Baby Paleo Diet Cookbook Unhealthy and On Hold

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.

Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet for Kids

Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet for Kids

For the past couple of days, I’ll admit it, I’ve been pretty hard on the Paleo Diet.  Could it be more obvious that I’m not a fan of low-carb diets?  I believe that the key to inspiring kids to eat a healthy diet is an appropriate balance of healthy foods.  The Paleo Diet never claims that foods like whole grains and legumes are unhealthy – it merely claims they make you fat.  And because the Paleo Diet is a low carb weight loss diet dressed up like an ideological attempt to get in touch with our cro-magnon roots, its true goal is not to get adherents to eat healthy, as one might first assume, but rather to get adherents to lose weight through carbohydrate deprivation.

Fresh fruit - banana, strawberry, pineapple, blueberry

Statements like this one, from

Eat high-sugar fruits in moderation. They’re great for you, but it’s easy to overdo it. Remember, your caveman ancestors didn’t have access to Florida’s orange groves 24/7, so you probably shouldn’t try to eat a bushel of oranges in your next paleo diet meal.

bring to light this wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing issue with the paleo diet.  My friends, our caveman ancestors would have eaten a bushel of oranges a day on days when oranges were in season. Of course they would have! It would have been folly not to.  Our ancestors would also have dried fruit and eaten it all year round.  But when it was in season, they would have eaten as much fresh fruit as they possibly could have. And it’s healthy for your kids to eat lots of fruit!  It’s far better than sweets and the sugars it contains won’t make your kids fat.  They can eat as many bananas and oranges as they want and as long as they’re eating a healthy, balanced diet, they won’t get fat from fruit.  (Incidentally, there is even a whole group of fruitarians out there who eat only fruit, but the health impacts of this kind of extreme diet on children is a post for another day.)  Don’t kid yourself, folks – the paleo diet is a low-carb weight loss diet and nothing more.

Having said all of that, the paleo diet does have some good points, some things that do make it advantageous for children’s health.  It advocates completely eliminating all sweets and processed meats.  This is fantastic! And by cutting out carbohydrates on the Paleo Diet, potato chips, French fries, white bread, and white rice are no longer being consumed.  These are really fantastic steps.  If more people would adopt these basic tenets of the paleo diet it would go a long way to reducing the obesity epidemic among our children.

But these benefits do not outweigh the health dangers of putting your child on the paleo diet I have explored in the last two days.  Cut out the processed foods, the white grains, and the sweets, and you’ll start seeing some of the paleo diet benefits over time.  But if you cut out the good stuff, too, like legumes and grains, restrict the vegetables your kids can eat, and increase their meat consumption, you are putting them at risk of serious health problems.  As adults, we can make the decision to put our health at risk.  We can decide to do foolish things that we know will make us sick.  But should we really enforce these decisions – which we know will have negative consequences – on our children, too?

I think not.

Take the good parts of the Paleo Diet and apply them in your kids’ diets right now.  I promise they will do a world of good.  But leave the rest behind.

Read more about the Paleo Diet:
What is the Paleo Diet?
Is the Paleo Diet Healthy for Kids? (Part 1)
Is the Paleo Diet Healthy for Kids? (Part 2)

Is the Paleo Diet Healthy for Kids? (Part 2)

Is the Paleo Diet Healthy for Kids? (Part 2)

Yesterday I addressed two major reasons (and one minor one) why the Paleo Diet is unhealthy for kids, both of which focus on what is not allowed.  Today I am going to address my third major problem with the Paleo Diet, which focuses on what is emphasized for consumption.  I’ll also consider the benefits of the Paleo Diet for kids and

The third major reason I think the Paleo Diet is unhealthy in general, but especially for kids, is its emphasis on meat eating.  Of course if you’re cutting out carbohydrates, you’ll need something to make you feel full and spinach isn’t likely to do it, so meat it is.  And if you’re cutting out other primary sources of protein like beans, pulses, legumes, and tofu, then meat it is.  The paleo diet does permit one to eat nuts (although you’re warned not to eat too much of higher carb nuts like cashews), but how many nuts is your child going to eat? And remember, peanuts are a legume, so they are not permitted.  When I was a kid the only way you could get me to eat nuts was in the form of creamy peanut butter, if that!  The paleo diet, like the Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diet before it, is just another typical low-carb diet with a strong emphasis on replacing grains with meat.  At least the meats that are recommended are grass-fed or free range or wild, but even so, too much meat (I would argue any at all) is not good for your child.  Human bodies don’t process animal fat well, for one, so feeding your child lots of paleo diet-inspired meat is only setting them up for health problems later in life.  Meat is high in protein and a few other nutrients, such as B12, or iron in red meat, but it is mostly nutritionally devoid.  There’s a lot of oxidants in meat but no antioxidants, folks.

Grilled SteakAnother big problem with this huge meat emphasis in the paleo diet is that by substituting meat for other foods that make you feel full, you’re putting your child at risk of becoming sick.  Eating too much meat literally forces your child’s body into a state of ketosis.  Ketosis is a syndrome that occurs when your body does not have enough carbohydrates or sugars to burn for energy.  The result is that your body begins to burn fat and ketones build up in your bloodstream.  Did you know that ketosis sets in after only 3-4 days on the paleo diet?

Some of the symptoms of ketosis, such as bad breath and nausea are well-known.  But it also causes other problems.  By depriving your child of carbohydrates, you’re putting their body into a “starvation” mode in which their body will store every available extra carbohydrate.  The paleo diet could actually make your child gain weight, particularly if they cheat when they get the chance, such as at school or with friends.  The first fat to burn up in a ketosis state is your glycogen stores around your organs, which means your child won’t have as much energy to sustain intense physical activity, like running around outside and playing, or playing sports with friends, both of which are important activities for kids, physically, socially, and mentally.  Without intense physical activity, your kids aren’t building the lean muscle they need as a foundation for their bodies and for a high metabolism that will help keep them more trim.

Here are some of the other health dangers of the paleo diet:

  • High Cholesterol – People are now testing high in cholesterol at very young ages, including in children.  Cardiovascular disease, including high risk of heart attack and stroke, has its roots in childhood.  A diet high in meat like the paleo diet is setting your child up for cardiovascular disease later in life.
  • Kidney Problems – Digesting meat puts a lot of strain on the kidneys because there are a lot of extra proteins, fats, and toxins in them the body has to strain out of the blood.  This can also lead to kidney stones.
  • Osteoporosis – Osteoporosis is setting in at younger and younger ages and bone density loss is now being detected in young people, especially young women.  A diet that is too high in protein means your body is excreting that acidic protein in your urine (a symptom of ketosis), but that acid cannot be excreted on its own – it has to be partnered with a base. The most plentiful base in your body? Calcium, which is excreted in high levels when on the paleo diet.  Worried your child isn’t getting enough calcium to strengthen their growing bones? So why would you put them on a diet that causes them to lose the calcium they’ve already got?
  • Vitamin & Nutrient Deficiencies – If your child is not eating any grains, and is eating less fruit and vegetables on this diet, they are likely to be deficient in a number of phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.  Supplements are great but the best way to absorb these essential building blocks of our bodies is by consuming a healthy diet.  Kids need a proper balance of nutrients even more than adults because their bodies are still growing and developing.
  • Other Long-Term Health Problems – lists some additional long-term health concerns: Your liver is exposed to extra stress as it is forced to assist with manufacturing glucose from fats and proteins, potentially toxic amounts of ammonia are produced as proteins are converted into glucose, your body has a more difficult time producing mucus and the immune system becomes impaired as risk of pathogenic infection increases, and your body loses the ability to produce compounds called glycoproteins, which are vital to cellular functions. The result? By putting your child on the paleo diet, you might actually be making them sick.

With all this in mind, are these really the kinds of things you want to be doing to your child?  As parents, we want to inspire healthy kids, not make our kids sick!

My conclusion: The Paleo Diet is bad for kids.

Is the Paleo Diet Healthy for Kids? (Part 1)

Is the Paleo Diet Healthy for Kids? (Part 1)

Yesterday I addressed some of my personal concerns about the paleo diet.  My conclusion was that although the paleo diet brands itself as being the diet of our ancestors, it does not actually follow through on this claim.  Instead, it is actually just another fad diet with weight loss as its goal.  This being the case, it is not a healthy diet for kids.

Kids need to eat a balanced diet.  They need a healthy balance of all types of nutrients.  The goal of the paleo diet is to eliminate most carbohydrates and starches, which are the essential fuel sources for our cells.  Children, who are growing and who tend to have a higher level of energy and activity, need these nutrients.

This is the biggest reason the paleo diet is unhealthy for children: its lack of grains.  Unfortunately, most children today are eating highly processed grains.  White bread, white potatoes, and white rice – remember, if it’s white, it isn’t nice! These foods are pretty much devoid of nutritional value and convert directly to sugars in our digestive tracts.  However, whole grain wheat, oats, quinoa, and brown (or especially wild) rice are all really healthy sources of nutrition for kids.  They contains vitamins, minerals, and proteins children need to grow and the fuel their bodies need to remain active.

Brown Rice

If your child is overweight, change the types of grains they’re eating.  Cut back on the volume.  But do not cut them out entirely.

Another downfall of the paleo diet is the restrictions placed on the types of vegetables and fruits consumed.  Children need as many minerals, vitamins, and nutrients as they can possibly get.  Fresh (especially raw, but sometimes lightly cooked) vegetables are the very best source of these elements.  The way to absorb the maximum amount of needed nutrients is to eat as great a variety of vegetables as possible.  Eat a rainbow of vegetables!   The paleo diet recommends you eat these vegetables:

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Celery
  • Broccoli
  • Zucchini
  • Cabbage
  • Peppers (all kinds)
  • Cauliflower
  • Parsley
  • Eggplant
  • Green onions
Are you saying I need to give up my tomato for the paleo diet?!

Are you saying I need to give up my tomato for the paleo diet?!

These are fantastic, super healthy vegetables, to be sure!  But what about other vegetables?  Tomatoes are a staple for me (my 1-year-old eats them like other kids eat apples) and their high lycopene content makes them really healthy. Sure, squash and pumpkin may be sweet and starchy, but they’re also chock full of Vitamin A, with just a half a cup containing an entire day’s recommended intake (but don’t worry, eating more than that isn’t going to hurt your child).  We also eat a wide variety of unusual fruits and vegetables.  Fresh currants, bitter gourd, sunchokes, and lotus root are a few recent items we’ve enjoyed in our house.  I make a beautiful vegan Asian cucumber salad that would be off the list (especially because the dressing contains mirin!).  And the roasted root vegetable frittata I made for dinner last night? Well, it contains parsnip, rutabaga, turnip, celeriac, and beets. Green beans (I LOVE GREEN BEANS!), peas, and sugar snap peas are all strictly forbidden.

My point is, the paleo diet list of recommended vegetables leaves a lot of basic veggies out, and these vegetables are really healthy and good for your kids to eat.  Most parents have a hard enough time getting their kids to eat vegetables – why restrict them even more?!


Beans and legumesThe second biggest flaw of the paleo diet is that legumes are forbidden. Sure, okay, the peas I complained about missing above really belong in this category.  Beans are hugely nutritious and some type of legume or pulse is a staple in pretty much every native diet around the world.  Most people know that beans are a great source of vegetable protein (about 16 grams of protein per cup of cooked beans), but did you know that they are also extremely nutrient dense? They deliver a very high amount of vitamins and minerals per calorie consumed.  Beans are a fantastic source of phosphorus, manganese, copper, and magnesium, which are all nutrients in which Americans tend to be deficient.  They are high in thiamin and folic acid (very important for pregnant mums!) and are good sources of riboflavin and B6. Some beans are also very high in iron, particularly white beans. There is so much more to beans than just protein.

The paleo diet clearly prohibits certain foods that have a lot of health benefits for children, whose developing bodies are sensitive and require the right amounts of vitamins and nutrients to grow and thrive.  It also cuts out carbohydrates that are necessary for healthy energy production (more on that tomorrow), with dire health consequences if not enough are consumed.

So far, the paleo diet isn’t looking like a safe bet for inspiring healthy kids and making a positive change in kids lives through diet.

What is the Paleo Diet? What is Wrong with the Paleo Diet?

What is the Paleo Diet? What is Wrong with the Paleo Diet?

The paleo diet is a diet that purportedly imitates what prehistoric humans ate.  This includes meat, fish, vegetables, nuts, and fruit, but excludes things like grains and processed foods.  Some people believe that going back to a more “natural” diet will somehow make us healthier.

I have a number of problems with this concept.  The paleo diet is, like the Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diet, simply a fad diet.

There are a number of inconsistencies in this diet that kind of get on my nerves, to be honest.  The most noteworthy is the prohibition against eating grains. Early humans certainly ate some grains, which they would have harvested wild.  Wild rice, wild oats, wild barley, and the seeds of other wild grasses would have been available for harvest from the many plains environments and early humans would definitely have eaten these foods.

The same objection applies for the prohibition on legumes.  Almost every culture in the world consumes legumes as a main staple, which is no accident.  Legumes do grow naturally in the environment, they are incredibly healthy, and of course our early ancestors would have eaten them!  The paleo prohibition against legumes and grains has nothing to do with its stated objectives of eating a more “prehistoric” diet.

A lot of paleo diets I have seen emphasize using coconut flour as a substitute for regular flour.  Seriously?! How many prehistoric humans do you think spent their time making coconut flour?!  A lot of them wouldn’t even have been living in places where there were coconuts, let alone coconut flour.  To me, using things like coconut flour or coconut sugar is kind of cheating on the concept.  Unless, of course, you make them yourself, which is (I’m pretty sure) more effort than 99.9999% of paleo dieters do.

The truth is that if you want to go back to a more “natural” diet, you should look at what grows naturally in your area.  Live in an area with oak trees? Eat acorns.  Eat wild greens.  Eat dandelions.  Hunt squirrels and venison.  Live in a tropical environment? Eat coconuts. Eat edible flowers.  Hunt monkeys.

But when you look at lists of paleo-friendly meats, you will quickly notice something.  Not only is the list of meats more than three times longer than the list of vegetables, but it is also far more diverse than any prehistoric human would ever be eating.  Prehistoric humans, it is true, probably caught and ate any animal they could, but you would never catch the same human eating bison and buffalo.  That’s because bison lived in North America and buffalo lived in Europe. Prehistoric humans would have found crossing the Atlantic mighty hard.  Yet you could have both of these meats and still be “paleo.”

Not to mention that modern domesticated animals like pigs, chickens, and cows are on the list.  Seriously?  Wild boar, I understand.  Pheasants and quail, I get.  Aurochs makes sense.  But pigs, chickens, and cows as they exist today are a very far cry from what our ancestors ate.

The fact is, humans living off the land in any time period would have eaten a limited diet.  They would have eaten what was seasonal and available in their area.  If they were nomadic, they would have seen more range, but probably not more variety.  My husband mentioned that in Papua New Guinea when he stayed with natives, they ate sweet potatoes and spinach every day, for every meal, with a bit of rice sometimes.  Native diets don’t vary much.  What would people living in Japan or coastal China have been eating tens of thousands of years ago? Wild rice and fish, similar to what they still eat today.  If you want to truly eat a “paleo” diet, then you should be eating the same few items day in and day, flavored with fresh herbs and possibly a pinch of sea salt (salt was so rare even 1500 years ago that Roman soldiers were paid their wages in valuable salt – hence the word “salary”).

If someone claims to be doing something for an ideological reason, I can respect that.  If you want to eat like a Neanderthal, that’s fine by me.  But call a spade a spade or I just cannot respect it.  The “paleo” diet simply is NOT what it claims to be.  It is a jazzed up version of the South Beach Diet, a watered down version of Atkins, but it is not the kind of diet our ancestors ate.

And who said our ancestors ate healthy, anyway?