We know nutrients are key to proper development.It’s becoming more common to see women following a special diet during pregnancy, perhaps preconception too, but at the very least there’s an insistence on taking prenatal vitamins to avoid physical defects in our babies: think folic acid (B9), which is necessary for proper neural tube development to avoid spina bifida, and vitamin A has been shown in studies to be integral to eye development.
It follows that babies too need a special diet, where we know they will get the nutrients key to their optimal development and health. But is the answer Paleo, a return to our ancestoral, traditional, most primal foods? A baby is the most primal we can be after all.
The most primal and the most nutritious food for a baby is mom’s milk, where possible. It is the most perfect food, complete with all he needs for his first 6months, coupled with mom’s love, of course. The breastfeeding or formula debate is such a big topic and if possible the answer is simply breastfeed as much as you can – if you can’t then look for the most natural (Paleo) alternative such as camel or goat milk, or look to making your own from some great resources out there.
So is Paleo the best start for a baby over 6months, where their body is looking for more than mom can provide? Think of that first food, breast milk, an animal food, over 50% fat, full of immune building antibodies and enzymes for digestion. It follows his first foods need to be too.
But a baby’s first foods shouldn’t be solid until he’s ready. A baby cannot digest solid foods at first because his pancreas doesn’t make any of its own digestive enzymes. He’s also still building up friendly flora (probiotics) along his intestinal wall, which will eventually make digestive enzymes too.
Without digestive enzymes or digestion aiding beneficial bacteria you can see a baby’s reliance on moms milk as a source of predigested food. Add to that, babies are born with what is called ‘open gut’, where the joins in the wall are purposefully open to allow breast milk antibodies to travel through into the immune system and initiate immunity for baby. Leaky gut is it’s adult antithesis and results from these tight junctures in our intestinal wall opening too far from poor digestion, allowing bigger than normal particles to travel in our blood and thus creating an immune reaction, allergy, sensitivity (even auto-immune reaction should it go on for long enough).
It’s here where Paleo’s benefits begin to shine through, not just reducing chronic inflammation in adults but perhaps it’s ultimate beginnings in preventing that inflammation as allergies in the first place in babies. It would seem Paleo is the answer to a baby’s first foods, but not just any old Paleo, sourcing is key: good quality protein (for its wall building amino acids), more saturated fat (especially for baby’s brain development), fermented foods (enzymes are the key to unlocking food molecules for use in the first place), and avoiding grains (his pancreas doesn’t make any carbohydrate digesting enzymes so is functionally grain intolerant until about one year old).
So it is safe to raise a ‘Paleo’ baby?
It depends. For as many people as one diet works for, there will be just as many as it doesn’t. But what I love about Paleo, especially in regards to babies, is that it gets parents and babies eating food that is natural and unprocessed: its emphasis on saturated fat, recognition of the value of fermented foods with their digestive enhancing enzymes, and its avoidance of processed carbohydrates are enormous health wins for adults and babies alike.
No matter what you choose, an emphasis on source and processing is key. And we need to start listening to our own bodies like we listen to our babies needs: be conscious about how food works for you. One man’s food is another man’s poison. We can all better develop our digestion: if we can’t digest our food then we won’t benefit from the nutrients whether it’s Paleo or not.