Meet Nikola Milan Rodriguez! Fourteen weeks ago, this brand new baby boy made his earth-side appearance. He enjoys long walks on the beach, bubble baths, and constant turbulence. 😂
Up until this point, Niko’s been a bonafide boob man, but we’re told the introduction of solids could come any day now.
To be honest— this whole life-beyond-the-boob is a little intimidating. First of all, how do you know when little man is ready for solids? Should I wait for the day that he stops coming at me like a shark? Or randomly select an official introduction day? Second of all, what’s the deal with baby-led weaning? Do I let him play around in his peas or spoon-feed his chubby cheeks? Finally, (and most importantly), what do I feed my baby in order to meet his wee nutritional needs?
As a Nutritional Consultant and avid keto enthusiast, I was sure processed baby food was off the table— c’mon bananas that don’t expire for the life of your infant— that can’t be good. Alternatively, I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to feed our son exactly as we were eating (carnivore/keto).
I had always assumed, what’s good for us is good for our babies. But when it came to my son, I had to ask, is infant nutrition as simple as that?
Keto as Treatment for Epilepsy in Infants
As for the research, most of the studies examining infants and the ketogenic diet involve babies suffering from epilepsy. (1)
A growing number of published studies have reported that epileptic infants (2 years and younger) respond very well to ketogenic dietary therapy. In fact, the European Journal of Paediatric Neurology published guidelines for the use of such dietary therapy (2).
But what if your child is not epileptic?
What Are the Experts Saying?
Popular parenting sites such as TodaysParent.com and Childrens.com strongly discourage parents from putting children on a ketogenic diet. Stating, “The keto diet is not recommended for weight loss in children because it seriously limits carbohydrates, and children need carbs to be mentally and physically active.”
But do they really?
Similar claims have been made for grown adults (regarding the ketogenic diet). But the thing is, as long as the body is receiving adequate fuel (in the form of carbohydrates OR healthy fats), physical activity IS possible. It’s even suggested that swapping carbs with healthy fats actually improves athletic and cognitive performance (3).
Another concern with keto involves the dangers of improper development caused by calorie restriction. This is certainly a legitimate concern. But there are many other reasons to consider the ketogenic diet aside from weight loss (4). Many individuals “go-keto” to enhance their performance, combat depression, or improve sleep.
Whether the goal is to lose weight or improve cognition, the most important thing for getting into ketosis and achieving ketogenic success is to get the macros right. Ketogenic macronutrients can (and should) be individually calculated according to goals. For example, if weight loss is the goal, the macros would be calculated assuming a caloric deficit. Alternatively, if the goal is weight gain, a caloric surplus will be necessary. Beyond that, periodically recalculating your child’s macros will ensure proper growth and development.
Infant Nutrition and Keto
Dietary Recommendations for Infants
According to the USDA, older infants (ages 6 through 11 months) are at risk of deficiency in the following dietary components, iron, zinc, protein, vitamin D, choline, and potassium. Because baby formula is fortified with these components, this is particularly true of breastfed babies (5).
Although the Dietary Guidelines does not provide a recommended dietary pattern for infants ages 6 through 11 months, parents are encouraged to introduce foods across all the food groups. Aside from its lack of structured dietary guidelines, the USDA also fails to mention the importance of fat for proper growth and development (6)
According to the Oxford Academy, “Fat, especially in infancy and early childhood, is essential for neurological development and brain function. Mother’s milk and infant formula supply 40–50% of their energy as fat.” The American Academy of Pediatrics confirms this by recommending infants consume about half of their daily calorie intake from fats (7).
Covering Nutritional Needs with Keto
Nutrients are always best absorbed directly from the source. Fortunately, a properly formulated ketogenic diet contains all the necessary foods to ensure optimal nutrition for your infant.
- Iron— Although babies are born with iron stored in their bodies, iron deficiency is common among infants. Around 4-6 months of age, these stores become depleted. At which point additional iron is needed to fuel their rapid growth and development (8). Although many children’s cereals claim to be “fortified with iron,” the best sources of iron are derived from animal products. Animal liver and organs are among the most significant sources of iron, though beef in general (regardless of the cut) is considerably high in iron.
- Zinc— Zinc is an important mineral necessary for good health. It metabolizes nutrients, maintains immune health, and repairs body tissues (9). The body doesn’t store zinc, so it’s important to derive enough from dietary sources such as meat, eggs, nuts, and seeds.
- Potassium— Inadequate potassium intake is related to hypertension, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. And cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death within the United States (13). Meat, fish, and green leafy vegetables are all excellent sources of potassium.
- Vitamin D— Calcium plays a key role in maintaining bone strength and skeletal integrity. And vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium (10). Vitamin D is the only nutrient produced by exposure to sunlight. It’s suggested that 40% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D (11). This means if you’re not getting enough UV’s, you’d better be eating foods such as salmon, mushrooms, and egg yolks.
- Choline— Choline is an important nutrient necessary for healthy cell membranes. Choline is involved in infant brain development, specifically in memory and learning functions (12). Rich sources of choline include seafood, beef, poultry, and egg yolks.
- Protein— Adequate protein intake is crucial for healthy growth and development. The infant’s first year is a critical time of rapid growth and development. During this time, babies are subject to a high rate of protein synthesis. And protein synthesis requires amino acids (14). To ensure your baby receives adequate protein, focus on feeding your infant complete proteins such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and cheese.
- Fat— As mentioned, fat is a crucial component in neurological development and brain function. Fortunately, fat is a non-negotiable on the ketogenic diet. To reap the cognitive and behavioral benefits of keto, you need to focus on consuming healthy fats (15). Healthy fats include (but are not limited to) saturated fatty acids such as grass-fed butter, animal lards, and MCT oils.
3 Perks of Kids on Keto
Beyond the nutritional benefits of the ketogenic diet, keto also promotes cognitive and behavioral health.
1. Promotes healthy gut bacteria
A clean ketogenic diet naturally eliminates compounds that contribute to leaky gut syndrome (16). And leaky gut is suggested to be a driving force behind common conditions such as allergies, food sensitivities, frequent colds, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and even Autism (17). Some of these leaky gut-inducing compounds include gluten, sugar, GMOs, hormones, and antibiotics.
2. Encourages focus, clarity, and concentration
No one will argue the role that DHA and omega-3 fatty acids play in improving focus and concentration in children— it’s well documented (18). However, evidence is mounting in support of inflammation as the underlying cause of impaired cognition (19).
When properly formulated, the ketogenic diet is an anti-inflammatory diet (20). Keto eliminates well-known inflammatory foods such as sugar, trans fats, vegetable and seed oils, processed meats, and refined carbohydrates (21).
3. Improves mood and social wellbeing
There’s no denying it— blood sugar levels have a dramatic effect on mood (22). Aside from the science, you’ve probably experienced the effects of blood sugar fluctuations first hand. In fact, “hanger” is commonly experienced when blood sugar levels take a plunge (23). A significant amount of research shows that balanced blood sugar control improves mood and social wellbeing (24).
The ketogenic diet aims to balance blood sugar by consuming low-glycemic foods, reducing carbohydrate intake, and eliminating added sugars.
How Do I Plan on Feeding My Baby?
I’m well aware there will come a time when I don’t have full control of my son’s diet. At which point, I don’t want him to be the little boy that can’t enjoy pizza, soda, or skittles from time to time.
Meanwhile, before he’s running off to school and making friends, I want to make sure my little one is being fed optimally. Needless to say, my baby’s first meal will not be rice cereal (organic or not).
I plan on feeding Niko keto-ish.
What does that mean exactly?
This means I don’t plan on calculating his macros and placing him on a strict ketogenic diet. I do, however, plan on feeding him a diet that’s low in carbohydrates, high in healthy fats, and focused on nutrient-rich food sources.
Optimal Food Choices For Baby Niko
Peanut allergy, gluten sensitivity, lactose intolerance— it could be any of these and more. From the sounds of it, the best way to keep your baby from developing food allergies is to introduce them to potentially allergenic foods at a young age.
8 Common Food Allergens
- Tree nuts
I fully intend on doing so, with one big exception— gluten. Research suggests introducing children to gluten early on actually increases their risk of becoming intolerant. Science suggests the less gluten and the later it’s introduced, the better off your child will be (25).
The bulk of Niko’s carbohydrate intake will be from vegetables.
I plan on feeding him an assortment of colors and textures. This will expose his palate to a wide range of flavors, vitamins, and minerals. I do not plan on introducing grains into his diet. Grains will be introduced to Niko at some point— between Abuelita’s treats and Papi’s sweets— it’s inevitable. But I won’t promote grains as a part of a healthy diet.
All veggies are fair-game. Here are some examples.
- Cruciferous Vegetables— broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, romanesco
- Green Leafy’s— arugula, kale, spinach, watercress
- High-Fiber Veggies— artichokes, asparagus, snap peas, zucchini
- Root Vegetables (less frequently)— beets, onions, radish, sweet potato
Low-sugar fruit will be part of the regular rotation. All others will be treated as an occasional treat.
- Low-Sugar Fruit— avocado, berries, coconut, lemon, lime, tomato
- Treats— apple, banana, mango, pineapple, watermelon, etc.
Healthy fats will be an integral part of Niko’s diet. I plan on feeding him some form of healthy fat at every single meal.
- Animal Lard— beef gristle, bison tallow, duck fat, pork lard
- Dairy— ghee, grass-fed butter, kefir, raw cheese
- Oils— avocado, coconut or MCT, macadamia nut, olive
- Nuts (and nut butter)— almonds, macadamia, pecans, walnuts
- Seeds (and seed butter)— chia, hemp, pumpkin, sunflower
Nutrient-rich Food Sources
- Collagen— bone broth, gristle, marrow
- Eggs— chicken, quail, salmon
- Fish— local fare, mercury, salmon
- Meat— beef (especially beef), chicken, lamb, pork
- Organs— brains, heart, kidneys, liver
- Seafood— crab, oysters, you name it
The Bottom Line
There’s plenty of evidence to support that the ketogenic diet is a safe and effective way for epileptic infants to eat (26). However, evidence is quite limited when it comes to healthy and happy babies. For the most part, doctors are advocating keto for infants only under direct medical supervision. Alternatively, low carb for kids appears to be gaining attention (and support) (27).
If you plan on feeding your baby a ketogenic diet, there are a few things to consider. First, your infant is not trying to lose weight. If you decide to put your baby on a ketogenic diet, be sure to take into account caloric surplus while calculating their macros. Second, if you’re a ketotarian and are considering putting your baby on a similar path, you will need to supplement. Many of the crucial vitamins and minerals babies need for healthy development are found in abundance within animal products. It will be challenging (though not impossible) to meet your child’s needs if animal products are entirely off the table. And finally, to ensure your child’s nutritional needs are met, it’s important to take a clean ketogenic approach. For optimal nutrition, provide your baby with whole foods, healthy fats, and complete proteins at every meal.
When properly formulated, a clean ketogenic diet will address every nutritional need of your infant. Plus, with promise of better digestion, enhanced concentration, and improved mood, keto is likely one of the healthiest diets for your child.
Is your child on a low-carb or ketogenic diet? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear about their experience! 👶🏼
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This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Katie Rodriguez nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.