My friend Mike is a big fan of the Paleo diet. He swears that by nixing all grains, dairy and pulses (a type of legume) from his meals, he can shed weight without much effort. As an old-school kind of girl who prefers the food pyramid over a fad diet, I'm more than a little skeptical.
So when I heard that Aussie celebrity chef Pete Evans was coming out with a Paleo diet cookbook for babies, I thought it was a joke. In fact, I was thisclose to looking it up on Snopes. Deny growing children essential nutrients and vitamins? On purpose?
Then I read about the recipes. Some call for runny (read: raw) eggs and added salt—two additions no person needs, much less young children. And one, the DIY baby formula, can even be downright deadly for babies, warn health officials in Australia. That's because the formula—a foul-sounding concoction of liver and bone broth—contains more than 10 times the safe maximum intake of vitamin A and lacks other essential nutrients, reports Australian Women's Weekly.
So concerned are Australian officials about putting babies on the restricted regimen that they're delaying production of the cookbook, Bubba Yum Yum: The Paleo Way, while they investigate its claims. "In my view, there's a very real possibility that a baby may die if this book goes ahead," Professor Heather Yeatman, president of the Public Health Association of Australia, explained to The Weekly. "Especially if [the DIY formula] was the only food a parent was feeding their infant, it's a very real risk. And [I consider that] the baby's growth and development could be impaired."
To be fair, there are some selling points of the Paleo diet, says Satya D. Narisety, M.D.,a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pediatric Allergy, Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Rutgers University. Chief among them, its emphasis on consuming lean meats, fish, fruits and veggies and avoiding processed foods and refined sugars. "However, there are some very big problems with the diet's restriction of dairy, grains and legumes," she told Parents.com. "Strict adherence to this diet would set an infant and young child up for deficiencies in essential macronutrients, such as carbohydrates, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B, and certain micronutrients. These deficiencies can lead to increased weakness, very poor growth, impaired cognitive development and rickets, among other devastating consequences."
But unfortunately, it's easy to see how parents could be fooled into thinking the fad diet is right for their kids. There are the scores of people—like my friend Mike—who sing its praises, plus there are myriad health benefits it supposedly offers. In the cookbook, Evans suggests that going dairy-, grains- and legume-free could help prevent everything from autism and birth defects to GI issues and asthma. Of course, in a classic CYA move, there's also a disclaimer tucked away in there stating:"Although we in good faith believe that the information provided will help you live a healthier life, relying on the information contained in this publication may not give you the results you desire or may cause negative health consequences."
Talk about mixed signals! Your best bet, experts say, is to bypass the fad diets and stick with what we know works: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies under six months ingest only breast milk or formula. Meanwhile, older kiddos should have a healthy, balanced diet of whole grains, dairy, fruits, veggies, meats and legumes.
Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+
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