Last week, a book publisher announced they would not publish a paleo cookbook for babies after experts expressed serious safety concerns. Today, nutritionist Dr Joanna McMillan weighs in on the debate.
We get the science behind the diet.
After all the uproar in media last week over authorities stepping in to prevent a Paleo for babies book being published in its current form, I thought it timely to discuss the nutrition science of infant nutrition and whether or not a Paleo diet is suitable, desirable or dangerous.
Let’s start with the most controversial aspect – the proposed alternative baby formula consisting of a bone broth (i.e. stock) with added liver amongst other ingredients.
Now for most of us, liver is a highly nutritious food and many would undoubtedly benefit from adding it to their diet. But not everyone. During pregnancy women are advised to avoid liver due to the extremely high levels of vitamin A, which can cause deformities in the unborn child. This is well-established science and back in Paleo days gone by our savvy ancestors may well have worked this out for themselves.
So can babies eat liver? Well, yes they can. Our Australian Infant Feeding Guidelines list liver amongst suitable foods that can be given to babies from around six months (exclusive breast feeding is recommended before then). It is around this time that babies need to get more iron than they obtain from breast milk and liver is indeed an excellent source of iron.
The concern however with this ‘Paleo formula’ is the quantity of liver and the frequency it would be fed to the baby. Consider that half a cooked chicken liver (about 10g) contains almost double the upper limit recommended for vitamin A for an infant aged 6-12 months. Lamb liver is even higher with the same quantity providing 4.5 times what is considered the safe upper limit.
You can see that while a small quantity of liver once or twice a week as part of a mixed meal might be a wonderful nutrient boost, drinking a liver-rich broth daily could be extremely dangerous. Amongst other problems, chronic vitamin A toxicity can cause bone abnormalities. Interestingly these have been found in fossil remains of early humans and thought to be due to too much vitamin A.
There is also currently a spotlight on protein recommendations for infants. I will soon be the Master of Ceremonies for a research symposium where experts are presenting their research showing that excess protein in infancy leads to a greater risk of being overweight later in life. Just read that again. In an age where we seem to be obsessed with protein as the magic bullet to weight control and good health this should stop us short. Giving babies and young kids a high protein diet is not appropriate and potentially damaging to their long-term health.