Dr. Bill Sears, an American pediatrician and best-selling author of more than 40 books and countless articles on nutrition and parenting, shares his insight on how to raise a smarter baby. Hint: nutrition plays a big role! Learn how to shape your baby’s taste buds to crave healthy vegetables.
Full Interview Transcript
Kelly: Dr. Sears, welcome!
Dr. Sears: Thank you, Kelly, it’s an honor to be with you.
Kelly Thomas: Yes, So, you have written so many books – I think almost every mom in America is familiar with at least one of them – is there any particular stage of development that you think is more important or more impactful than the others?
Dr. Sears: Well I think it’s really birth to three years, Kelly and here are the reasons, a baby’s brain grows the fastest after birth for the first two to three years, it doubles in size in the first two years. So, you have the greatest chance of laying down a permanent foundation. Those wires into your baby’s brain think of your baby’s brain like the greatest garden ever grown and there are a hundred billion plants in that little garden. So, what do you do to help a garden grow? You feed it and you fertilize it and you keep the weed and the pests out. The same thing in growing a baby brain, you give them smart food, you give them lots of touches, you give them lots of love, you respond to their needs in an appropriate way and that’s how you grow your baby brain.
Kelly: That brings me to another question, Since it’s such an impactful time, do you think a child’s IQ is malleable? Are there things that you can eat or things that you can do to help raise your child’s IQ or cognitive development?
Dr. Sears: Yes they are Kelly. You used a wonderful term there called malleable. Now the scientific term for that is called neuroplasticity. Now that’s just a big word that means if the brain could talk, it would say “Hey man, I will change and adapt to whatever you need me to”. The brain is so changeable. All the wiring is so changeable so the term malleable, you’re totally correct. Now, the best way you can do that is smart foods. Let’s start with mother’s milk – wow! – smartest food ever made and I make it very simple for moms, I say alright “feed your child a smart fat diet” and as soon as I mentioned the term fat, they go “oh really? I’ve heard all these bad things about fat wrong! A baby’s brain is 60% fat so, the way I get parents to remember this, is tell them, you are growing a little fat head. A mother’s milk is 40 to 50 percent fat and doctor Mother Nature does not make mistakes. So, the first most important group of foods to grow a smarter little baby’s brain and child’s brain is fats. Number one mama’s milk. Then at six months, I have this, let’s pretend Kelly that you’re coming into my office and you want to talk about beginning solid foods to grow a little fat head and I say ok “first food avocados, wow! What’s different about avocados, they are the fattiest fruit on Earth”. So avocados at 6 months, and this will surprise your audience, at 7 months we begin salmon. I have a big sign in my office “salmon at 7 months” and parents look at me, really? Yeah, you get a piece of wild salmon and you mush it up and you place it on your finger and you place it on baby’s tongue. Now here are the three magic words “shaping young tastes’”, shaping young tastes’, beginning at 6 months. So, you shape their taste for fruits and veggies and good healthy fats like avocados and salmon and here’s another thing we do at 6 months I call it my “sprinkles test” because the most common question I get from parents is my child won’t eat vegetables.
Dr. Sears: We have a little veggie talk. At 6 months we have a little veggie demonstration, I open a capsule of concentrated ground up vegetables, lots of greens, ten different greens all ground up in a capsule. It’s called Juice Plus and I open the capsule and I have mom wet her finger and I pour the greens on her finger, the powder, and she places it on baby’s tongue little, by little, by little and it shapes the baby’s taste towards vegetables. I’ll explain what’s going on because the brain is hard to talk about briefly but I’m going to explain what happens. Say you put a little bit of ground up broccoli or kale or salmon or avocado on the tip of a baby’s tongue and the tongue sends a text message to the brain and the Brain says,” Like! Bunch of Facebook friends” on the brain says, I like broccoli, I like salmon, I like have avocado and then the head brain sends a text to the gut brain that says, “coming down is really good food”, you pretend you like it and then the gut brain doesn’t like it, and I gut brain, checks and the head brain says, “keep eating more vegetables, it is good for you”. That’s what we call building in cravings at a very young age.
Kelly: Oh interesting. So you don’t do it for just introducing food? I mean do you try to get them all different kinds of food, I mean, real food, and then if that doesn’t work, then just giving them something (like vitamins) would actually change their palate to help them like food more?
Dr. Sears: Exactly, you mentioned another magic word there Kelly, real food. Just serve real food. We don’t feed babies out of the box anymore. Gone are the days of rice cereal out of a box. No, no. Think outside of the box. One of the reasons, and that this is fairly new, for starting real foods in children and babies on a real food diet, is called the microbiome. Now the microbiome is just a big word for “gut bugs” where normal bacteria live in your gut, trillions of them. In return for free foods and a warm place to live, these bacteria do good things for your body they make lots of natural medicines for your body and so real food feeds the microbiome, your gut bugs, in a real good way.
Kelly: So, going back to foods to avoid, are there any foods that we should absolutely avoid in the early years?
Dr. Sears: Yes, now look for the bad words on the label. Now, anything with a number on it like red number 40, blue number 5, yellow number 6, a number and a color on it that is red dot and that is blue dye. You don’t want that, that’s artificial food and you can bet that it has to be artificially colored that there’s a lot of other bad stuff in it in there, so that’s number one. Secondly, high fructose corn syrup, number two. Now, this is also new, added sugar coming soon to the food labels near you, coming sometime in 2018, manufacturers will have to put on the food label the grams of added sugar. Right now, they don’t have to, so it’s very complicated.
Kelly: So, are there any mistakes that parents make? They think they’re feeding their child something healthy when it really isn’t?
Dr. Sears: Well yes, they get worried that their child isn’t eating enough. And I hear this every day in my office “doctor my child is such a picky eater” or “oh! my child is such a picky eater”. So, I wonder when I hear that often as a pediatrician, I think, is that normal? And, low and behold, yes it is. So if I could show my fist – a child’s tummy is the size of your fist. So what they need at each meal is a fistful of food. So, like shaping young tastes, another magic three words are “raise a grazer”. Children are born grazers they love to nibble all day, which isn’t a bad thing for us adults too.
Kelly: So, you’re saying just giving them the options to choose for themselves will automatically help them make healthier choices?
Dr. Sears: If you only present healthy choices, Kelly, that’s all they have. And, in fact, pediatricians are getting a little bit more ingenious, shall we say. We’ve been wimpy for a while. And now we say to moms “mom, don’t be a nutritional wimp. Don’t say, ‘oh honey you don’t like the broccoli, would you like me to make you some packaged mac and cheese’?” No! No! No! I did a little experiment in my laboratory, my laboratory is my office, and I found that I called them pure moms and pure kids. Those moms will never let anything but pure food touch the lips of their children for at least the first three years. And then, you know kids are going to be kids, and they will get junk at birthday parties and at school. I thought, what’s different about these kids? Well number one, they weren’t sick as often and number two, they crave real food because that’s all they know. And then, this is interesting, when they went to their first birthday party and got the big red velvet chocolate cake and all that colored stuff, they will come home and say, “mommy I have yucky tummy”. Aha! That’s because their tummy and their little microbial down there and all the gut nerves have been programmed “you eat real food, you feel good. You eat junk food, you feel real bad”. That’s what we want to program our child to feel.
Kelly: And so, going back to the supplementation then, if your kids are the picky eater and aren’t eating, it is safe to give them some kind of supplementation then?
Dr. Sears: Yes we do. The biggest deficiency that most families and children have is they don’t eat enough seafood. Now, fortunately here in California, we can get wild seafood all year round. So, that’s the biggest deficiency, so we have most of them on Omega 3s. That’s the biggest deficiency, so that’s the first supplement I use. And then the second supplement I use is to make up for the deficiency of fruits and vegetables. I have mom’s hold up their fists and say to them “do you feed your children 10 servings, 10 fistfuls, of fruits and vegetables every day? That’s what they need, 10 fistfuls. They say no, so we add a fruit and vegetable supplement called Juice Plus. So Omega 3s and Juice Plus are the two ones I mostly use in my office. Sometimes I use vitamin D, often times, a probiotic can help their little gut bugs to grow their gut garden but supplements Kelly are just that. Not instead of real food, but they simply fill in the gaps when children aren’t eating. How much fish do they need? They need two fistfuls. So if they don’t get two fistfuls of wild salmon every week then they need an omega-3 supplement. If they if they don’t get 10 fistfuls of fruits and vegetables every day then they need a fruit vegetable supplement.
Kelly: So, you’ve been doing this for decades, working with children and food, what’s the most surprising thing that you’ve learned in all your experience?
Dr. Sears: Well what I’ve learned, and I get this from parents, and they will sometimes ask me “Doctor, what is the biggest tip that you can give me from what you’ve learned”. And I say to them, parenting is a series of reactions. My child does this, what do I do and am I doing it right? I say, whenever your child does this, they throw a tantrum or something like that, you first click into your ‘mommy brain’ and get behind the eyes of your child, and say, “if I were my child, if I were Susie, how would I want my mother or my father to react? If I were my child how would I want my mother or father to react?” and you’ll always get it right.
Dr. Sears: The earlier you start, the better. Now you can make up for bad nutritional habits at any time, but we look at parenting, Kelly, as the best long-term investment you can have. You put your time in early on and you’re going to sleep a lot better later on. I have noticed this in my practice over the years. Like I said, I use my practice as the laboratory. Those babies who are fed real food, those babies and children who are carried and touched a lot, those babies who cries are answered appropriately, those babies who are given lots of eye contact and high-touch parenting, they turn out with one big special quality and that is empathy, the capacity to care. That’s what you’re building in that growing brain. You’re building their capacity to care center and that is a real thing a brain, an adult brain or in a child’s brain it’s called the empathy center or compassion center. That’s a good compassionate parenting helps your child to become compassionate. And our number one problem in our world today, is lack of compassion. Kids who don’t care – the neighborhood bully, the school bully. I’ve never ever seen an attachment parented child become a school bully. So, that’s what you do with your long-term investment. You grow that compassion center, you turn out a compassionate child.
Kelly: I agree. I think one of the best investments we can make is in our children and I am so honored to have you here to talk to you about all your wealth of Knowledge and sharing it with all the new moms. It was a real honor to have you here today.
Dr. Sears: Well thank you Kelly and programs like this give me what I call the “helper’s high”. That’s a priceless feeling we doctors get if any listener out there, a new mom, a new dad, of any age has changed the way they parent for the better because of the program you and I did today. So you and I both have a very high dose of a “helper’s high”.
About Dr. Bill Sears
Dr. Bill Sears has been a frequent guest on television talk shows, including 20/20, Good Morning America and CNN, and was also featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in 2012. He is the medical and parenting consultant for BabyTalk and Parenting magazines and the pediatrician on the website Parenting.com. For more information, visit: www.askdrsears.com.