Episode 128 Summary
Meet Claire McDonnell-Liu, an amazing nutritionist and founder of Leafie.org - Leafie.org is a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting healthy eating habits and providing practical tips and resources for families. Claire's personal experience with her children's health challenges led her to explore nutrition, and she found that a low-carb diet helped her son's eczema and her daughter's seizures. This sparked her interest in studying nutrition, and now she works with families to find their healthy route and tackle different types of food challenges. She also works with schools and communities, educating them about ultra-processed foods and sugars. Claire's mission is to encourage everyone to eat real, whole foods and avoid processed, packaged foods that can harm our health.
As parents, we want our children to be healthy and happy, however, food marketing tactics can be deceiving - Especially when it comes to marketing to children, food companies spend lots of money every year on marketing campaigns designed to sell their products to children and parents. We describe their tactics as being a bit like a magician. They often use smoke and mirrors to confuse parents who are trying to make the best choices for their families. Even healthy-looking cereals and snacks with high star ratings and ticks may contain hidden sugars, additives, and preservatives. We call this health-washing.
Ultra-processed foods are a type of food that goes beyond what you can create in your own kitchen - These foods often contain a variety of chemicals and additives that are not typically available for home use. From artificial preservatives to synthetic flavors and colors, the list of ingredients used in ultra-processed foods can be extensive and difficult to pronounce. This can make it challenging for individuals to truly understand what they are putting into their bodies and the potential impact these ingredients can have on their health.
Dr. Lucy and Claire both agree that food and childhood behavior are directly linked - Sugar and ultra-processed foods can cause hyperactivity, poor sleep, and mood swings in children. Unfortunately, society's cultural norms have shifted, and ultra-processed foods and high sugar content are now present in most everyday foods.
Making changes as a family can be a game-changer when it comes to improving overall health and well-being - When everyone in the family is on board, it becomes easier to make healthier food choices and resist the temptation of ultra-processed foods. Not having the foods in the house can make life easier. Cooking and eating together can become a fun and bonding experience, while also instilling healthy eating habits in children from a young age. By prioritizing whole, real foods and avoiding ultra-processed foods and added sugars, families can experience improved energy levels, better sleep, clearer skin, and reduced risk of chronic diseases. Taking small steps as a family towards healthier eating habits can have a big impact in the long run.
You won't want to miss Claire McDonnell-Liu's talk at Low Carb Perth on April 23rd - If you're looking to learn practical tips for promoting healthy eating habits and empowering your family's health journey. Her expertise and passion for improving health through real, whole foods will provide invaluable support for those looking to make a change. With so many cultural and societal barriers to overcome, making positive changes to our diets can be challenging, but together, we can make a difference. So let's join forces to create a happier and healthier world, one plate at a time!Book your ticket to the low carb road show! Thanks to our platinum sponsor, LAKANTO
Claire McDonnell-Liu Bio:
Claire McDonnell-Liu is a qualified Naturopathic Nutritionist from the UK, now based in Western Australia, practicing in Busselton and Perth. With over a decade of experience in designing and delivering food and wellbeing programs with schools, government, charity, and business partners, she is passionate about tackling health inequalities through the delivery of nutrition programs that engage and empower communities.
Creator of the inspiring non-profit organisation, Leafie.org, Claire has presented at prestigious events such as the Royal College of General Practitioners Public Health Collaboration Conference, the Matthew’s Friends Ketogenic Clinic, and the Midlands NHS Neurological Grand Round on applying diet therapies to manage health challenges. As a low-carb nutritionist and health coach, she offers consultations online or over the phone, with individual sessions and programs available to help with weight loss, blood sugar control, and family health.
Claire is also active on social media, with a Facebook page and an Instagram account under the handle @leafiehealth. She uses these platforms to share helpful tips with schools and communities providing advice on nutrition and lifestyle changes to support optimal health and wellbeing in families and children.
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Episode 128 - What should children eat?
Dr Mary Barson: (0:11) Hello, my lovely listeners. I'm Dr. Mary Barson.
Dr Lucy Burns: (0:15) And I'm Dr. Lucy Burns. Welcome to this episode of Real Health and Weight Loss. Gorgeous ones, Dr. Lucy here this morning, and I am with the most wonderful guest. You're gonna be so enraptured or encaptured as I am, her name is Claire McDonnell-Liu. She's from Western Australia. She will be speaking at Low Carb Perth on the 23rd of April. And her passion is helping families reduce sugar and make healthy choices for their kids. Something I know that you are all interested in. Gorgeous Claire, welcome to the podcast.
Claire McDonnell-Liu: (0:52) Lucy, lovely to talk to you. Thanks for having me on.
Dr Lucy Burns: (0:55) Ah, you are welcome, darling, you are welcome. You are doing amazing work, and I can't wait to hear about it. And also to hear about your talk that is going to be at the Low Carb Road Show. So darling, can you tell us a little bit about your journey because I know it's super interesting.
Claire McDonnell-Liu: (1:12) Well, oh, it seems like a long time ago now. But I was an environmental consultant a long time ago, and had my lovely children and my son and my daughter. And they presented with some health challenges. And that's really what got me started down the route of looking into nutrition. And after a long journey with both of the children, putting them on low carb diets for their health, for my son that was cleaning up his eczema. And for my daughter that was a strict low carb protocol. We put her on a keto diet for her seizures, and managed her seizures and got those under control. And then that sparked my interest in studying nutrition. So off I went, studied nutrition, became a nutritionist and now love supporting families to find their healthy route. And tackle different types of food challenges.
Dr Lucy Burns: (2:08) Ah! Amazing. And in fact, so you know, your family has experienced the benefits of the traditional reason the ketogenic diet was invented, to improve brain health.
Claire McDonnell-Liu: (2:21) Absolutely. And that keeps me motivated, to help other families realise the power of ketogenic diets or low carb diets. So I work with schools and communities and my husband and I launched our own nonprofit organisation, leafie.org. So we put out resources and we help and schools and school children learn about ultra-processed foods and sugars. But another part of the work that I do is working with families, some of those have autism type behaviours, and realising a bit of a stricter low carb protocol, and helping to help them to make those bigger swaps and be a bit stricter, and seeing the cognitive benefits for those families. Mood, energy, but really importantly, behavioural improvements is just wonderful. It just really, really sparks me up. I just absolutely love it.
Dr Lucy Burns: (3:16) Oh, that's amazing. And I think it's interesting, isn't it? Because we do know, you know, I mean? Well, I say we know, I guess you and I know and certain pockets of the community know the direct link between food and mood, and food and childhood behaviour. And I certainly know back in my sugar guzzling days when I ate a lot of sugar, and I fed my kids, a lot of sugar, a lot of parties would then result in hyperactive, poorly sleeping children for the next three days.
Claire McDonnell-Liu: (3:47) Absolutely. And we talk about it openly as a community don't we, we talk about the wacky children, and ‘Oh, they're going to be so high now, after that particular event.’ Yet, we still repeat. So I think we have that awareness on one level. But then society because culturally, our foods have shifted and our cultural norm has shifted. And now ultra-processed foods, high sugar, foods, sugar being in everything, then I think our normal day to day foods are potentially quite harmful and damaging, even if we know that we should be switching and avoiding. We don't always find it easy to do that.
Dr Lucy Burns: (4:31) No. And I think I mean, it's certainly not, you know, Joe Blow from the general public's fault. I think there's a lot of confusing messages which are done on purpose. So I've got this new theory that, well it's not that new, but that, you know, marketing is like a magician. So they basically confuse you in order to do their trick. And they're sort of ‘Watch over here, over here, over here. And by the way, we're just shovelling all this stuff in.’ And the magical mischievous marketing that occurs that is done to children is phenomenal.
Claire McDonnell-Liu: (5:06) I agree completely, there's a lot of smoke and mirrors going on with our foods and the organisations and the bodies that we should be able to rely on should be getting that in hand, rather than going in with industry and big food. And yes, and going into partnerships or arrangements with them. But yeah, smoke and mirrors definitely with our food. So we have health-washing of labels. So we have healthy looking cereals, we've got the kind of green colours or we've got ticks, all over those boxes, some of these have got really high star ratings and that's giving me the impression as a parent, I'm busy, I haven't got time to eat every single label and get into the science and the nutritional panel of everything that I buy. It's giving me the impression that organisations and nutrition bodies have looked at that for me and are agreeing that that's a good choice, my kids. But actually, you know, what we know is that a lot of those are ultra-processed foods, they’re still high in fat. Yes, they might have be formulated with added vitamins and extra fibre and sports endorsement, which high profile that somebody's sorted out from the marketing department. But it's not good for our kids. Still, some of the better swaps are costing families more money, actually. And they’re still harmful to our children's health, around almost 50% of children's everyday regular intake are ultra processed foods. So foods that you couldn't make at home, they've got chemicals and additives that you wouldn't find in a home kitchen. And you know, we have study after study that are saying this is damaging for children's, for families health, and children are going to be the ones who see the repercussions of that, children particularly.
Dr Lucy Burns: (6:55) Yeah, absolutely. I think you're right. I mean, I was talking to somebody the other day. And they basically said, Well, you know, what can I do? Everybody's kids have packaged food. And I don't want my kid to be the only one who doesn't have it, because he'll get picked on at school. And so I'm wondering what your thoughts are on helping people navigate that kind of space?
Claire McDonnell-Liu: (7:21) Well, these are the types of topics I'll talk about at the road show and I'm really, really excited by that, it’s going to be really good. I love to geek out on these and learning and meeting people. And so I'll be talking about different strategies and how to navigate that. But that is a big problem really being the odd one out, not every child needs to go on a low carbohydrate diet that's for sure, or any diet. But most children would benefit from cutting out and cutting down on the sugar, cutting down on the chemicals and the highly highly processed packet foods, things that we don't realise that are potentially damaging and harmful and ultra processed at that time, that term that’s now being used instead of ‘junk food’. So things like your everyday family cereal, even the healthy looking ones, and packet sauces or jarred sauces, and healthy looking cereal bars and muesli bars, those types of products, you know are still those types of foods you want to avoid. So there's some quick wins that you can do by getting those types of foods, reducing those and bringing more whole foods in. So we'll talk about those types of strategies. But I do, as a mom of two children, completely understand that you don't want your child and your child gets to a certain age where they're not completely in your control anymore. And they don't want to be the odd one out. And it becomes more and more challenging. So that's why with leafie.org and joining up with others such as James Muecke, Australian of the Year, we're putting out a junk free me campaign. So putting together some resources, letters you can send to your school and alternative rewards that schools can do. I think a lot of this has to be community based, not blaming parents. I can't stand it when people put this all back on parents, when the whole of the food environment or the whole of the marketing and even their school is often against them in terms of the food environment and the food culture. So take this off the parents shoulders definitely. And let's bring this back into the school level and tackle it at a school community level.
Dr Lucy Burns: (9:31) I love that. I love that. And what you've just reminded me was I remember watching a documentary like a billion years ago. It was Jamie Oliver going into schools and he went in and basically looked at the milks. So the drink options for the kids were initially soft drink, so you know sugary soft drinks. So they went but then they were left with two types of milk. Chocolate milk or plain milk. Well do you think anyone took the plain milk? Of course not. They all took the chocolate milk and then the concern was, well, they don't like the plain milk. So if we don't give them chocolate milk, they won't drink any milk. And it's like, hmmm actually, if you take away the sweet milk, there may initially be a downturn. But then it just went back to normal levels and they just drank the plain milk.
Claire McDonnell-Liu: (10:20) And we're doing some damage with that flavouring in there. And that level of sugar which is harming those children. That reminds me of in America at the moment, their school meals, and all of these school meals are given out at breakfast time and at lunchtime and they are exceeding the daily sugar limit. And milk, flavoured milk is a major, major contributor to that. So, again, back to those quick wins, and just sensible stuff like, should we be giving sugary pink milk to school kids? Absolutely not. And not as health professionals, that shouldn't be signed off. Yeah, we need to look at why that's happened as well. Is that because of lobbying? Where's it breaking down? But the answer really is parents getting together and getting their school to take this seriously. And we can. I'm talking to families and getting together with different groups and the examples of schools giving out, say pizza, Domino's pizzas, and giving out Maccas on school trips, and rewarding the best class with pizzas. It's pretty crazy, really, in these times when we have 25% of children overweight or obese and we just know how seriously that is going to affect their future. And then dental caries and the rates of self reported chronic disease in children in Australia is shocking, absolutely shocking. I mean, we're at a time where this has got to be a priority for everybody and not put back onto parents and, you know, getting them to pay more and make better choices when they're so, so time poor.
Dr Lucy Burns: (12:05) Yes, absolutely. It's interesting to me as a culture and I did this exact thing as well. When I was trying to get pregnant I looked after myself and ate well, stopped alcohol, started exercising, did all the right things. Conceived, had a pregnancy again, off to some sort of pregnancy aerobics, not eating soft cheese, doing all the right things. Get the baby breastfed, doing all the right things, reading 50 books on how to settle my baby, looking after my baby, buying my baby's first lot of food, doing everything from scratch, cooking organic. Suddenly, the baby turns two. Bang, Cheezels! The kids are now eating Cheezels! Just suddenly they go from eating everything from scratch and perfect to buckets of processed food, just, it's like our brain turns them into a different person. And I know, even when I work, because as you know, I work mainly with women. For a lot of them, they still have a barrier. And again, it's not their fault. It's the marketing, but they'll be eating low carb, but then they still have the and this is the word I reckon, the ‘treats’ for the kid. So the kids are getting these treats because that's now what the junk food industry called them because no one's gonna call it junk food. It's been sort of renamed, just this stealthy renaming of treats to snack food.
Claire McDonnell-Liu: (13:35) We've softened it, haven't we with that language, that lovely kind of language. This is a reward and then if you were to take a look at the adverts, it's kind of all those warm, fuzzy loving feelings, it's always summertime in a junk food advert. And you're right, I've worked with clients directly as a nutritionist, and it's really interesting that a lot of my clients again, are women and they have families and often have young children and it's often their own weight and an associated health diagnosis or warning of a diagnosis, they're coming up to getting pre diabetes or something like that things are going up and then they change their food over a period of months and start to feel well then hopefully, often the shift then goes towards that the family, but you know, often it's one individual in the family rather than, you know, a whole approach. And what I find is most successful for you, your child if that's who you're kind of targeting with the health intervention and the nutrition change or maybe it's for yourself, for your own health, for your own weight, doing it as a whole family so that the cupboards don't have the crap in. The temptation you know you open the fridge and or the freezer and the ice-cream’s not screaming at you. And then everyone benefits, you know, everyone starts to feel better, look better. Better skin, better sleep, all receive those benefits and you buoy each other on. And that's easier said than done. You know, I've worked with people whose partner has been completely disruptive and not supportive about making health changes through nutrition changes. Some people have that, don't they? That's saying a lot about it. Maybe they feel judged, or they're not ready to change their food and face their own food habits. But yeah, it's definitely much more sustainable when you all embark on it together and get back into real food and eating healthily as a whole gang.
Dr Lucy Burns: (15:33) Yeah, absolutely. And I think this is the whole thing. It's, you know, working with people, it's most definitely not about judging. Shame and judgement have no place in any nutritional change, as I know, you know, but it's about giving people some knowledge. Because again, with that smoke and mirrors, a lot of people are buying stuff, because they want to feed their children food that is nutritious, not realising that the health-washing, as you mentioned earlier, is tricking them. That they’re actually been tricked. And that to me, I call that the wolf in sheep's clothing, the junk food that's dressed up as health food, and that that's just wicked.
Claire McDonnell-Liu: (16:17) And there's a lot of it out there, there's a lot more coming our way with very, very confusing messages. I mean, the plant based foods are a big, big one where that's coming out as a really healthy, healthier option, than, you know, old fashioned traditional, just meat. So I mean, there's lots and lots of examples. I think, for me, cereal is the one that when I'm working with families, and working with schools on their breakfast clubs, that's the one that stands out to most people is cereals. ‘Oh, I thought that was healthy.’ Oh, well, you know, multi-coloured cheerios, not healthy. And it's amazing how we have that disconnect, really. We're kind of educated, or, you know, years before I looked into nutrition, when I think back, when I was getting healthy, I got pregnant and I was just, you know, eating the best I could. Children came along, my son had skin problems as I mentioned, eczema, etc, a few different skin types of problems. And I was like, right healthy, this healthy, that healthy the other. So I made him these healthy little sweets that are made of dates, and cacao, just so expensive. And my house smelled like a chocolatiers. Oh, it was just heaven. And I must have upped his sugar load per day by such a big percentage when I was trying to go healthy. The mistakes you make when you don't know about carbs and sugars. Yeah, and you know, we don't all know. It's not our area of life or science. And why should we? We should be able to rely on those organisations to tell us and steer us down a healthy route.
Dr Lucy Burns: (17:57) Absolutely. And you know, at the end of the day, we all know that the most nutritious bioavailable nutritious food is real food. And the underpinning, it doesn't matter where you are vegetarian or low carb or moderate carb or carnivore, or whatever it is that you identify as eating. If you at least have the fundamental basics of real food, then that's a good platform to start.
Claire McDonnell-Liu: (18:23) Absolutely. For me, that's the basis of it all. Some people may need to go stricter and kind of look at carbohydrate counting, and some people even ketogenic, but generally the majority of families, if we cut out the stuff in packets and jars, and we cook more from scratch, and that does not have to be complicated. You know, we can do such straightforward 10-15 minute meals, we're not having to do anything completely fancy and start our own cooking shows or anything. You're getting the nutrients naturally, you're getting the fibre. You don't have to think of what is the next wonder product, ‘You must eat this berry, you must eat this superfood’. Because you're getting an array, you're getting a diverse range of the different minerals and nutrients and vitamins that your body needs naturally. And then you're crowding out the room in your diet for the junk food and you're satiating yourself, you're satiating, you're feeding your children's brains, which is wonderful. You're helping them run for longer. So that's where they get more stable mood, which God knows the teenage years, they need as much of that as possible. They need that protein, they need those lovely fats, healthy fats for their brain development. And they need the stable blood sugar to manage the behaviour and the mood and the energy. So there's just so many wins just just by keeping it ever so simple, really simple stuff.
Dr Lucy Burns: (19:51) Absolutely. Well, Claire, I certainly can't wait for your talk. It's going to be a ripper. It's going to be incredibly helpful, I think, like practical tips for families. And I would extend families to being grandparents as well. Because quite often, the grandparents suddenly start, you know, handing out junk food after junk food with the, you know, with the wonderful intention of showing their love. But I think that you are going to have some pearls for everybody who attends.
Claire McDonnell-Liu: (20:21) Thank you I'm yeah, I'm looking forward to it. And like you said, really practical, practical tips to get you started and how to sustain those changes and how to feel really, really well as a family.
Dr Lucy Burns: (20:33) Wonderful. All right, gorgeous ones. If you want to come to the Low Carb Road Show in Perth, you can head to the website, which is www.lowcarbroadshow.com and you'll see the dates, the tickets and all the information there. And if you'd like to connect with Claire and have a consultation regarding your family's health, or maybe you're from a school, you can find her on her website leafie.org. That's leafie.org. Have a wonderful, wonderful day. Bye for now. So my lovely listeners that ends this episode of Real Health and Weight Loss. I'm Dr. Lucy Burns.
Dr Mary Barson: (21:22) And I'm Dr. Mary Barson. We’re from Real Life Medicine. To contact us, please visit www.rlmedicine.com.
Dr Lucy Burns: (21:33) And until next time, thanks for listening. The information shared on the Real Health and Weight Loss podcast, including show notes and links provides general information only. It is not a substitute, nor is it intended to provide individualised medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor can it be construed as such. Please consult your doctor for any medical concerns.