Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Question from reader: Will baby receive enough calcium on a paleo diet?

I'm finally back today after 10 blog-less days (I've been busy working on a magazine article), and I have lots to catch up on! First order of business, though, is to answer another question from a reader. Chris left this question on The Paleo Baby's Facebook page:

I'm looking for some advice on a diet for my young daughter. Currently she is breastfed and gets some normal food. We are thinking of stopping the breastfeeding, but what to give instead? What about her calcium? Will she receive enough from meat and vegetables?

Personally, I am of the opinion that whole fat dairy is fine for young children who are not lactose or casein intolerant, as well as those who don't exhibit some other type of of dairy allergy/intolerance. I'll probably give our daughter some dairy (cream and Greek yogurt, for example -- no low-fat cheese sticks or frozen yogurt novelties). However, I'm also pretty convinced that dairy is not the only way (or even the best way) to get calcium into the diet. Like I told Chris, though, I'm not really qualified to answer this question -- this is just my opinion and I am at least a year away from making this decision myself. So, I would love to hear from other paleo parents! What should Chris feed her baby, and how does she make sure she gets enough calcium? Thanks!


  1. I just want to say first off, I am not a scientist or DR. Just a Paleo nerd.

    The thing with calcium it isn't a huge concern like most people make it out to be. When you are on a paleo diet, you aren't eating gluten which disruptes the way you absorb all your vitamins and minerals. So a healthy paleo baby will get more than enough calcium from a paleo diet because they will be absorbing these things better.

    For a way better and concise answer check out the Everyday Paleo podcast. They answer this very question on a couple different episodes.

  2. I had a good experience with goats milk, as it is easier to digest than cows milk. Sometimes toddlers can be really erratic in their eating habits from day to day, so it is important to have nutrient dense food. Grassfed whole milk could work if she isn't intolerant. It is hard to get enough brocolli or kale into a reluctant toddler.

  3. Paleopathologists tell us that they can tell the difference between forager cultures and farmer cultures just by looking at the remains. Farmers were shorter in stature, had more bone breaks and bone lesions (indicating a higher rate of infections), and generally were less healthy and well-developed.

    That should tell you that someone following a proper non-farmer ancestral diet is getting plenty of calcium. And even a lot of farming cultures figured out the bone health thing by accident--they ate enough protective foods that they developed pretty well and stayed pretty healthy. They just weren't *as* healthy as the groups that never adopted grain at all.

    My take on this based on my reading:

    1. Do not skimp on animal fats. Just decide right now that you will *ignore* all advice to put your child on a low-fat diet, *ever*. My daughter eats butter and coconut oil and cream daily, and she's 50th percentile. The notion that animal fat is making them fat is pure B.S. (pardon my French).

    2. Disregard arguments that dairy is unnatural because other mammals don't consume it past childhood. Other mammals also don't build skyscrapers, wear clothing, or launch themselves into space. And dairy fat can help make up for the fact that it is very difficult to obtain anything but lean meat nowadays unless one purchases grain-finished beef. (Grass-finishing ranches pride themselves on their leaner offerings, which makes me NUTS. Hunter-gatherers valued fat more than muscle meat!) Weston Price showed through his work that the dairy foods can be protective, especially grass-fed butter and the fermented dairy foods like yogurt and kefir. So, unless your child turns out to have an allergy, there's no reason other than personal conviction to keep her away from dairy. If you can get raw grass-fed milk foods, that's best; if all you can get is CAFO, there are ways to obtain grass-fed ghee and raw cheeses via the Internet, IF you want to go ahead and use those foods.

    3. If dairy is completely out of the question, there is always bone broth. And it's an even better source of minerals than dairy is, because the minerals are already in their correct form for bone-building. There are lots of websites out there with instructions for making it. Any blog associated with the Weston A. Price Foundation, or that is maintained by someone who sympathizes with WAPF principles, will be a good place to look. Chefs are pretty knowledgeable about how to make this stuff too, and sometimes they keep blogs.

    Whatever you do, I would not look to the plant kingdom as a reliable source of any of the minerals or the fat-soluble vitamins. They're fine for the water-solubles, especially the fruits, which are sort of "meant" to be eaten anyway. Plants are good as *additional* nutrition, but there are too many variables involved with antinutrients and conventional vs. organic and what soil they grew in, etc. to make them your foundation, really.

    Hope this helps.

  4. Not sure if you would go for this but about 90 calories of salmon with the skin and bones has 18% DV calcium...

    Greens are also dense in calcium.

    And, magnesium is MORE important. This is what I know from reading Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, etc.

  5. I'm so glad I found your site! I"m a primal eating momma..and we're trying to get pregnant. I started eating this way at the beginning of the year. and I fully intend to keep it up! while we eat primal, I know dairy really isn't allowed...but we still have some in our diet. not as much, but I haven't given it up. like a little sour cream on a taco, or some cheese on a salad... a glass of milk if I feel the craving.

  6. As Primal Toad mentioned, from what I understand, the issue most people have is actually a lack of magnesium, which is a co-factor in calcium absorption and usage. The Paleo diet might be lower in calcium, but it's generally much higher in magnesium, so what calcium is consumed is much more bioavailable. Also, the lack of gut-irritating grains helps with nutrient absorption. Robb Wolf talks about this in his book, and he may have a handful of blog posts on his website as well.


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