suspected that certain foods and ingredients ramp up their children’s behavior and contribute to weight and related health problems. Research has proven this to be true.

Reduce Sugar in Your Child’s Diet

Eating foods loaded with sugar can wind a kid up so much during recess or break that it is difficult for them to concentrate and properly focus when they return to class. After coming down from a sugar-high, they end up feeling sluggish and tired due to their rapidly lowered blood sugar levels and are even less able to concentrate and do well in class.

Get Rid of Toxins

Check out the ingredients on your children’s favorite school snacks and find out what some of those long names actually mean. Be realistic and pull a variety of candy bars and chips from the vending machine. It’s scary! Many of the common preservatives, dyes, artificial flavors, MSG, etc. on the labels have been linked to all sorts of health and behavioral problems. For example, scientists have discovered that a combination of artificial colors and sodium benzoate preservatives in the diet results in increased hyperactivity.

When it comes to ingredient labels, a simple rule of thumb is this: If you can’t pronounce it don't eat it! Synthetic additives and preservatives can collect in the fat stores of your body, increasing in toxicity over the years.1

Parents who try to do the right thing by giving their children a regular piece of fruit, take notice. Pesticides that linger on conventionally grown produce make matters worse. That’s why it’s better to feed your family fruits and vegetables that are labeled “Organic.” At Down to Earth we seek out and offer a wide selection of organic produce, which is grown without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; ionizing radiation or GMOs. Our organic dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.

Set a Leaner Diet

Hawaii's childhood obesity rate is growing twice as fast as the national level, which has doubled in the past 20 years. The obesity epidemic is now associated with a steep rise nationally in Type 2 diabetes. This used to be considered an adult disease but, sadly, it's now occurring in 10- and 11-year-olds, resulting in complicated health problems and soaring costs.2

Brooke S. Evans, a graduate student of the University of Hawaii could not have said it better, as I quote from his white paper, “Obesity in Hawaii: Health Policy Options”:3

“The problem of obesity is fast becoming a serious concern in Hawaii. Although the average prevalence for the State is 17.6 percent—a rate lower than many other states—research suggests that for certain populations in Hawaii, obesity rates are some of the highest in the country and reaching epidemic proportions.”4 For certain communities in Hawaii, studies show that childhood obesity rates may be twice that of the national average.”5

Evans goes on to report that, “Obesity in childhood, particularly adolescence, is a predictor for obesity in adulthood. The age-old myth that children will grow out of their “baby fat” has not proven true in this day and age, with prevalence rates of pediatric obesity rapidly increasing in the State. Childhood obesity is not simply a passing phase, but a condition that follows the child into adulthood.6 Overweight children past the age of six have a 50 percent chance of remaining overweight into adulthood.”7

Go Veggie!

Virtually all the major scientific and medical institutions in the world agree that the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a host of other diseases is linked to a meat-based diet consisting of highly processed foods laden with fats and artificial ingredients. These institutions further agree that the risk is greatly reduced by adopting a healthy low-fat, high-fiber diet. An excerpt from a position paper of the American Dietetic Association agrees:

“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that …Vegetarian diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein as well as higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals. Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass indices than non-vegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; vegetarians also show lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer.”8

To add strength to this argument, consider a scientific review in the April 2006 edition of Nutrition Review, which shows that a vegetarian diet is highly effective for weight loss. The study was conducted by Dr. Susan E. Berkow and Dr. Neal D. Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). They found that vegetarian populations tend to be slimmer than meat-eaters, and experience lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other life-threatening conditions linked to overweight and obesity. These findings are the result of data collected from 87 studies. The data showed that the weight-loss effect does not depend on exercise or calorie-counting. In commenting on the findings, Dr. Barnard said:

"There is evidence that a vegan diet causes an increased calorie burn after meals, meaning plant-based foods are being used more efficiently as fuel for the body, as opposed to being stored as fat." Insulin sensitivity is increased by a vegan diet, allowing nutrients to more rapidly enter the cells of the body to be converted to heat rather than to fat.”9

Whether it’s a health concern or just good old fashion misbehavior, helping your kids get a proper diet can be a big part of solving many common health and behavioral problems.

For optimal health and performance at any age, but especially for children, it is important to consume a vegetarian, organic and natural diet. A vegetarian diet based on whole foods such as grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and dairy products offers all the required calories and nutrients for healthy growing kids. There is absolutely no need to worry about protein, iron, and other nutrients as long as children are eating a variety of whole plant-based foods and dairy products.

  1. The Hepatitis C Trust. Detoxification. How HCV Affects the Function of the Liver. Available at
  2. Star Bulletin, “State urged to double up on P.E. time in schools,” Nov. 25, 2007:
  3. Brooke S. Evans, “A White Paper, Obesity in Hawaii: Public Policy Options,”:
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2002. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey. Available from:
  5. Chai, D, Kaluhiokalani, N, Little, J, Zhang, S, Mikami, J, & Ho, K. Childhood overweight problem in a selected school district in Hawaii. American Journal of Human Biology 2003, 15(2), 164-177.
  6. Kranz, S, Siega-Riz, AM, & Herring, AH. Changes in diet quality of American preschoolers between 1977 and 1998. American Journal of Public Health 2004, 94(9).
  7. National Center for Education Statistics 2000. Childhood obesity data. Available from:
  8. American Dietetic Association, “Vegetarian Diets,” June 2003 (Vol. 103, Issue 6, Pages 748-765):
  9. “ Nutrition Review, “New scientific review shows vegetarian diets cause major weight loss,” April 1, 2006:

Healthy Back-to-school: In the lunch box!

Photo: Girl Waiting Outside a School

by Tracy Rohland

As summer vacation winds to an end, it’s time to welcome the school year with exciting and nutritious lunches for the kids. Packing a lunch for your child allows you to have some control over what he or she is eating at school and keeps your child from having to buy school lunches. Typical school-bought lunches are meat-based and loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol, as well as refined sugars, flours, preservatives, and artificial ingredients. By making intelligent shopping decisions and setting aside time for preparing lunches, you can help your child to stay healthy and give him the energy and focus he needs to succeed in school. Down to Earth is a great place to start looking for tasty and healthy lunch box foods. Following are some simple lunch ideas as well as a few suggestions of products to check out:

  • A sandwich is a great staple of any lunch. This chart lists some alternative ingredients that can make the typical sandwich more nutritious.
    Instead of... Use...
    White bread Sprouted grain or whole wheat bread
    Lunch meat Vegetarian lunch meat (not only is it free of animal products and high in protein, it is also lower in fat than typical lunch meat and does not contain preservatives and fillers)
    Processed cheese slice Natural cheese slice or cream cheese
    A leaf of iceberg lettuce Many leaves of a variety of lettuces (especially the dark greens), plus sprouts and tomatoes
    Mayonnaise Vegenaise (lower in fat, zero cholesterol)
    Salt Salt-free seasoning and nutritional yeast (a great vegetarian source of B-vitamins)
    • Other options include:
      • Avocado sandwich
      • Nut butter (non-hydrogenated) & Jelly (naturally sweetened with fruit only)
      • Tofu Pattie (pan-fried and seasoned) sandwich
      • Veggie burger
      • Veggie dog
  • For a main course beyond the sandwich realm, try getting creative with a veggie-hummus wrap. Rebecca from Stanford Wellsphere suggests this recipe: Smear hummus on a small wheat tortilla and add shredded lettuce, cucumber sticks, and any other veggies your kid likes and roll it up. Serve one or two, depending on your kid’s appetite.
  • Always include a fruit and make it easy to eat. Wash all fruit, pre-cut or peel oranges, and slice apples. If you drizzle lemon juice over the apple slices it will keep them from turning brown. Santa Cruz Organic Apple Sauce comes in a handy single-serving container. Dried fruit is handy too; Try Stretch Island Fruit Co. Fruit Leather, available in a variety of real-fruit flavors.
  • Include as many vegetables as possible. Carrot sticks (try Organic Bunny-Luv Baby Carrots) and celery are always good options, but don’t be afraid to try broccoli, snap peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, or green peas. If your child is resistant to veggies, including a sauce or dip will sometimes do the trick. Nut butters, eggless ranch or cream cheese are good ideas.
  • Yogurt is a handy lunch addition, but make sure it is all-natural; many mainstream varieties of yogurt are filled with refined sugar, gelatin, and artificial colors and flavors. Down to Earth carries Stonyfield, Brown Cow, and Cascade Fresh Yogurt in 6 oz containers.
  • As an alternative to greasy chips, look for baked varieties, whole grain varieties, soy crisps or rice cakes. Try Lundberg Rice Cakes, Hain Mini Munchies Mini Rice Snacks or Sensible Foods Dried Crunch Snacks.
  • Mainstream granola bars usually include ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. Trade them in for healthier varieties such as EnviroKidz Organic Crispy Rice Bars, Barbara’s Crunch Organic Granola Bars, and Cascadian Farms Granola Bars.
  • Make your own one-of-a-kind snack mix using ingredients from our bulk bins. It’s economical and you can let your kids help create the mix!
  • Pack organic foods including milk and juice as much as possible. Shop DTE for Horizon Organic Reduced Fat Milk and Organic Valley 1% Milk in individual septic containers. DTE also carries lunch-size packs of Soy and Rice Dream drinks.
  • If you pack a juice box, make sure it is 100% juice. We like Hansen’s Natural Juice Squeeze, Santa Cruz juice boxes, or better yet, coconut water! Of course, plain water should always be included.
  • For a healthier dessert, try some all-natural cookies like New Morning Graham-Wiches or Barbara’s Snackimals.

The habits your child develops now will stick with him for the rest of his life. Consistently packing a well-rounded, healthy lunch for your children (or yourself or your spouse) is a big step toward influencing your family’s health in a positive way. To make it easier for you to shop, we have compiled a list items to help you when shopping for your lunch box additions (note this is not a comprehensive list, but some sample suggestions):

Snacks & Cookies

  • Stretch Island Fruit Co. Fruit Leather
  • Annie’s Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks
  • Barbara’s Snackimals
  • New Morning Graham-Wiches
  • Lundberg Rice Cakes
  • Hain Mini Munchies Mini Rice Snacks
  • Sensible Foods Dried Crunch Snacks
  • Kashi TLC Crackers

Apple Sauce

  • Santa Cruz Organic Apple Sauce

Milk, Soy, & Rice Milk

  • Rice & Soy Dream
  • Horizon Organic Reduced Fat Milk
  • Organic Valley 1% milk


  • Hansen’s Natural Juice Squeeze

String Cheese

  • Organic Valley Stringles


  • Stoneyfield Organic Yogurt
  • Brown Cow Yogurt
  • Cascade Fresh Yogurt

Granola Bars

  • EnviroKidz Organic Crispy Rice Bars
  • Barbara’s Crunch Organic Granola Bars
  • Cascadian Farms Granola Bars


  • Cascade Farms Purely O’s
  • Barbara’s Wild Puffs


  • Organic Bunny-Luv Baby Carrots
  • Organic Fuji apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, plums, etc.


  • Dried fruits, nuts, granola, and trail mix