In 2015, Shan Cooper went viral for feeding her infant the controversial paleo diet. Grace, now eight years old, grew up eating mainly fresh produce, eggs, meat, and eggs and no processed sugar. Her mother is known for her blog ‘My Food Religion’ where she shares healthy recipes using “ingredients that are as close to their natural state as possible and have been through minimal processing.” But while many adults opt for healthier lifestyles, Grace has grown up eating healthily.
The Baby Who Ate No Refined Sugar
At 13 months old, Grace’s diet included breast milk twice a day in addition to meals such as eggs fried in coconut oil, broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, roast chicken, avocado, sauerkraut, fruit, organic beef, zucchini noodles, and the like. She does not usually eat dessert but Shan made her strawberry panacotta with coconut cream (without refined sugar) to celebrate her first birthday.
According to her mother in 2015, Grace had only gotten sick once at that age, and Shan attributed her immunity to her nutritiously-dense diet. “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 adopted the paleo diet to improve her health after suffering from food allergies. So she slowly began cutting out gluten, dairy, and processed foods. “I just got sick of not feeling great,” she said. “That had become my normal and (I decided) that wasn’t going to be normal anymore.”
The paleo diet is based on what cavemen would have theoretically eaten during the Paleolithic era, focusing on lean meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. The plan restricts refined sugar, grains, legumes, dairy, and processed food in general. However, experts have expressed concerns about the diet, particularly because it excludes healthy grains and legumes, good sources of fiber, vitamins, and many nutrients, as well as dairy, which is a good source of calcium and protein. Others criticize how the diet oversimplifies how ancient people used to eat; after all, geographical locations would have provided different food sources, and research has found early human diets included grains thousands of years before farming became commonplace. 
“I am not Paleo…”
While Shan keeps to a general paleo diet herself, she is not strict with it. As she writes 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 make me feel good.” 
Naturally, it takes a lot of time, effort, and care to prepare food from scratch every day. But Shan is not uptight about Grace sticking 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.”
Read: “Fit Grandma” Says Eating 150 Eggs a Month is Her Secret to Staying Healthy
When Grace was still a baby, Shan acknowledged that she’d soon be attending birthday parties full of sugar, cake, and to eat. “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.’”
In fact, Shan believes that children are naturally intuitive eaters. She plans to cultivate that intuition as Grace gets older, helping her understand which foods make her feel good and which not. And that often comes with 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,” said Shan, noting that many women suffer from eating disorders. “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.”
Today, Grace is now eight-years-old and her mother is a pro at finding healthy alternatives to typical childhood junk food.  Of course, people want to know the truth: Has Shan allowed Grace to eat sugar now that she’s older? About four months ago, a follower asked her this on Instagram: “My question is, will Grace tell you if she wants to try something sweet, like candy?” To which Shan replied, “Absolutely. She’s had candy before at kids’ parties.”
After all, it’s important to have a good relationship with food, and the freedom to eat unhealthy things can help cultivate that. It’s all about finding foods that give you satisfaction and nourishment, and reducing foods that make you feel sick.
Keep Reading: The Sandwich Spread American Children Need To Be Eating More Of
- “The baby girl who has never eaten a carb: Meet Grace, who has been on the Paleo diet since birth – and her fitness fanatic mum says she has only been sick once in her life.” Daily Mail. November 1, 2018
- “Paleo diet: What is it and why is it so popular?” Mayo Clinic. August 25, 2020.
- “A bit about me…” My Food Religion. Shan Cooper.
- “Meet Shan Cooper, the Mom Who Will Help You Find Healthy Alternatives for Your Kiddos.” Mama’s Cut. Sara Vallone. July 30, 2022