When I first watched Mad Men, I was struck by how much the characters in practically every scene smoked. It seemed that cigarettes and the surrounding smoke were as ubiquitous in the 1960s as women wearing dresses and heels.* In fifty years, I imagine we might be watching some holographic TV show called “The Information Generation” in which everyone is on a cell phone every minute, and we will chuckle and stare aghast at how naive and uninformed we were as a society about those dangerous cancer-pods.

Although the research up until now has been inconclusive on a purely scientific front, it remained a reasonable concern that we were running fast and headlong into a societal habit that may prove dangerous in the long run. Now the World Health Organization has announced that, in fact, the radiation that comes from cell phones is carcinogenic.

The main concern is that cell phones are conduits for radio-frequency (RF) waves, which are a form of electro-magnetic energy. The concern lies in the fact that waves are strongest near the antenna of a device, and that since a cell phone is held against the head, these waves affect DNA in the body’s tissues.

But the argument has been that since RFs are a form of non-ionizing radiation (like the ones in the microwaves that our mothers told us not to stand in front of when we were kids (which we now know poses almost no risk to us) the risk of damage is really minimal. You can learn more from the FCC, if you want. As the concern over whether cell-phone use should or should not be government-regulated, this group will have something to say, I’m sure.

However, when it comes to our kids, it might be a different story. Since children’s skulls and tissues aren’t as dense, it is possible that the penetration goes deeper, causing a greater potential risk. Some countries have put out warnings that alert the public about the potential dangers of cell phone use, and have strictly limited the marketing of cell phones to users under twelve. But not enough studies have been done solely on children, and since brain tumors take years to develop, it may be years until we know things for sure, like whether the radiation causes other types of cancer, or just how much cell phone exposure (and the intensity) really does any damage?

The announcement from the WHO is based on a review of several different studies that reveal similar results, which basically is that we have full cause now to be officially wary of what cell phones might be doing to us. But a lot of things still aren’t clear, and more research is, and should be, getting done. Wearing an earpiece or headset is recommended, for instance, and it is better to be safe than sorry, if you worry.

Lots of things cause cancer. But people still smoke, and even though the black crunchy grilly-bits that makes the neat black stripes on your grilled meat is technically carcinogenic, who doesn’t love a brat now and then? The question is how much? We don’t know yet definitively about cell phones. But we use our cell phones every day, and it will be helpful in the months and years to come to know whether I need to seriously think about never putting it to my ear again, or never letting my child hold my smart phone, or if I should be shutting it off at night, or steer clear of signal towers, or throw my phone down the toilet like a smoker trying to quit.

Or will there be no need for paranoia? It remains to be seen whether this is a “don’t stand in front of the microwave” unnecessary, unfounded fear, or rather a “by the way, you folks that have been smoking for the past twenty years, nicotine is freakishly addictive…oh, and also, inhaling all that smoke, no matter where it comes from, causes cancer” early-warning sign post?

*Writing this post was very informative for me, as I hope it was for you, too. But it also gave me an excuse to browse for photos of Jon Hamm, which was a delightful use of my time. For those of you interested, here ya go.

When my daughter was born, my husband and I decided that she wouldn’t be given cow’s milk and dairy products for at least a year. The traditional Chinese medicine view of dairy is that it is “phlegmy” and difficult to digest, and I wanted to wait until Violet’s system was more mature before I gave any milk products to her. I’m glad we did. We might have saved Violet a lot of discomfort and reduced her risk of developing an intolerance to dairy as she grows up.

Here are a few reasons why it’s a good idea to consider a dairy-free diet for your baby for his first year:

  • milk/dairy makes it harder for iron to be absorbed into the body, necessary for healthy growth and development, and necessary to avoid anemia
  • the proteins in cows’ milk is much harder for baby to digest than breast milk
  • baby receives less essential vitamin E
  • baby receives fewer Essential Fatty Acids
  • cows’ milk has too much sodium, taxing baby’s kidneys and leading to possible high blood pressure

After at least 6 months of breastmilk, what about feeding baby yogurt, cheese and foods that contain dairy? You can decide to start giving your baby things like baked goods that contain milk. Cooking food that contains milk helps break down the milk proteins that are harder to digest. Yogurt might be a decent addition too. Lactose and proteins are already broken down, and yogurt contains natural enzymes that are great for keeping baby’s natural intestinal flora (“good bacteria”) doing its job.
If you choose to go further, see if your baby likes cheese: you can serve it up either in tiny graspable squares or melted in something like a grilled cheese sandwich.

I found this site really helpful in learning about dairy for babies…

When I did start giving Violet dairy products, I started with raw goat yogurt. You will know the best decision for how long to breastfeed, but I strongly recommend breastfeeding for a MINIMUM of 6 months. After that, if adding dairy into your baby’s diet is your choice, then I recommend finding sources for raw goat milk products if possible instead of cow milk products. Milk and milk products in general are best in raw form, meaning they haven’t been heat-pasteurized; therefore the vitimins haven’t been stripped away and you’re getting what nature intended! Of course, getting your milk products directly from a local farmer is ideal, but many raw cheeses and lightly pasteurized non-cow yogurts are prevalent in supermarkets like Whole Foods.

The bottom line is that breastfeeding is the most recommended as your baseline nutrition source for baby for her first year, if it’s possible for you. (While we’re on the subject, take a look at this cool article about saving lives in Africa by encouraging mothers to breastfeed!)

Always be aware during breastfeeding that what you eat, baby eats. If baby is developing skin irritations, digestive upsets, or fussiness, don’t rule out the possibility that it may be an allergy of some kind. Dairy allergies have been linked to manifestations such as eczema and other skin reactions, fatigue, digestive issues, anxiety, and ADD/ADHD, among others. Finding out of your baby has a dairy allergy can be very important if you have food allergies that run in your family.

Milk and dairy products show up in a lot of ingredient lists in stealthy ways. Be sure that if you are a label-watcher, it might a good idea to keep these in mind if you are trying to avoid dairy, either for yourself or your little one:

  • Acidophilus Milk
  • Casein
  • Caseinate
  • Curds
  • Galactose
  • Ghee
  • Lactalbumin
  • Lactate
  • Lactic Acid
  • Lactoglobulin
  • Lactose
  • Malted Milk
  • Nougat
  • Potassium Caseinate
  • Ready Sponge
  • Rennet
  • Sodium Caseinate
  • Whey

Elimination diets can be especially effective in finding out if your baby is allergic or has an intolerance to something in your breast milk.

This usually includes taking dairy, soy, wheat and possibly eggs and nuts out of your daily diet for at least 2 weeks and adding each one back in by itself for a few days to see how things affect both you and your baby. It’s a good idea to follow the 4-Day Rule for baby food.

Here’s an experience for you: my assistant, Andrea, tried an elimination diet for herself a few months ago – she cut out dairy, soy and wheat for 2 weeks, and then added dairy back in first. She had no problems with milk, cheese, or yogurt, but the next week when she had a soy milk/soy protein powder smoothie for breakfast (something she’d had before), she had intense stomach cramps and vomiting within about ten minutes! Clearly, no more soy for her! As well, she discovered a week later that eating wheat, especially in the morning, depleted her energy level considerably – she said after eating two bagels, she wanted to take a nap. You are what you eat, as they always say!

The next time you are about to put a juice box in your little one’s lunch bag or are pouring some “all-natural”, “100-percent” juice into a sippy-cup, think again. You might do better to give her a regular Coke instead.*

Yup. That’s right. A 12-ounce serving of some fruit juices can have up to 50% more sugar than a 12 ounce Coca-Cola. Apple juice, a kid-favorite, has slightly more sugar than a Coke, whereas grape juice is the real sugary kick-in-the-pants culprit.

But, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, right? That’s what we’ve always heard. I found this link to Dr.Sears, who has been practicing pediatric medicine for 30 years. It was helpful in understanding whether it’s a good idea to even EAT fruit, since fructose has become a watchword. The answer to eating fruit is yes, (an apple is much better than eating a handful of chewy-candy fruit snacks) but not all fruits are created equal.

Fruits provide us with varying degrees of important nutrients, including vitamin C, fiber, carotenoids, calcium and folic acid. Dr. Sears ranks an avocado as topmost in being the purveyor of the most of those nutrients and benefits packed into one natural package. Also, some fruits can be easier to digest as their sugar content is absorbed into the bloodstream more easily, whereas some, like pears and apples, are not absorbed as easily, causing intestinal gas. (And what do babies eat a lot of? Just sayin’…) Oranges, thankfully, are on that list, as are other yummy things like cantaloupe and strawberries, but who wants to slice an avocado over their cereal or yogurt?

And then there’s not just sugar content, but the other Bang for Buck monitor, Glycemic Index. A good glycemic index rating basically is a way to define how your blood sugar regulates after eating a certain food – the lower the better. For instance, a white-flour muffin will spike your blood sugar, then plunge it down, leaving you feeling less energized and hungry again, whereas a piece of whole-wheat-berry toast will keep you satisfied and energized longer.

But back to fruit: whereas cherries are on Dr. Sears’ “bad for the intestines” list, they have only a “medium” level of fructose and a “good glycemic index” rating, according to this list. But wait. EATING the actual cherries is doing a lot better for you than drinking them: 12 ounces of cherry juice – unsweetened- has 9 teaspoons of sugar in comparison to the 10 in a Coke. But gulping it down won’t give you A) any fiber to speak of and B) the enjoyment of popping cherries into your mouth and spitting out the pits on a hot summer day.

It’s like Dr. Sears says: “How you rank fruit depends upon the reason you’re eating the fruit and your individual tastes.” That’s the truth. I can certainly give up drinking a glass of OJ for breakfast in favor of a ripe summer peach, and forego bananas and grapes (high in fructose, high glycemic index – sorry, folks) and instead sprinkle ripe strawberries and blackberries on my whole-grain meusli in the morning. And really, when it comes right down to it, if you’re going to have a treat, make sure you know that you’re eating one – that mango isn’t a snack, it’s a dessert – high in fructose, high glycemic index, but conversely, number 7 on Dr. Sears top-ten nutrient content list. But I’d rather have the chocolate chip cookie, to be honest, and make sure to eat my broccoli and kale for dinner.

* http://www.hookedonjuice.com