Lessons from a reformed paleo mum

Pete Evans: under fire after claims his latest recipes could be dangerous to babies and young children.
Pete Evans: under fire after claims his latest recipes could be dangerous to babies and young children. Photo: Supplied

Ahhh Pete Evans, you've done it again.

We've all seen the criticism of paleo as a fad diet. But what it is exactly? Proponents of paleo claim that during the Paleolithic era – a period lasting around 2.5 million years that ended about 10,000 years ago — humans' nutritional needs were specific to the foods available at that time. The idea is that the dietary needs of modern humans are best adapted to the diet of their Paleolithic ancestors. Others call it the 'Caveman' diet.

Siobhan and her baby.
Siobhan and her baby. Photo: Supplied

Traditionally, the paleo diet was popular amongst athletes, particularly CrossFitters, but in the last few years it's gone mainstream and has become controversial. Enter celebrity chef Pete Evans, who has described himself as a "warrior" whose "life purpose" is to promote the paleo way. In the past, he has been in dispute with the Heart Foundation and the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) over the merits of the diet.

And now a new book that Evans co-authored, due for release this week, has been dumped by its publisher after health officials said babies could die if parents followed its paleo baby recipes – specifically the 'DIY baby milk formula', a chicken liver based broth, which the book claims "mimics the nutrient profile of breast milk".

Overall, though, the diet promotes poultry, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables and meat, and avoids legumes, grains and dairy products. 

What's really concerning is that the idea of cutting out grain-based foods and legumes isn't backed by science – either for adults or children. Indeed, eating more meat than is needed by the body certainly has risks, according to the World Health Organization, which warns that excess vitamin A can become toxic.

Who am I to be commenting on this? I'm a former fitness instructor and personal trainer with a certificate in nutrition. I've learned a thing or two about diet over the years. I've experienced a lot of diets, many which could be described as fads. When I tried paleo I learnt it wasn't for me. I didn't function well on no grains or dairy; my health suffered and so did my athletic performance.

Now I'm also a mum to a 10 month old. And as a former paleo eater who eventually came to her senses, I admit that Evans' theories on how to feed kids and babies were certainly food for thought.


We do have some ideas in common. I believe that eating as little processed food as possible certainly has its place – after all, processed food means we're putting odd additives and other stuff into our bodies that weren't meant to be eaten.

But paleo takes that to the next level, ruling out grains (in any form), dairy, legumes, alcohol and more. Pete Evans, and other paleo fanatics, make this lifestyle unachievable for the regular person.

No, I'm not an expert. But when it comes to what my baby needs, I am best qualified to choose what's best for him. I apply the mantra 'all good things in moderation' in moderation to my own diet, so why wouldn't I apply that to my baby's diet?

When it comes to starting babies on solids, paleo advocates would shun the traditional baby rice that most doctors recommend. But what about the energy needs of kids? Surely a busy baby, toddler or child can't get all the daily nutrients just from the paleo-recommended vegetables and starches like sweet potatoes?

Unless it turns out my son is allergic, what is a small amount of grains going to do? Research has shown there is nothing wrong with rice, and since I buy organic brown baby rice I don't see a problem. Obesity? No. Diabetes? Not from one or two portions of grains a day. Stomach issues? Well, if that little causes any I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

I'm feeding my baby good nutritious wholesome food, but I'm not being over-the-top about it.

Yes, it's important and beneficial to feed your baby wholesome food. But no, Pete, you don't have to be a such a tool about it.