Food as Medicine: Interview with Maya Shetreat-Klein, M.D.

Pediatric neurologist and NYC mom Maya Shetreat-Klein, M.D., wrote The Dirt Cure: Growing Healthy Kids with Food Straight from Soil to help families learn to use fresh foods and nature to heal children from the inside out.

What prompted you to write the book? When my son was about 1 year old, he started having these unexplained rashes and breathing issues and hit a developmental plateau. We found out that he was very allergic to soy. [After cutting soy from his diet], within three days his breathing issues basically disappeared. This was a wake-up call for me, because I wanted to do the right thing based on the knowledge I had, but this ended up introducing me to a whole new body of information about how food can affect the immune system and the brain. My son is my muse because he was the one who led me on this journey. Then I found there is a lot of interesting literature about how food can affect your brain and development. I started applying this in my practice and found it was incredibly effective in many cases. So I wanted to write the book to make this information available to every parent because when you have a chronically ill child you feel very helpless. I want parents to feel empowered, to know that there are decisions that they can make and ways that they can change their lives that can reverse chronic illness in kids.

How can parents start to apply this in their own homes? It’s good to start looking at ingredients, and make sure you recognize all of the items listed. If it’s something that you have to take out reading glasses to look at or you feel like you can’t pronounce most of it or it seems really overwhelming, chances are that it is a pretty processed food. Processed food is generally lacking in nutritional density and that is a big part of what children, who are developing so rapidly, really need to live optimally. Also, when choosing foods, always try to look for food in the form that it tends to grow. Rather than buying something that says “nuts included,” buy actual nuts; same goes for fruit. Look for whole, unprocessed food.

What are some foods that help with the common cold or minor ailments? Bitters are great. I know it sounds kind of intimidating to get children to eat those, but bitters are actually found in fruit and vegetable peels and dark chocolate. For adults, they are found in coffee. Bitter compounds aid digestion and boost immunity in the gut and the ear, nose, and throat. It helps boost our total immunity and prevent things such as coughs and colds, strep throat, and vomiting. There are even bitter tonics you can buy for kids.

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