Baby on paleo diet

Should an infant be on a Paleo diet? Our nutritionist says no!

Last updated on Jan 25, 2017

If you have been following this blog, you probably know that my wife and I use the Paleo diet as the framework of our dietary lifestyle. During a recent visit to the doctor’s office, a nutritionist strongly objected to the Paleo diet because it apparently doesn’t provide the nutrients babies need to grow. So according to the nutritionist, babies should not be on a paleo diet! Continue reading to find out what’s fact vs. opinion!

Paleo in our family

Our older daughter Isabella was already a toddler when we changed our eating habits towards a more Paleo-influenced lifestyle, and neither us nor our pediatrician had any concerns of Isabella to follow suit. Lucas, our preemie, recently started eating table food and was ready to transition from formula to cow’s milk.  Due to his prematurity and the doctor’s desire to accelerate his weight gain, we saw a nutritionist to help us figure out how to fortify cow’s milk with formula to boost the calories per ounce.

Baby on Paleo diet
Original USDA Food Pyramid

First issue: cow’s milk and calcium

During the first visit to the nutritionist, she recommended transitioning Lucas to cow’s milk slowly. We asked if she had objections to using Almond Milk instead, which doesn’t have Lactose. Her response that he would need cow’s milk because of the calcium already gave an indication that she was very much a follower of the traditional food pyramid, which I strongly associate with the “The low-fat diet lie,” also known as the lipid hypothesis. It is true that Almond Milk doesn’t have as much calcium as cow’s milk has, but it’s also a fact that there are plenty of other foods that have more calcium than regular milk. In fact, milk is #14 on the list of foods with the highest amount of calcium per serving. And we regularly eat 9 out of the 13 foods that have more calcium than cow’s milk.

Ultimately, Kathy and I concluded that we are OK giving Lucas cow’s milk until the age of 2.5 or so. That’s how long Isabella drank cow’s milk, and by that age, the human body is still sufficiently capable of processing Lactose. It’s important to note that this capability will naturally fade with age.

Baby on Paleo diet: Cow's milk
We feed Lucas organic milk from grass-fed cows

What left a bad taste in my mouth was that the nutritionist only tried to force her opinion on us, without having sufficient facts to back it up. She made it sound like, cow’s milk is the only and most important source of calcium, and that’s simply a falsehood, or, as the new White House administration likes to call it, an alternative fact.

Second issue: Grains and legumes

During the second visit, the subject of table food (solids) came up, and our nutritionist boldly claimed that removing any food group from Lucas’ diet could potentially harm his growth. Specifically, she objected to removing grains and legumes as they apparently provide essential nutrients that cannot be found in any other foods. This time she zeroed in on the importance of B-Vitamins, which I don’t object to. To make her case, she sent a link to a study called B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose, and Efficacy—A Review.

Of course, I took the time to read the study. Its main takeaways are:

  • All B-Vitamins are important, not just the more popular ones
  • It’s still unclear what the daily recommended dose for the less popular B-Vitamins is
  • The Mediterranean Diet promotes better absorption of B-Vitamins than the Western Diet

While I wholeheartedly agree with the study, nowhere did it say that grains and legumes are what makes the Mediterranean Diet so healthy, nor did it say that removing those, potentially inflammation-causing, foods from the diet prevents one from getting sufficient B-Vitamins. In fact, I took the time to find the top 10 foods that contain each B-Vitamin.

Spoiler alert: You don’t need grains or legumes in your diet to get sufficient Vitamin B.

Opinion vs. Facts

As a result of my research, I took the liberty of sending our nutritionist an email by laying out my findings and asking for scientific evidence that would proof me wrong. To protect her identity, I’ll call her Amanda.

Dear Amanda,

I understand you are taking great care of Lucas, our preemie. My wife forwarded me the link below, and I understood it as proof that our Paleo diet is depriving Lucas of nutrients, such as B-vitamins. I read the study and can’t say I disagree. We chose the Paleo diet as the framework of our nutrition because we concluded that the western diet is indeed not healthy. As I’m sure you are aware, the Paleo diet is rich in vegetables (carbs), healthy fats and protein.

The linked study talks about the importance of all B vitamins, not just the popular ones. So I took the liberty of looking up the top 10 foods for every B vitamin. Not to my surprise, most top 5 foods are Paleo-compatible and on our menu. I have found only two legumes in the top 5 list for B9. Fortunately, there are plenty of other veggies we do eat that contain B9. See the list below of Paleo-compatible foods that are in the top 5 for each B vitamin category.

Except in one case, I did not find any grains in the top 5 list. I do get your point of not removing important food categories from one’s diet. I do feel the same way about vegans and vegetarians, but the big difference is that their diet is based on a moral choice and not on scientific evidence. Our choice is based on science and 2.6 million years of evolution, during which time, we did not eat grains or legumes that require being cooked for safe consumption. We ate animal fat, vegetables, meat, seeds, seafood and seasonal fruits. I understand that our bodies evolve and have evolved, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it doesn’t happen quite as fast as our dietary habits do.

That being said, we do eat cheese (aged), and our kids have been getting cow’s milk for the first three years of life. Once their body naturally reduces the production of lactase, we switch to Almond milk. The calcium they get from almonds, spinach, cheese (aged), salmon, etc. – all of which have more calcium than cow’s milk.

Top 5 Paleo-compatible foods containing B-Vitamins
B1: Fish, Pork, Seeds
B2: Cheese, Almonds, Beef
B3: Fish, Chicken/Turkey, Pork
B5: Mushrooms, Cheese, Oily fish
B6: Seeds, Nuts, Fish, Turkey/Chicken
B9: Dark leafy greens, Asparagus, Lettuce, Avocado
B12: Shellfish, Liver, Fish, Crab, Red Meat

So while I appreciate your concern, I’m afraid I’ll need more scientific evidence to include what I consider potentially unhealthy foods, such as grains and legumes, which have the potential to cause inflammation, without providing nutrients that we cannot get from healthier sources.

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Amanda’s response was, unfortunately, a little less useful than what I expected:

Hey there,
Thank you for contacting me. While we may disagree I will be happy to analyze a food log for Lucas to ensure he is meeting requirements for adequate growth and development.
Attached is the form. Please ensure quantities are listed.

So I replied again, asking for scientific evidence:

Thanks for your reply! Can you please elaborate on what parts of my email you disagree with and do you have scientific evidence for those areas that suggest that my understanding is factually incorrect?

Conclusion

As of this writing, I haven’t gotten answers to the fundamental questions I asked Amanda:

  • What part of the email above do you think is factually incorrect?
  • What are essential nutrients exclusive to grains and legumes that Lucas cannot get from other (healthy) food sources?

The only valuable piece of information she sent was related to what’s called Oral Immunotherapy. So if an infant is known to have food allergies (i.e. to eggs or peanuts), new studies suggest that by consuming those allergens, symptoms are likely to improve over time. Lucas had an allergy test, and it came back negative, except for a light sensitivity to egg white, which he will probably outgrow according to his doctor. We’ll continue feeding him small amounts of egg white to support this Oral Immunotherapy.

Everything else Amanda has sent so far is either irrelevant for us (i.e. concerns about the impact of a vegan or vegetarian diet on toddlers), or it lacks scientific evidence. I’m not a medical professional or a scientist, and so I have to rely on those who know more about the subject than I do. However, I consider myself to be of average intelligence and smart enough to recognize scientific evidence when I see it. What I don’t do is to blindly follow someone’s opinion if it lacks such evidence and when the evidence that I have seen points in a different direction.

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Baby on paleo diet
Isabella chewing on broccoli

I have heard of and seen many picky toddlers, who only eat Mac & Cheese all day and society seems to be OK with that. In the end, they’re just picky eaters. Our kids eat cauliflower, broccoli, olives, carrots, nuts, spinach, tomatoes, avocado, fish, meat and many other healthy food options that my wife puts on our plates every day. I’m just having issues taking anyone seriously who claims that our kids are deprived of essential nutrients because they don’t get sugar-loaded corn flakes in the morning, bread for lunch and Mac & Cheese in the evening.

Michael Kummer

🇦🇹 Austrian 📜 Blogger 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 Father of a princess and a preemie 🥑 Fan of Paleo lifestyle 💻 Technologist ✈️ Frequent flyer 📱Amateur photographer