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Is the Paleo Diet Safe for Kids?

05/10/2015 11:12 EDT | Updated 05/10/2016 05:59 EDT
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Food trends are constantly changing be it: Paleo, vegan, low fat, low carb, raw and alkaline, there are many options to choose from. Adults may be jumping on the band-wagon, but are these food fads safe for children?

For those who need a quick primer, the Paleo diet encourages us to eat the way our Paleolithic ancestors did; eliminating sugar, processed foods, grains and legumes and focusing instead on meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. Essentially, meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables are allowed but grains, rice, potatoes and processed foods are off the menu.

The Paleo diet has received some recent attention as a new recipe book for babies and toddlers. A major criticism and key concern is a DIY baby formula based on bone broth and liver. This is a recipe for disaster (pun intended). It contains 10 times the safe amount of vitamin A for babies, which can cause vitamin A toxicity and can cause death. The book lost it's publisher due to safety concerns, so the author published it independently. If the comments on his Facebook page are anything to go by, he has plenty of support from members of his "tribe" who still intend to buy it.

Don't get me wrong, I think the Paleo diet has many merits. It is low carb and low sugar. This is of huge benefit in our world of fast food meals and processed treats. I think kids and adults alike eat far too many processed foods, and I worry about its impact on obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer. I am all for healthy foods that look like they did when they were pulled from the ground or from a tree.

I have celiac disease and therefore eat no wheat, barley or rye. We use many Paleo-type cookbooks at home, favouring proteins, vegetables and fruits in our meals. However, we consume a fair amount of rice and other grains such as quinoa and my kids are not limited to my gluten free diet.

Paleo Babies

For the first year of a baby's life, nutrition should come from mother's breast milk as often as possible. Babies grow quickly and getting adequate nutrition is paramount. Breastfeeding provides a baby with all the nutrients he or she needs to develop. Breastfeeding also transfers healthy bacteria from the mother's digestive tract, supporting healthy digestion later in life.

In traditional hunter-gatherer societies, babies breastfeed for years, an uncommon choice nowadays. So what is a Paleo mother to do if she is no longer able or no longer wants to breastfeed? Unfortunately, over-the-counter baby formula is almost as far from Paleo as it's possible to get. It may be tempting to provide your Paleo baby with homemade infant formula, but this practice is wrought with potential complications, from bacterial contamination to nutritional deficiencies and possible toxicities.

What About the Paleo Diet After Infancy?

While I love the emphasis on avoiding processed foods, hard core Paleo dieters may miss our on necessary food groups including whole grains, dairy and legumes, and it may lack variety. For Toddlers and teenagers dairy is essential to consume for sufficient calcium to support bone development.

Families can eat a Paleo diet that is varied and ensures adequate nutrition for their children. But make sure that you plan this diet carefully to make sure your children are getting sufficient variety and are not missing out on essential vitamins and nutrients required for normal development.

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