Dirty kids = happy, healthy kids
When your child comes in from the garden covered in dirt, it’s hard not to feel frustrated as the washing load increases once again. But now it’s been revealed that getting hands on with dirt is the perfect way to increase your child’s health and happiness.
Paediatrician Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein has penned a book on the subject, entitled The Dirt Cure: Growing Healthy Kids with Food Straight from Soil, which explains the benefits of dirt.
The first is that “good soil quality means more nutrients in food”, according to Dr. Shetreat-Klein.
“We are what we eat,” she added. “We eat plants (and animals who eat plants), and plants are nourished by sun, water, air, and soil.
“Studies have shown that vegetables grown organically are higher in phytonutrients, the stuff of superfoods. These phytonutrients - which make cranberries red, lemons fragrant, and leafy greens bitter - also make food both delicious and healthy for our kids.”
Dr. Shetreat-Klein cited another benefit as the fact that soil is linked to preventing allergies, and can “powerfully strengthen children’s digestive, immune, and nervous systems”.
Amazingly, it has also been linked to improving memory and focus, with a recent study of over 2,600 children showing that those who spent more time on playgrounds made of natural substances, rather than turf or tarmac, perform better in school than those that don’t.
Soil has also been found to have mood-boosting effects, thanks to its microbe Mycobacterium vaccae. It has a similar effect to anti-depressant medications as it can boost serotonin levels in the system. This explains why you might feel happier when you’re out in the garden or hiking.
Similarly, being around nature and dirt can help children reduce stress in their lives and enable them to have better sleep. In Japan, the idea of forest bathing – immersing yourself in a woody environment – is a popular method of preventive medicine, thanks to the way soil can increase the production of anti-cancer proteins in the body.
In the summer, Dr. Shetreat-Klein advises letting your children run around outside barefoot or encouraging them to sit on the ground for around 10 minutes. This is because the effect of being “grounded” – being in physical contact with the earth – has been proven to neutralise the body’s free radicals, leading to a reduction in pain and inflammation, as well as enabling faster wound healing and once again boosting mood.
“Soil plays a profound role in our children’s health and happiness,” Dr. Shetreat-Klein concluded. “Indeed, the health of our inner terrain, the internal environment of bodies, reflects the health of our outer terrain, or the world around us.”