Parents: Your baby doesn’t need to go on a diet
An article is making the rounds on social media about mothers who are literally starving their children in the guise of feeding them healthy foods. No, this is not hyperbole. They are literally starving their children by denying them carbohydrates, fats and other necessary nutrients that a growing child needs.
Listen, there’s nothing particularly wrong with avoiding one or two foods. Don’t want your child to eat pasta, fine. But your child needs a certain caloric intake, and this must involve both carbohydrates (sugars), lipids (fats and oil), and trace amounts of other nutrients (salt, iron, calcium, etc). You get these by having a normal, regular and varied diet, and cutting out one or two foods won’t do any harm so long as your child still gets their nutrition from other sources. For example, I have a food aversion (a type of pavlovian response) to onions. As a result, onions are not allowed in my house. Shallots, however, are perfectly fine (yes I know they’re almost the same thing but for some reason my brain doesn’t think so).
The article is mainly a puff piece. It’s designed to insult noone and to have something that everyone can agree with. It promotes both sides of the arguments: quotes from the parents that promote these diets followed by differing opinions by nutrition experts. Its written in a neutral voice meaning it doesn’t take sides, which is generally a hallmark of good journalism when it comes to things like political stories, but when it comes to hard science it gives too much weight to factually incorrect claims.
In short: this piece is written so people who disagree with these diets can point it out to their friends and say “wow, these moms are crazy” and people who believe in these diets can point it out to their friends and say “see, these moms are doing it right.”
Some of the diets employed by these mothers are: putting children on paleo diets (i.e. nothing processed, mainly fruits, vegetables and meats), wheat and gluten free (completely useless unless your child has celiac disease) and some no-fat, no-dairy, no-sugar, no-enriched carbohydrate diets.
These diets are of little real value to adults but can be dangerous to children. Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of Anna Daniels, of the British Dietetic Association who says:
[Children’s] health can suffer too, she says. ‘If children go without dairy their bone development might suffer, and going without adequate carbohydrates is hugely damaging for growth and development.’
Another pull quote (again from Anna Daniels):
A child’s diet should be 50 per cent carbohydrates and those contained purely in fruit and vegetables are not enough, given the energy babies and toddlers expend and their rapid development.
This is in direct contradiction to Lizzy’s opinion, one of the mothers quoted in the story, who says:
I didn’t want my son to eat anything potentially harmful. Not only do refined carbohydrates contain toxins and chemicals, but they are addictive with no nutritional value
The scientific illiteracy here is maddening. Refined carbohydrates (i.e. pure sugar) do not contain “toxins” en mass. Some might if contaminated but that’s a separate issue. They do contain “chemicals” but unless Lizzy can name for me a food that is absent any chemicals this is a facile argument. They certainly do hold nutritional value (you literally need sugars to survive), and as far as being addictive, yes carbohydrate rich foods can be habit forming, as can any substance that affects our brain chemistry, from coffee (my personal addiction of choice) to black tar heroin. Refined sugars affect our brain chemistry (because our brain needs sugars literally to work) as does fruit juice, which can also become habit forming.
These diets are just maddeningly stupid, for several reasons. The paleo diet is probably the worst. It is based off of the ludicrous idea that, back when we were in the stone age and the average life expectancy was 30 years old, we were healthier. Therefore, we should eat similar foods to what our paleolithic ancestors did: mainly meats and vegetables. This specifically precludes any processed foods, including dairy products (domestication of animals happened after the paleolithic era) and bread, flour, refined sugar, etc. If you can’t follow the logic that because there is none.
Wheat and gluten free is equally ridiculous. Gluten itself is a protein found in wheat. Removing that protein removes much of the flavor and much of the caloric value and all of the taste (that last bit is my personal opinion). As a result, many gluten free foods are in fact higher in sugars and salt than their gluten containing counterparts. It is in fact no way healthier for an adult and might be damaging to a child.
Removing fats and dairy from your child’s diet is dangerous. You literally need fat in your system. You will die without fat. Children need dairy, or some other source of calcium, to promote proper bone growth. Unless your child is lactose intolerant, go ahead and give them milk. As an aside, do not get untreated, raw milk. The risk of bacterial infection is very high.
All of these diets are minimally effective at controlling weight at best in an adult. At worst they are damaging. But, adults are allowed to be stupid with their eating habits. Babies, on the other hand, can’t control what they eat. It is up to parents to make good choices for them.
Sadly, that’s what these parents think they are doing. They’re not purposefully hurting their children; rather they believe they are keeping them healthy. People like Vani Hari (AKA the Food Babe) and others have tricked these well intentioned parents into believing that GMOS are harmful, Organics are healthier, and that wheat, sugars and glutens are evil. None of these are true. Yes there is an obesity epidemic in the US and other nations, but this is because of over indulgences in sugars, fats, oil, all foods that we need to survive in moderate amounts but in excessive amounts will do damage to us.
Nutrition isn’t so much the actual type of food we eat, rather it’s the amount of foods we eat (assuming we get a proper variety, that is).
So parents, please don’t put your child on a paleo or gluten free diet. Your child will be healthy so long as you give them the proper amount of proteins, fats, sugars and various other nutrients they need to grow.