Kids, Paleo and Nutrient Density
I really do need to Sexify my blog titles like Dr. Harris does! Ok, This needs to be a quiky but I’ve been deluged with this question of late and I want a singular place to address it. The question? “Will my kids “miss anything” nutritionally with a Paleo diet?”
Great question and this really gets right at the brass-tacks of how the paleo concept stacks up against other nutritional approaches in terms of nutrient density.
Before we get to that let’s look at this issue of feeding kiddos. As a conscientious parent, one would assume you would want to feed your child the “best” you can, right? Make sure they get all the building blocks for brain development, bones, strong immune function etc. This is the concern surrounding paleo-kids on the part of parents, dietitians and physicians: Without grains, legumes and diary our children will be horribly stunted and unhealthy.
This is what we will call our Null-Hypothesis: Without Neolithic foods (breads, grains, dairy, etc.) our children will receive inadequate nutrition to live and thrive. We will likely observe diseases of deficiency in our children if this Hypothesis is true.
Now, how might we go about proving or disproving this Hypothesis?
1-We could argue. This might even be productive. I could site historical anecdotes which might be compelling, but it’s really not “proof” one way or the other.
2-I could character-assassinate anyone that disagrees with me. This is great fun to be sure, but actually moves us further away from the question at hand.
3-Quantify. We could compare and contrast different nutritional mixes and see what type of trends emerge. Perhaps there are foods that are inherently MORE nutritious for a given number of calories than other foods? Yes, indeed there are more and less nutritious foods.
Let’s look at a few papers and some charts from those papers. This first paper is:
From: Origins and evolution of the western diet: Health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81:341-54.
This table compares the relative nutrient density between various foods. To make this comparison we need to look at how many vitamins and minerals a given food has relative to it’s caloric content, in this case 418 kJ (about 100 Cals). The “best foods” receive a 7 ranking, the “worst” a 1 ranking. What we find is whole grains are piss-poor nutritionally as compared to veggies, fruits, lean meats and seafood.
Now let’s look at:
First, let’s consider Table 2 from that paper:
1-The protein is high. No, it will not give you kidney disease, no it will not hasten osteoporosis. We can talk about those specific topics in another post.
2-It is NOT “low carb”. You could obviously modify this as per your desires, either up or down, but paleo is NOT synonymous with low carb.
3-Fiber. Oi-vey! If I had a nickel for every hand-wringing dietitian and MD who could not figure out how to get fiber without bran-muffins and oatmeal. 42g is far more then that recommended even by the fiber-conscious ADA.
4-The omega-3/omega-6 fat ratio is spot on at about 1.5 6 per 3. Kids brains need both long chain essential fats and this meal plan provides FAR more than what is possible with grains, legumes and dairy.
Finally let’s look at Table 4 from that same paper:
Kreiki! Look at that. If you consume a paleo diet it LOOKS like you are taking a nutritional supplement. Several hundred if not thousand times the RDA in various nutrients, all from food sources. The only thing “lacking” is calcium, which is based on at best misguided information, at worst outright lies on the part of the ADA/AMA with regards to appropriate calcium flux through our bodies. This article shed some light on the calcium topic.
So, let’s re-visit that Null-Hypothesis: If I eat a paleo diet (or feed it to my kids) I/they will become nutrient deficient. If you notice, We have a meal plan built from the most nutritious foods available (lean meats, seafood, veggies, fruits and nuts) and the result is a remarkably nutritious meal plan. Now, our brilliant RD’s, professors of nutrition and most physicians will SWEAR that you will die without grains, legumes and dairy…but what will happen if we REMOVE one of the favorable food categories (like lean meats) and ADD one of the unfavorable food categories (like grains)? Folks, I hope this is obvious to you, the total nutritional content of the diet goes DOWN. Pause a moment and let this sink in. You can run these numbers any way you like, more nutritious foods will ALWAYS be more nutritious. And no, there are no secret substances in grains, legumes and diary that confer health, quite the contrary, they REMOVE nutrients due to anti-nutrients found in them and because they damage the gut lining. If your gut is irritated, and grains, legumes and diary do just that, you not only face the problem of less total vitamins, minerals and antioxidants when you displace paleo foods, you also increase the risk of autoimmunity and other immune related problems.
I may start a challenge: If you can construct a more nutritious diet (nutrients per calorie) with grains, legumes and diary (that are UNFORTIFIED) I’ll pay you $5K. It would be great for effect, but it’s an un-winable bet for the poor RD’s MD’s and other folks who think grains, legumes and diairy are nutritional heavy hitters.
So, Our Null-Hypothesis turned out to be wrong: Grains, Legumes and Dairy are NOT the most nutritious foods we can feed our kids. I will look at all of this in more detail in the book.
I am not yet a parent, so I do not want to play the arm-chair expert here, so I’ll leave it up to you to actually THINK about this topic. Does it make sense to you to feed YOUR kids foods you can scientifically prove are less nutritious? Grains, legumes and diary do not stack up against lean meats, veggies, fruit and nuts. That is obvious, now it’s up to you to figure out what YOU do about it.
For a little more light reading I’ll direct you to the excellent post Dr. Eades did comparing the health of a Hunter Gatherer group and an agriculturalist group. The HG group ate large amounts of meat, fish fruit, veggies and nuts. The agriculturalists displaced these foods and began consuming large amounts of grains and legumes. Take a moment to consider these facts:
1-The Agriculturalist kids showed significant signs of malnutrition as compared to the HG’s.
2-The Agriculturalists showed significantly higher infant mortality AND early childhood death with the adoption of a grain, legume based diet.
Think rationally, draw your own conclusions. Henceforth, if someone has a question on Paleo and kids, I’m referring them to this post.