What would happen if you raised a child without ever feeding them any sugar at all, starting from birth? Would they suffer as a result of that decision? Would it be child abuse? Or would they go on to live a happy, healthy life? One mother tried it - and here's how her daughter turned out years later.
Depending on which expert you believe, many different types of food can be good or bad for you. Some people believe that red meat is a potential cause of cancer, whereas others say that eating red meat helps the heart muscles. Different studies seem to confirm different theories about food.
One food type that causes a great deal of controversy is sugar. Almost everybody knows that having too much sugar is bad for you, but it's generally believed that a little sugar is necessary to keep the body ticking over. Sugar does, after all, occur naturally within the human body.
The Health Enthusiast
Shannon Cooper is what you might call a health enthusiast. She's always taken great pride in her health and fitness, and when she had her daughter Grace, she was determined to get her off to a great start in life.
In Shannon's mind, that meant feeding Grace no carbohydrates and no sugar at any stage in her development. The media got hold of this story, and some people tried to paint Shannon as a cruel mother for denying her child these ingredients.
Shannon is better placed than most people to say what should or shouldn't be put into the human body as food. The mother, from Brisbane in Australia, has spent much of her life studying the effect of different kinds of food on the long-term health of adults and children.
She feels some types of food are fuel, and others are poison. Understandably, she had no intention of putting anything poisonous into young Grace's body. That meant sugar was out.
You Are What You Eat
All of us have probably come across the phrase 'you are what you eat' before now. Shannon believes that old adage quite literally. She concerns herself not only with the contents of what she's eating, but also what the things she's eating may have eaten themselves!
She believes animals which are fed low-quality nutrients on farms can pass those low-quality nutrients on to us when we eat them. She's not a vegetarian, but she never eats anything without knowing exactly where it came from.
Believing In Science
Shannon's expertise in the background and content of food doesn't just come from articles she's read online. Shannon took agricultural science as a course during her college years. She particularly focused on a strand of biology that studies how plants are grown to be eaten by humans.
She took that learning and applied it to her career; she's now a health and wellness instructor. You could say that understanding the science behind food is her whole life.
Why Is This Important?
We're talking about Shannon's background so much because it's important to understand where her opinions have come from. The people who criticized her for denying sugar to Grace weren't as qualified as Shannon when it comes to knowing what impact sugar will have on a baby's development.
When someone like Shannon says carbohydrates and sugar aren't necessary, their opinion should be respected because of their level of knowledge. Her decisions about what to feed Grace weren't an experiment; from her point of view, they were an act of love.
Choosing not to feed Grace carbohydrates or sugar wasn't just a decision that Shannon came up with out of nowhere. Shannon herself also doesn't consume any sugar or carbohydrates - and you only have to take one look at her to realize that it hasn't done her any harm.
There's even a name for this type of diet - it's called the Paleo diet. Although most people haven't heard of it, it's practiced all over the world in many different countries and cultures.
An All-Natural Diet
Feeding Grace a Paleo diet required discipline and determination on Shannon's part. Almost all store-bought varieties of baby food contain at least some traces of sugar or carbohydrates - even the ones which are marketed as being good for you.
That meant she had to ignore every type of processed food. Anything containing preservatives was also out. Instead, Shannon provided Grace an all-natural diet, made with her own hands. That way, she could be 100% sure of what her daughter was eating.
So, What Is The Paleo Diet Anyway?
To give the Paleo diet its full name, we should be referring to it as the 'Paleolithic diet.' The first part of the name refers to a period of earth history thousands of years ago. That's why some people prefer to call it the 'caveman diet.'
As the name suggests, anyone who follows this diet eats only the food types which would have been available to our stone-age ancestors. In basic terms, that means vegetables, fruits, fish, and meat.
She Knew It Was Right
By the time Grace came along and blessed Shannon's life, Shannon had already been following the Paleolithic diet for several years. She'd been looking for a solid, reliable diet plan for a long time, and read about the Paleo diet in 2010.
She adopted it straight away, and has never looked back. For Shannon, it became more than a diet. She felt it transformed her health in such a positive way that she now considers it to be a lifestyle.
The Dangers Of Processed Food
Shannon had good reasons to be looking for a healthier diet - and we don't just mean because of her education. Unfortunately, Shannon had been dealing with some health complications before she made the choice to change her diet.
A number of food allergies meant that most meals she came across in restaurants made her ill, and store-bought food usually had the same effect. She needed a way to remove all the human-made elements from what she was eating.
A Miracle Cure
The effect of moving onto the Paleolithic diet worked almost instantly for Shannon - it was like she'd completely changed her life in the space of a few short weeks. Her energy levels increased, and she no longer felt sick after every meal.
The Paleo diet purges the body of all synthetic food contents, including preservatives and fertilizers on top of the obvious carbohydrate and sugar elements. It does restrict your meal options severely though - you have to say goodbye to anything containing grain or dairy.
Doctors Are Still Unsure
Doctors are a little split on whether the overall effect of the Paleo diet is positive or negative; however, from an evolutionary point of view, the diet makes sense. If stone age people hadn't had a healthy, sustainable diet, the human race would have died out centuries ago! In a lot of ways, they ate better than we do today.
They got a lot more fiber and protein content into their bodies, and they also ingested all the vitamins they needed without having to resort to supplements.
Were Stone Age People Even That Healthy?
As with anything, though, there have to be a few drawbacks - and it's the drawbacks which concern the doctors. Parasitic infections were common among stone age people, and they were also prone to easily succumbing to infections and diseases.
Studies of preserved bodies from the stone age have also revealed that our ancestors suffered from hardened arteries at comparatively early ages, which could potentially impact longevity. Was there any risk of any of this happening to Grace?
A Big Decision
While Shannon was positive that the diet had done good things for her, there was no way she was going to take any chances with Grace's health and development. Before starting Grace on the Paleo diet, she sought a professional opinion for her doctor.
Sadly, her doctor wasn't familiar with the diet, and so couldn't tell her much more than she already knew. The decision was left solely in Shannon's hands. She had to decide what was best for Grace without help.
A Gut Feeling
With nothing to go on other than her instincts, Shannon decided to go with her gut and feed Grace a Paleo diet right from the start. She made one tiny exception, though.
To ward off the risk of Grace's developing immune system not getting the boost it needed to become strong, she breastfed Grace to help pass on her own immunities to her daughter. That way, the infection and disease risk that cavemen had to deal with shouldn't become a threat to Grace.
Breast Is Best
The decision to breast-feed Grace set Shannon apart from many other mothers who feed their children a Paleo diet, but Shannon felt like it was a necessary protective step.
It also helped to ensure that Grace was getting the basic nutrition she needed to strengthen and grow; it would be some time before she was able to eat raw vegetables and raw meat. A newborn baby simply isn't capable of chewing and processing that kind of food, so she needed support in the meantime.
Starting On Solids
As Grace grew stronger and Shannon was able to gradually wean her away from breast-feeding, she started to introduce tiny portions of vegetables, and also little pieces of organic chicken to get her used to the diet.
In another step away from what some might see as a traditional Paleo diet, Shannon also included other types of food so long as she could totally assure herself that they didn't contain any human-made chemical compounds - and, of course, that they didn't contain sugar.
A Toddler Who Doesn't Want Candy
Anybody who's ever raised a child of their own will know that a growing baby can be an extremely fussy eater! It might therefore astonish you to hear that by her first birthday, Grace was happily tucking into chia pudding, sauerkraut, quinoa, and porridge.
Because she'd never been introduced to high-sugar content foods or processed meals, she had no taste for them, and didn't crave them. Most one-year-olds are constantly begging their parents for sweet treats. Grace never did!
It Seems To Be Working
So, of course, the key question in all of this how Grace is faring today - and the answer is very well indeed! Since she's been born, Grace has only ever suffered one bout of illness.
That illness was an extremely mild cold; the type that all of us will get every once in a while, and has nothing to do with our diets. She doesn't have any growth issues, and she's happy, smiling, healthy child who doesn't have a care in the world.
As well as being happy and healthy on the Paleo diet, Shannon says she's noticed something else about Grace. Grace encounters and plays with many children her own age who have colds, coughs and other illnesses - all the ailments which we're told are part and parcel of childhood.
Despite that, Grace doesn't seem to pick up any infections from any other children. It might even be possible that the Paleo diet has made her stronger than all of her peers!
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