Paleo Babies

With the recent spike in the popularity – and associated activism – of the paleo diet, there’d be few people who hadn’t heard of the trend.

But unless you’re actually following the diet, most people are confused by the term.

And with the furore over celebrity chef Pete Evan’s paleo cookbook for babies and children, and its subsequent shelving, many people are even more curious.

Especially new mums, with focus having shifted to babies and children thanks to Evans’ decision to target this demographic in his latest book.

It remains a contentious issue, with debate raging online and confusion over what’s actually involved.

We spoke with Dietician Amanda Clark to provide an insight into the Paleo Diet and its appropriateness for babies.

What is meant by the term Paleo Diet?

A diet that would have been eaten by most humans during the paleolithic period up to 10,000 years ago.

The truth is that the diets at that time varied significantly but the current “Paleo Diet” contains fruit, vegetables, nuts, meat and insects.

The diet tended to be lower in carbohydrate and higher in protein than typical intakes today but it would be incorrect to say that it was low in carbohydrate because fruit was easier to catch than meat and so made up a significant part of the diet.

Essentially the diet didn’t include dairy, grains, legumes or starchy vegetables and fats were primarily from meat but could also include fats from nuts and avocado.

Is it safe for children?

While there is more than one way to eat to achieve a balanced diet, the Paleo way of eating is generally deficient in calcium when compared to the recognised requirements for children.

While proponents of the Paleo diet may believe that cavemen had no ill effects from low calcium intake, this has not been tested in modern day children.

Humans reach their peak bone density at about age 25, and calcium intake in childhood is a major contributor to bone density.

Is it safe for babies?

Caveman babies relied on breastmilk or likely died.

If a baby is largely reliant on breast milk it is fine to introduce foods that are included on the Paleo Diet because they are basic healthy foods, the exception to this may be offal meats – particularly liver which may contain toxic amounts of Vitamin A for a baby.

If the baby is not consuming breast milk in adequate quantities then a suitable milk based substitute must be found.

(The only safe alternative to breast milk is a commercially available formula. Infant formula has been specifically developed to contain all the necessary ingredients needed to meet the complete nutritional requirements of infants up to the age of 6 months.)

The suggestion that a Paleo recipe can substitute for the value of breastmilk is totally unfounded and a dangerous piece of advice.

Are there any benefits to the Paleo Diet?

The suggestion is that our bodies have less negative effects from the foods included on a Paleo diet. For some adults this may be true and as a dietitian I would assess a client’s medical history, their likes, dislikes and their beliefs and assist in ensuring they are achieving their nutritional needs via food as much as possible.

Are there any dangers?

There is a risk that nutritional intake is imbalanced and that the person is unaware of that because they are following what they believe to be a healthy diet. In reality, avoiding any food groups, including following a vegan diet requires some careful planning to achieve nutritional goals, but it can be done.

Are there any misconceptions surrounding paleo diets?

Firstly it would be a misconception to believe that because cavemen ate this way, that it is right for us today. Humans evolved to seek variety and early humans tried consuming dairy, root vegetables, legumes and grains with positive effect. There is evidence that many groups during the paleolithic period had increased their variety based on availability.

It’s a misconception to believe that butter or coconut oil were part of a paleolithic diet due to lack of dairy products and inability to extract coconut oil.

It’s also a misconception to believe that the diet was high in meat as this relied on successful hunting which is believed to have been a bit hit and miss.

I also feel that meat today is quite different to meat in caveman times, both including the effort we need to go to get it and the type of animal, the treatments it has received and the lifestyle.

Should babies and/or children be restricting food groups?

Babies often move slowly through food group introduction and this is fine while breast milk is their major source of nutrition. As they get older it is best to trial all food groups in a way that tests for reactions and incorporates all foods that the child can tolerate. Where a complete food group is excluded, individual dietary assistance would be strongly recommended.

Usually a rice cereal is the first food, which may be followed by meat, then vegetables and onto fruits. There are many printed guidelines that can help Mums who are uncertain.

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