Can Children Follow a Paleo Diet?

The Paleo diet is a way of eating that has ancestral origins. See how it can help your child and if it's advisable and healthy for children.
Can Children Follow a Paleo Diet?

Last update: 04 October, 2021

If the Paleo diet supported the evolution of man since the Paleolithic era, dating from 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago, then why isn’t it suitable for everyone, including our little ones? In this sense, some specialists believe that children can follow a Paleo diet.

This pattern is a style of eating that mimics what our pre-agricultural ancestors and hunter-fisher-gatherers ate. It involves eating fresh, unprocessed produce, helping to reduce dependence on processed convenience foods and some whole food and legume choices.

It’s also known as the Paleolithic diet, Stone Age diet, caveman diet, or hunter-gatherer diet. For children, like any other nutrition guideline, parents should make sure they’re getting all the nutrients they need.

Foods in the Paleo diet

In general, the Paleo diet includes lean meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, and oils. It’s based on the idea that humans aren’t adapted to eating and metabolizing foods from modern agriculture.

Like other experts, the author of the plan, Dr. Loren Cordain, concluded that the modern diet is associated with an increase in chronic non-communicable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis.

The foods included in the Paleo diet are the following:

  • Fruits and vegetables. Preferably tropical ones, such as pineapple, papaya, mango, and fuji apple.
  • Fish and seafood that doesn’t come from farms.
  • Chicken, quail, and goose eggs from organic farms.
  • Poultry and red meats, including game. Priority to small animals, e.g. veal.
  • Sweet potatoes.
  • Bread made with buckwheat. It’s a pseudocereal without gluten.
  • Nuts, except for peanuts, since it’s a legume.
  • Mushrooms, chanterelles, shiitake, among others.
  • Honey as a sweetener.
  • Coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado as a fatty medium.
  • Garlic, leek, olives, onion, aromatic herbs, and spices as seasoning.
Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a component of the Paleo diet, especially if they’re available from organic and ecological gardens.

Foods to avoid in the Paleo diet

The Paleo diet avoids foods that don’t come from hunting or gathering. Therefore, it excludes processed and ultra-processed foods, such as those containing trans fats, breakfast cereals, sodas, prepared foods, among others established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as harmful to health.

In a paper on the paleo diet, they explain that other natural foods, such as grains, legumes, and dairy products are also prohibited. One of the reasons is that they weren’t part of the Paleolithic era and can cause inflammation or digestive problems. This has been debated by the T. Colins Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.

Foods to avoid, then, are as follows:

  • Potatoes and legumes, such as lentils, soybeans, peanuts, chickpeas, peas, lima beans, and all varieties of beans.
  • Dairy products, such as cow’s milk, cheeses, yogurts, kefir, and frozen desserts. Specialists also prohibit almond, soy, and quinoa milk.
  • Grains, such as quinoa, amaranth, corn, corn, millet, rye, oats, rice, wheat, cookies, pizza, pasta, bread, gnocchi.
  • Seeds such as chia, sunflower, sesame, or pumpkin.
  • Refined sugar, sweeteners, and any derivative.
  • Alcoholic or sweetened beverages. This includes wine, beer, sodas, liquors, cola.
  • Berry-type fruits. That’s to say, those that have small seeds that we can’t digest, such as kiwi, bell pepper, and strawberries.
  • Vegetable oils from seeds and all their derivatives.

Benefits in children

Children may benefit from the Paleo diet more than adults because their eating habits are just forming. This diet provides a nutrient density that supports the need for growth and development, adjusted to the nutritional requirements.

They can obtain protein from lean meats, fish, and poultry, which contain essential amino acids to synthesize tissues during development.

As a source of energy for their growth, they can consume a mixture of complex carbohydrates and simple sugars, through fruits, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, or buckwheat bread. Olive oil, famous for its extensive health benefits, as well as avocado, can supplement calories.

Another benefit of the Paleo diet in children is the contribution of omega-3 fatty acids for visual and brain development and cellular construction, as described in the Chilean Journal of Nutrition. Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, and walnuts, are good sources of this type of fat.

On the other hand, the Complutense University of Madrid exposes in its book “Fruits and Vegetables: Sources of Health” the wide spectrum of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that cover these vegetables. They’re adjuvants of metabolic processes, an optimal immune system, and a healthy body. The Paleo diet promotes them as an important part of the diet.

Within the restrictions, the WHO supports the reduction of refined foods and sugars from an early age. It can decrease the risk of obesity, overweight, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases in adulthood.

This diet also avoids cereals sources of gluten and anti-nutrients from legumes, as they can be harmful to the child’s immature digestive tract. However, the Spanish Association of Pediatrics recommends introducing gluten and legumes from 6 months of age, during complementary feeding.

Possible consequences and side effects

Gluten free bread
Incorporating gluten is debated among followers of the Paleo diet and medical organizations that promote its presence from the age of 6 months.

Our children are growing and need a lot of energy. The Paleo diet eliminates a lot of foods that can be a source of energy. For example, simple sugars from fruits and carbohydrates from grains and legumes.

Omitting legumes from the Paleo diet eliminates the health properties they offer, as established by the FAO. They’re a good source of soluble and insoluble fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and resistant starch used to enhance the growth of bacteria in the gut.

On the other hand, excluding dairy products reduces one of the best sources of calcium in children’s diets, which is essential for strengthening bones and teeth. For this reason, specialists place special emphasis on monitoring the consumption of fish, leafy greens, nuts, and eggs.

However, as the subject is debatable, if the child tolerates milk it can be indicated to reinforce calcium intake. The morning or afternoon sun will allow the body to process what’s consumed.

Another consequence of omitting dairy is that it’s also an excellent vehicle for probiotic foods that improve intestinal health, such as the case of yogurt and other milk with bacteria. In this case, the Paleo diet offers some fermented plant products, such as sauerkraut and fruit drinks.

As for the consumption of red meat, the Chilean Journal of Public Health associates it with the development of certain diseases, so they recommend including more white meat in the diet plan.

Specialists consider the Paleo diet a safe and nutritious diet for people of any age. Children, like adults, need to customize their eating plans according to their individual requirements.

Children can follow a Paleo diet, as long as it goes hand in hand with a pediatrician and a nutrition professional, so that no nutrient is missing and the necessary adjustments are made.

Undoubtedly, including lean protein, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and unsaturated fat is an excellent option for children and the whole family.

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