Back in 2015, Shan Cooper gained viral fame for feeding her baby a controversial paleo diet. Grace, now eight years old, grew up primarily consuming fresh produce, eggs, meat, and no processed sugar. Shan is well-known for her blog 'My Food Religion,' where she shares healthy recipes using ingredients in their natural state with minimal processing. While many adults opt for healthier lifestyles, Grace has been raised with nutritious eating habits.
The Baby Who Ate No Refined Sugar
At just 13 months old, Grace's diet included breast milk twice a day and meals like eggs fried in coconut oil, broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, roast chicken, avocado, sauerkraut, fruits, organic beef, zucchini noodles, and more. Desserts were not a usual part of her diet, but Shan made her a strawberry panna cotta with coconut cream (without refined sugar) to celebrate her first birthday.
According to Shan, in 2015, Grace had only fallen sick once at that age, and her robust health was credited to her nutrient-rich diet. Shan said, "She spends a lot of time around other kids who are sick all the time — who have snotty noses, coughs, colds — but she just doesn't pick it up," she said. "It's certainly not because I'm shielding her from any of that stuff. I absolutely think a nutrient dense diet is giving her a strong immune system."
Shan herself adopted the paleo diet to improve her health after suffering from food allergies. She gradually eliminated gluten, dairy, and processed foods from her diet. "I just got sick of not feeling great," she stated. "That had become my normal, and I decided that wasn't going to be normal anymore."
The paleo diet is based on the idea of mimicking what cavemen might have eaten during the Paleolithic era, focusing on lean meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. This diet avoids refined sugar, grains, legumes, dairy, and processed food in general. However, some experts have expressed concerns about the diet, particularly because it excludes healthy grains and legumes, which are good sources of fiber, vitamins, and many nutrients, as well as dairy, which provides calcium and protein. Critics also highlight how the diet oversimplifies the eating habits of ancient people, considering that different geographical locations would have offered varying food sources. Furthermore, research has shown that early human diets included grains thousands of years before farming became widespread.
"I am not Paleo…"
Although Shan generally follows a paleo diet herself, she isn't rigid about it. As she shares on her blog, "I am not vegan, vegetarian, paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, fat-free, carb-free or any other food 'denomination' in its entirety. I take what I like from different food approaches and recipes and adapt it to suit what makes me feel good."
Preparing fresh meals from scratch every day requires a lot of time, effort, and care. However, Shan doesn't stress about Grace strictly adhering to the diet. "(What she eats now) is not weird, not anything strange, that normal people wouldn't eat. She loves it. I don't feed her toast or cereal or anything like that. Again I think, 'sure that stuff is not going to kill her.' If she eats a piece of bread I'm not going to have a conniption."
Even when Grace was a baby, Shan recognized that she would eventually attend birthday parties with sugary treats and cakes. "I'm not going to not let her go to kids' parties. She's going to go to kids' parties and eat what's there. I'm never going to go to Grace, 'You can't eat anything at this party but I packed you some kale, here you go.'"
Shan strongly believes that children are naturally intuitive eaters. As Grace grows older, Shan plans to nurture that intuition and help her understand which foods make her feel good and which don't. This process often involves trial and error. "She'll be old enough to know she can choose whatever she wants to eat. She'll probably come home jacked up on sugar and cake and say, 'mum I don't feel very well.' And next time instead of eating 12 cupcakes she might only eat three."
Creating A Healthy Relationship With Food
"I don't want there to be any disordered eating around food," Shan emphasized, acknowledging the prevalence of eating disorders among women. "I want Grace to eat what makes her feel good. That's the reason I eat this way. I don't think eating a piece of bread is going to kill me. When I go out with dinner with friends, I'm just going to eat what's on the menu. I'm not going to be a jerk about it. She'll also learn what makes her feel good and what doesn't."
At eight years old now, Grace's mom has become adept at finding healthy alternatives to typical childhood junk food. Naturally, people are curious: Has Shan allowed Grace to have sugar now that she's older? A follower on Instagram asked her this about four months ago: "My question is, will Grace tell you if she wants to try something sweet, like candy?" To which Shan responded, "Absolutely. She's had candy before at kids' parties."
In the end, fostering a positive relationship with food is essential, and having the freedom to indulge in unhealthy treats can help nurture that. It's all about discovering foods that bring satisfaction and nourishment while minimizing those that make you feel unwell.