The Paleo craze is huge. There are books (plenty), chefs, even entire restaurants dedicated to the colloquially known "Caveman Diet," and it has shown no signs of dipping in popularity any time soon.
For the unfamiliar, the basis of Paleo is to mimic the eating habits of our ancestors, who ate a diet heavy in meat, fruit, vegetables, and eggs, with minimal grains and dairy products incorporated due to the lack of processing technology. Consider it a more nuanced version of the Atkins diet—fatty meats and other historically diet-averse foods are by no means verboten—but with a harder line drawn in the sand between the merits of whole foods and the demonization of processed, packaged convenience foods.
But as with other more serious food-lifestyle habits such as veganism, many people—including some doctors—aren't wholly convinced that babies and young children should be fed a diet that is restrictive of major food groups. And their skepticism has became wholly evident with the controversy surrounding a new Paleo cookbook marketed for babies and new mothers.
Pseudo-celebrity Paleo chef Pete Evans was only days away from releasing his new book Bubba Yum Yum: The Paleo Way For New Mums, Babies, and Toddlers when Australia's Federal Department of Health stepped in and publicly expressed concerns that the book's recipes and recommendations could actually be dangerous—or even kill an infant, if taken too seriously. According to the The Australian Women's Weekly, the publishing delay was instituted after members of health organizations became aware that the book was promoting liver and bone broth as a "DIY baby milk formula."
Officials fear that the formula is nutritionally insufficient—it contains more than ten times the safe daily maximum of vitamin A, but is deficient in other nutrients—but that clueless parents still might be inclined to use it as the base of their baby's diet. Neither Evans nor his coauthors, baby recipe blogger Charlotte Carr and naturopath Helen Padarin, have any formal medical qualifications.
Professor Heather Yeatman, president of the Public Health Association of Australia, went so far as to tell AWW that "In my view, there's a very real possibility that a baby may die if this book goes ahead."
On her blog, Carr says that "Making broth is an absolute 'must do' each week." In the comments, a reader named Eve wrote, "I cannot help but voice my concern over your homemade baby formula as a substitute breast milk … I worry about you giving misguided information to naive mums trying to do what's best for their little darlings." Carr replies, "I sought advise [sic], help and support from my Dr, Peadiatrician, [sic] and health team … We have since had a nutrtional [sic] researcher run tests on formula."
Last summer, the Dietitians Association of Australia spoke out with concerns about the claims of the Paleo diet, with CEO Claire Hewat arguing that the evidence "just doesn't stack up." She also pointed out that the diet—with its rules against consumption of grains, legumes, some dairy, and non-organic meats and produce—is impractical for those who cannot afford to buy specialty products or may not have access to many of the types of foods it heralds.
There was also a media kerfuffle last year when author Evans argued at length on his Facebook page that modern, conventional diets were responsible for the uptick in autism diagnoses. A note in the cookbook says that the co-authors believe "in good faith" that their recipes will have health benefits, but that "relying on the information contained in this publication may not give you the results you desire or may cause negative health consequences," according to The Daily Mail.
There are numerous other Paleo sites and sources that encourage parents to indoctrinate their children early, lest they miss out on the diet's purported benefits. The popular site PaleoLeap has a page dedicated to recommendations for kids, arguing, "Switching to a Paleo diet at any age is better than continuing to eat grains, seed oils, and other harmful modern foods, but many of us are left wishing we could have discovered it earlier … Children of Paleo parents are lucky to have that chance—they can enjoy all the benefits of real, whole foods without enduring years of painful trial and error to get there."
The page also recommends feeding babies raw milk—despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control that infants are at the greatest risk of becoming very ill from contaminated raw milk—and advocates a hardline approach to maintaining Paleo dietary restrictions in the house. "Be gentle and encouraging, but stick to your guns," the site reads. "If your kids refuse to eat their dinner, it won't hurt them to skip a meal—vegetables have a way of magically becoming less 'icky' the hungrier they are."
The Paleo parent movement has momentum, and the book may still be released at a later date. In a statement, the book's publisher, Pan Macmillan, wrote, "The publication of Bubba Yum Yum: The Paleo Way has been delayed, and not recalled as incorrectly stated by Australian Women's Weekly on March 11, 2015."
Last year, a Florida woman was charged with child neglect after her baby became severely malnourished due to her use of organic soymilk from Whole Foods as baby formula. And a couple from Atlanta is currently serving a life sentence for the death of their baby in 2011 after they tried to sustain it entirely on soymilk and apple juice in accordance with their vegan beliefs.
Rule of thumb: Despite good intentions, don't expect doctors—or authorities—to be sympathetic when trying to convince your baby to subsist on your specialty diet.