What mother would do such a thing? And how overweight is her baby that she’s trying to put him on a diet so young? And what about all that meat? And surely he should be eating cereal and baby rice? Isn’t it dangerous?
At least these are questions you might be asking if you believe some popular Atkins myths and common misconceptions about LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) diets..
Well, first off the identity of this terrible mother is me! Though I have done lots of research in the area of nutrition over the last 6 years or so since I discovered Atkins – I’m no doctor or dietitian and this is not advice to anyone else – more a starting point for your own research, as with all the information on this site. The child in question is at this stage a perfectly healthy two year old, who according to his last checkup with the public health nurse is at a perfectly acceptable weight for his age/height etc. In terms of health, he’s had the occasional tummy bug, chicken pox and the normal childhood colds from time to time. He’s never been to the doctor or hospital for illness and never needed medication of any kind (other than homeopathy which we have found excellent for teething pain especially). He’s an extremely active and alert toddler and reaching all of the normal milestones. (I’d invite anyone who thinks you need carbs for energy to come look after him for a few hours too!)
He was not in the slightest overweight when he started eating solids at almost 7 months either! This is one of those misconceptions about Atkins – people are often unaware that there are 4 phases to the diet including Phase 4 or Lifetime Maintenance. Phase One or Induction is the phase where you lose weight most quickly but this is not the whole diet. The idea is to progress through the phases (introducing higher carb foods as you do so according to your personal carb tolerance) to phase 4 where you remain for life. Therefore it is really more a lifestyle or way-of-eating for life rather than a ‘diet’ as such (although even in phase one there is no hunger involved either).
My husband Paul and I have been following this way-of-eating since 2011. I continued to eat this way while pregnant tho possibly higher quantities and with some higher carb foods more often such as berries and yogurt. I followed Atkins closely throughout (other than occasional slice of apple tart or brown bread). So what was I eating? Well meat, fish (including sardines regularly), a large variety of vegetables, dairy, nuts, berries. Makes sense right? What high carb foods could I have added that would add nutrients to my diet? Fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes, pastries, rice? I possibly ate higher carb fruits a little more often but in the main got all the vitamins and minerals I needed from veg rather than fruit.
So when baby arrived, I obviously continued to eat this way. I did lose the weight quite quickly – I remember being able to fit into my jeans after a few weeks. However, this was really was not a priority – who has the time to concentrate on this as a first time mother? I was lucky enough to have the support I needed to initiate breastfeeding and continue with it. I also made the very interesting discovery that babies are born in a state of ketosis i.e. they are using fat (broken down into ketones) for fuel – not carbs. It also appears that breastfed babies remain in a mild state of ketosis. See our article on Atkins for breastfeeding mothers for more information on this. Given that until relatively recently our diets were based on protein and fat rather than carbs (especially processed ones) and that ketosis is the normal state for new born infants and breastfed children it would point to low carb diets like Atkins as optimal for humans.
So obviously, once it came to weaning my baby onto solid foods at almost seven months, he ate the same healthy foods as we did. (Apparently in the US weaning means stopping breastfeeding and starting solids – here it means adding solid foods in addition to breastfeeding). We discovered Baby Led Weaning i.e. basically skipping the purees and mush and letting the baby feed themselves. It’s a bit messy at the start but anecdotal evidence suggests fussy eating and mealtime battles are less likely. This has certainly been our experience too so far. It’s also easier as you don’t need to prepare separate meals. We continued to eat as we have for years with a few small adjustments – i.e. cutting the veg big enough for Sam to hold in his fist and eat and not making it too spicy (though that doesn’t seem to be an issue for him)! He ate meat from the beginning – Chilli Con Carne was a big favourite. We also gave him other types of meat – steak, beef stew, chicken – however this does not mean he ate nothing but meat! A widespread Atkins myth is that you eat nothing but protein – this is not the case – you eat a moderate amount of protein. Sam has always eaten lots of different types of vegetables. He has always loved berries and yoghurt too and any type of cheese. These are the things he asks for now as snacks along with olives and nuts. He loves butter, hummus, pesto and eats all types of vegetables and salad ingredients (except maybe lettuce). He has never had fizzy drinks, bread, rice or sweets or pastries of any kind – we don’t see the point of taking the chance of him becoming addicted to these unhealthy foods while we can control it. We’ll cross the bridge of how to handle this as he gets older when we come to it.
As for baby cereal, I believe the main reason it is recommended is because it is fortified with iron. However, when the baby is eating meat this is simply not necessary. New Zealand-based dietitian and academic, Dr Caryn Zinn used to advise parents to feed infants cereals fortified with iron along with vegetables and fruit. However she said that “It never occurred to me to ask why infants would need cereals fortified with iron when meat is available and a very good source of iron.” After researching the issue in more depth a few years ago she no longer recommends feeding cereals to babies, saying that “Anthropologically, we have done fine for millions of years without giving infants cereals with added iron”. She is now critical of the emphasis on carbohydrates in the diet for adults or children as the evidence simply does not support this as a healthy way to eat.
The current recommendations to follow a low fat diet is not healthy at all for babies or young children (or for the vast majority of people in my opinion). Children benefit from a high-fat diet because fat-soluble vitamins like A,B,D and K (and some other nutrients) can only be absorbed into the body when consumed with fats.
When deciding to wean our baby onto Atkins friendly solid foods, it was based on common sense as well as the research I had done on nutrition over the years. Given that he was eating healthy whole foods like meat, fish, dairy, a wide range of veg and foods like berries, I couldn’t see why we would offer him highly processed foods or refined carbs. What would this add from a nutritional point of view? All it could do was increase the risk of health problems and cause him to become addicted to such foods from what we could see. People that follow the Atkins diet and other low carb diets are certainly in the minority in Ireland but given that obesity and diabetes levels in Ireland rising at worrying rates and predicted to rise even faster, I think its something we need to get used to unless things change drastically! A recent study presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Prague last year predicts that in 15 years time 89% of Irish males and 85% of Irish women will be overweight. It predicted 57% of women will be obese. My now 2 year old will be just 16. It’s not really that far away.
As you might imagine, when a tweet from the internationally respected nutrition and sports scientist Professor Tim Noakes from South Africa advising a mother to wean her baby onto a LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) foods resulted in him being charged with professional misconduct by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) – I was shocked. These were the tweets that sparked the whole saga back in February 2014.
A former president of the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), Claire Strydom reported Noakes to the HPCSA for this tweet and as a result Noakes, who is one of the few scientists in the world with an A1 rating in both nutrition and sports science, is on trial. Originally it was argued that the advice given in this tweet was ‘dangerous’ but this part of the charge has been dropped. The hearing which began recently on the 17 Oct 2016 has been taking place in Capetown. The last high profile case where someone was accused of professional misconduct was against an apartheid era cardiologist named Dr Wouter Basson who was accused of poisoning people with lethal cocktails of drugs! To say that this seems like a hysterical reaction to a single tweet that is basically advising a mother to feed her baby meat, veg and full fat dairy when when it comes time to wean him onto solids, is an understatement. This is the way babies have been raised in traditional societies for centuries, without any research showing any adverse effects whatsoever. It’s the way we all ate until about the 1960’s when the low-fat guidelines took hold (and as a consequence the carbs and processed food consumption increased drastically). These guidelines were never based on real science and as people began to follow them we see the beginnings of the epidemics of obesity, type-two diabetes and heart disease. However, these are still the guidelines, followed in much of the world including Ireland despite the fact that there is a significant amount of evidence that shows them to be hugely flawed. See our article on The Real Heart Healthy Foods for details including links to the studies that prove it.
Unfortunately this insanity is not just in South Africa – in Australia the Medical Board there has ‘silenced’ Gary Fettke – an orthopedic surgeon who advised his patients – many of whom are obese and diabetic – to reduce their sugar intake. He was also investigated for ‘inappropriate’ reversal of someone’s Type 2 Diabetes! He has been told that if he advises patients on diet in the future he will be struck off – meaning he could no longer practice medicine. Lets just hope the HSE don’t try to do something similar!
Fortunately, Noakes has some excellent experts on his side in Dr Zoë Harcombe and Nina Teicholz. Dr Harcombe is a British public health nutritionist who wrote a doctorate on the current health guidelines. Nina Teicholz is a US science writer who spent a decade researching the area of nutrition and politics before writing her international bestseller, The Big Fat Surprise.
The verdict is due in April of 2017 (though apparently the HPCSA already released a press release saying he had been found guilty despite the fact that the closing arguments had not even been heard yet and it’s six months before the judgement is to be delivered!). Hopefully real science and truth will win out when the judgement is delivered and who knows, it might finally prompt a rewriting of the guidelines so that they are evidence based and we can finally begin to address the obesity and diabetes epidemics. However, even if it is not, this mother knows that following the Atkins way of eating is best for her baby and family.