Professor Tim Noakes, who encourages a low carbohydrate, high fat eating plan, also known as Banting, maintains that infants should be started on this diet as soon as they are weaned. However, a dietician specialising in paediatric nutrition says it is not as clear cut.
Noakes will be appearing before the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) after advising a mother to wean her child on LCHF foods, which he calls "real foods".
This was his recommendation to a mother over a year ago on Twitter, which resulted in a complaint being lodged with the HPCSA by the Association for Dietetics in South Africa's (ADSA) president Claire Julsing-Strydom. The two-day hearing will take place in Cape Town on June 4 and 5 and Noakes is quite optimistic about it.
"A low carbohydrate, high fat diet as promoted by Professor Tim Noakes is not always easy to prepare in a way that is acceptable to infants and children," says Kerryn Gibson.
New tastes and textures
She told Health24 that the process of weaning involves the introduction of new tastes and textures to an infant's diet. "Weaning is also a way for infants to learn how to eat. The texture of weaning foods is extremely important to get right in order for the foods to be accepted and easily swallowed by infants. This factor often determines the type of food used."
According to Noakes, in order to maximise your infant's future prospects you need to maximise the brain growth during their first two years. "You can’t do that with a high carbohydrate, cereal-based diet lacking in the real foods promoted by the LCHF/Banting diet promoted in the Real Meal Revolution," he told Health24.
Gibson concurs with Noakes that the nutritional value of real or natural foods is far superior compared to processed, convenience foods.
Stay away from processed foods
“Preferably no processed or refined foods should be used to feed infants and children. Ideally only real or natural food stuffs that have not undergone any level of processing or refinement should be used," she said.
"All of the convenience baby cereals and foods on the market are processed and refined. There are better food options to feed an infant. However, preparing all of an infant’s meals and foods from scratch using natural, real and fresh ingredients involves a lot of time, planning and preparation."
Gibson pointed out that as much as a mother would like to do this for her child, it can sometimes be impossible. "A mother should not be made to feel inadequate or made to feel guilty for not preparing all of her baby’s foods from scratch."
She said store bought baby foods offer a convenient way to start introducing an infant to foods, especially with most mothers having to work as well.
Leaving out carbohydrates
"Carbohydrates must not be excluded from any infant’s or child’s diet," recommended Gibson. "They provide valuable energy, vitamins and fibre."
She added that carbohydrates must, however, be from real, natural and unprocessed sources. Good examples of these include sweet potato, white potato, rolled oats, cooked porridge, legumes, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables.
Gibson explained that the fibre content of natural or real carbohydrate foods helps to maintain our gut flora, which maintains our gut integrity and overall health by strengthening our immune systems. "Refined carbohydrates will not offer this benefit."
Noakes also noted that although breast milk is important for infants, it is iron deficient. "Breast milk is a good source of many nutrients for the infant brain, but it is iron deficient and iron is a crucial brain specific nutrient," he said.
Sources of iron
He added: "Meat and liver are the best source of iron, much better than 'iron-fortified cereals' since iron absorption is poor from cereal-based foods, however much they are enriched."
From 6 months of age breast milk becomes insufficient as a sole source of nutrition for infants, said Gibson. “Breast milk will not provide an infant with the mineral iron and, therefore, iron rich foods must be introduced, especially if an infant is being exclusively breastfed. Liver, chickpeas and spinach are affordable and easily obtained real, natural food options high in iron."
Although, the bioavailability of iron is best from animal sources, she said plant-based sources should not be excluded.
"Apart from liver, other animal protein sources that will be high in iron are difficult to purée to the appropriate texture." She said infants will gag and regurgitate foods if they are the incorrect consistency.
Infants and children do have high protein requirements for growth, said Gibson. They must receive foods high in protein at least twice a day, she advised. "These foods should, however, not replace other foods like vegetables, fruit and starches.”
Helping with brain development
Gibson added that omega 3 is extremely important for growing infants and children as it helps with brain development. She said the best source is from oily fish such as sardines or pilchards, mackerel, salmon and fresh tuna.
"These should be introduced as early as possible in an infant’s diet but at an appropriate age when an infant is ready to swallow the texture of these foods."
When Health24 asked Noakes if age is a factor in children eating LCHF foods, his answer was: "No, infants are designed to be more ketotic than adults. Ketosis is promoted by high fat low carbohydrate diets."
Ketosis is a state the body goes into if it needs to break down body fat for energy.
"Infants use ketones to build the substance of their brains. Without sufficient ketones, infant brains cannot develop to their optimum extent," said Noakes.
Each child is an individual
However, Gibson was a bit more cautious. "There are some situations where promoting ketosis is beneficial for some children; however, this should not be applied to all children," she said. "Each child is individual and their food intake should also be."
She advised parents against following a specific diet for their children and rather to encourage healthy eating habits.
"One of our jobs as parents is to teach our children how to eat and to establish healthy eating habits. We should not be encouraging them to follow any specific 'diet'.
"Children should not be taught that any food, especially foods that are real and natural, is either 'high carb' or 'high fat' and therefore good or bad. Rather we should teach our children which types of foods are beneficial to health and which types of foods are to be seen as ‘normal’ to be eaten on a daily basis," Gibson concluded.
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