I’m going to start this post with a disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I am not a scientist. I am a mom who has recognized substantial positive change in my child when altering her diet. I am attempting to take my experience and match it to some Paleo based science/research. Some of the information you read in this post may sound contrary to popular opinion.
Why we think eating fat has benefited Charlotte:
*She has issues with her nervous system. We know that she has Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD), which is one of the three primary diagnostic groups of Sensory Processing Disorder. She is over or under responding to sensory stimuli and often is seeking sensory stimulation. Yes.
This group may include a fearful and/or anxious pattern, negative and/or stubborn behaviors, self-absorbed behaviors that are difficult to engage or creative or actively seeking sensation [source]. Definitely.
All of this dysregulation is going on in her nervous system and prevents her from responding appropriately to sensory input. In our world this looks like things that take a lot of effort for her….trying new food flavors and textures, following directions, getting dressed, knowing when she needs to go potty, etc, etc.
*The nervous system sends signals to cells in different parts of the body and ultimately controls the body’s functions. In addition, “the evolution of a complex nervous system has made it possible for various animal species to have advanced perception abilities such as vision, complex social interactions, rapid coordination of organ systems, and integrated processing of concurrent signals. In humans, the sophistication of the nervous system makes it possible to have language, abstract representation of concepts, transmission of culture, and many other features of human society that would not exist without the human brain.” [source]
Essentially, her nervous system makes or breaks her comfort level in the world. How do we make it stronger, faster, better?
*Vitamin B12–is a water-soluble vitamin with a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. Vitamin B12 is found in foods that come from animals, including fish and shellfish, meat (especially liver), poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products [source]. Without even realizing it, when we began the Paleo diet and introduced more meat and less grain, we were strengthening her nervous system.
*Energy–I was recently reading a post from Mark Sisson of Marks’ Daily Apple about Mitochondria. Need a refresher of tenth grade biology class? In very simple terms…mitochondria are the power plants of a cell. They generate the chemical energy the body needs for a range of cellular processes. I was definitely intimidated by this subject matter, but I stuck with it and applied it to my observations of Charlotte’s behaviors. It makes sense to me that giving her cells fatty acids from food to use as a source of fuel for the cells, rather than glucose (sugar/carbs) would lead to more energy, increased overall alertness, ultimately leading to increased mental and physical strength and development. More specifics on all of this here.
*And the great news…I’m not alone! I found this great site on Autism Treatment talking about Ketogenic(higher fat/lower carb) diets and how they may help kids with Autism.
But wait…there’s more…
*Essential Fatty Acids–When we first started on the Paleo diet, we helped our kids kick their sugar and carb addictions with delicious fruit smoothies. We loaded up our Blendtec blender with fresh fruit, frozen strawberries and blueberries, and even got crazy and added veggies like avocado and spinach. It’s funny now to remember that Chad and I had to both stand in front of the blender and secretly add these ingredients the girls were so terrified of at the time. We also secretly added Cod Liver Oil, which is basically Omega 3 in liquid form with Essential Fatty Acids DHA and EPA. All of the other flavors of the smoothie masked any fishy taste from the oil. Again, it’s no surprise that we saw changes right after starting this regime. Omega-3s aid circulation by naturally thinning the blood, fight systemic inflammation, support brain function and ease symptoms of depression, anxiety and even ADHD [source]. Currently, we try to serve fish at home 1-2 times per week to provide these essential fats in the form of food. If we miss a week, I’ll give them a glass of orange juice (a special treat) and add a 1/2 tsp of Cod Liver Oil to each drink–and I don’t have to hide it anymore.
*The fat in animal protein has become an essential part of Charlotte’s diet. We have no qualms sending bacon with her to preschool as her snack and making sure she eats all of her skirt steak before giving her more sweet potatoes. I’m sharing this with you because I only wish I had known this sooner. See Our Story for our a detailed account of how her sleep issues shortly after birth were a clear sign that Charlotte need more fat in her diet. Conventional Wisdom has scared us away from natural fats that our ancestors have been eating for thousands of years. It’s only in recent history that we have shifted away from this powerful energy source and so many brain based issues have arisen.
*One final note on fat–the Paleo diet recommends pastured-raised 100% grass-fed beef as the best source of animal protein and fat. Grass fed beef contains Omega 3s (discussed above) and Conjugated Linoleic Acid, which is another good for you naturally occurring fat. Grain fed beef gets a bad rap in the Paleo Community, mostly because the cattle are fed grain/soy/corn in a feed lot to fatten them for tastier consumption. It makes perfect sense that grain fed beef goes against what Paleo people strive to consume. However, it can be expensive and hard to find. As you begin your Paleo journey, you may be encouraged to learn that we have only recently been able to acquire grass-fed beef and feed it to Charlotte. All of the meat that she thrived on in our earlier Paleo days was Costco-bought, grain fed. If you are holding out for cheaper or more accessible grass-fed beef, grain fed is an acceptable substitute and did our family right for a short time.