Baby Paleo Diet Cookbook Unhealthy and On Hold
Publication of a paleo diet cookbook for babies has been put on hold after experts expressed concern over the health of babies put on the diet. I have expressed concern over the paleo diet before. Yes, some aspects of the paleo diet are healthy for kids, but there are lots of reasons why the paleo diet is unhealthy for kids (lots and lots). Now scientists are warning that the new paleo diet cookbook includes dietary advice that could lead to the death of a baby.
Some of the central tenets of the paleo diet are the avoidance of processed foods, dairy, pulses, and legumes. However, preventing babies from consuming these could be very dangerous for their health. The new cookbook, slated to be published by Pan Macmillan and endorsed by celebrity chef Pete Evans, is called “Bubba Yum Yum: The Paleo Way” and includes dangerous dietary restrictions for babies and toddlers.
One of the recipes in the book in particular has garnered significant concern. The “DIY baby milk formula” is based on chicken liver. The book claims it “mimics the nutrient profile of breast milk,” is “the next best thing” to breast milk and is a “wonderful alternative” to breast milk. Of course chicken liver in no way compares to breast milk, as it is full of proteins and fats foreign to human breast milk. Experts have expressed concerns over the nutrient profile, which does not mimic breast milk at all – in fact, it contains dangerously high levels of vitamin A and insufficient amounts of other essential nutrients.
Exclusive breastfeeding is the ideal for healthy babies, but not all mothers can manage it. Some women are unable to breastfeed and some babies have trouble with it, too. Whatever the reason, if a baby is unable to breastfeed, World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines make it pretty clear that expressed breast milk is “the next best thing” to breast milk. Infant formulas, although not the perfect food for babies, have been tried and tested for a long time, so we know that you can raise a happy, healthy baby by feeding them exclusively on infant formula. They are scientifically created to have as close as possible to the right balance of nutrients a baby needs. The paleo “baby bone broth” formula, on the other hand, will leave babies consuming dangerously high levels of vitamin A, while not consuming enough of many other vitamins and minerals.
The dangers to a baby who consumes this kind of diet exclusively are very real. In an interview with The Australian Women’s Weekly magazine, the president of the Public Health Association of Australia warned:
There’s a very real possibility that a baby may die if this book goes ahead. … Especially if [the DIY formula] was the only food a parent was feeding their infant, it’s a very real risk. And the baby’s growth and development could be impaired.
The cookbook also advocates other diet dangers for babies, including feeding babies undercooked eggs and adding extra salt to their diet, which babies do not need. The Australian federal Health Ministry has been taking a very close look at the cookbook, as the “department is concerned about the inadequate nutritional values of some of the foods, in particular for infants, and is investigating further.”
Of course, scientists have been expressing concerns about the health values of the paleo diet overall. This diet is, theoretically, based on an ancient hunter-gatherer diet, but there are lots of issues with it, scientifically. Ancient hunter-gatherers lived a very different lifestyle from the one we live today. We drive cars, have sedentary jobs, and buy our food in a grocery store, none of which would have been even remote options for our ancient ancestors. Ancient hunter-gatherers would also have binge eaten due to scarcity of food and lack of refrigeration. Some meat may have been dehydrated or smoked, but in a typical hunter-gatherer society, any animal caught would have been eaten in its entirety by the group, right away. Hunter-gatherers may have gorged themselves but then not found any more food for another few days. Yet this is clearly not a healthy way to live.
Humans have changed physically, too, since the paleolithic days. We eat a much wider variety of foods today. The majority of hunter-gatherer societies subsisted on just a few different foods, as that was all that was locally available. However, since the invention of agriculture, humans have been able to cultivate dozens of different food crops at one time, in addition to the production of animals for meat and milk, and have adapted accordingly. Even domesticated dogs have physically adapted to a diet including grains, and so have humans. Avoiding giving a child any dairy can also place them at higher risk of developing an allergy to it in the future. Pulses are a much healthier protein alternative to animal fats and proteins, which humans do not digest well and which are linked to a lot of diseases ranging from heart disease to osteoporosis.
Speaking of animal fats and proteins, the paleo diet places a heavy emphasis on fish and meat. However, the meats we purchase today are typically much higher in fat content than wild meats – wild meat fat content is about 2%, while grain-fed commercially produced meat contains about 20% fat. The paleo diet does recommend wild or grass-fed meat, but these meats are very expensive, so I would be surprised if no adherents cut corners on that little detail. But I digress – the problem is that the majority of hunter-gatherer societies consumed very little meat at all, which is why humans are poorly adapted to meat consumption. “Meat was a celebration [because] you had to expend a lot of energy on the hunt,” says Professor Hayes of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, and not every hunt was successful, making meat very scarce. Any meat caught would have been shared with the entire tribe, as well, so individuals may not even have gotten a very large quantity of meat per person.
Certainly, hunter-gatherers would not have been feeding babies a formula made of chicken liver. That would never have entered their minds. All babies were fed breast milk – if not, they would die. There simply was no formula. If a mother could not breastfeed her baby, another mother in the group would suckle it along with her own baby. Breast milk was the only option and there was no alternative. I suppose that if parents on the paleo diet want to force their kids to be on this diet as well, the most accurate way to do so would be to find a wet nurse if you are unable to breastfeed.
The reality is that if parents want to raise healthy kids, the paleo diet is not the way to do it. It is simply not a nutritionally ideal diet for babies and children. In fact, it could even be making them unhealthy or, in the case of the chicken liver infant formula, actually risking their lives. By all means, take the good things from the paleo diet – avoid processed foods, cut out sugar – but keep the good things that are not paleo, too, like grains and pulses. This is the way to inspire healthy kids.