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Paleo or Zone While Breastfeeding

By Cindy Pineo

Neither the Paleo Diet nor the Zone Diet is optimal for breastfeeding mothers. The Paleo Diet, developed by Dr. Loren Cordain, forbids entire food groups and is impractical. Dr. Barry Sears' Zone Diet is well balanced, but its calorie restrictions are too severe. If forced to choose between the two, follow the Zone Diet's proportions but eat larger servings and more calories to provide adequate nutrition for yourself and your infant.

Paleo Diet

Dr. Cordain's Paleo Diet aims to recreate the diet of Paleolithic cave dwellers as closely as possible. Paleolithic humans were healthy and lean, Cordain argues, and dieters who eat as they did will avoid the health problems of modernity such as diabetes, tooth decay and heart disease. The diet forbids all sugar, grains, dairy products and legumes, and focuses on meat, fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables. The diet is low in carbohydrates and high in protein and fat. "U.S. News and World Report" ranked the Paleo Diet dead last in its evaluation of 20 common weight-loss diets, finding it neither effective, heart healthy nor easy to follow.

Paleo's Problems

Breastfeeding mothers should not eliminate any food groups from their diets. Instead, they should aim for as much variety and balance as possible. Babycenter's medical advisory board recommend six to nine servings of whole grains -- a source of sustained energy -- per day, and three daily servings of dairy products to reach the recommended daily allowance of 1,000 mg of calcium. The Paleo Diet provides only 700 mg per day of this mineral. Children's Hospital Boston lists beans -- a Paleo Diet no-no -- as one of the most nutritious foods for breastfeeding women. The Paleo Diet is simply too restrictive and cuts out nutritionally important foods.

Zone Diet

The Zone Diet requires dieters to balance macronutrients at each meal. The ideal proportion is 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fat. While the Zone Diet does not forbid any given food, fruits, vegetables, low-fat proteins and healthy fats such as olive oil and nuts are encouraged. Grains that don't cause a rapid rise in blood sugar, such as oatmeal and barley, are preferred over "bad" carbohydrates such as sweets and white bread. The dieter must eat at least every five hours to prevent hunger and cravings.

Zone's Problems

While the Zone Diet is balanced and sensible, its calorie restrictions are too severe for breastfeeding women. The diet limits women's intake to 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day, but breastfeeding moms need at least 2,000 to 2,700 calories per day, according to Babycenter. Its carbohydrate allotment is on the low side, although not dangerously so, and some women may need to eat more grains to quell hunger pangs. The Zone Diet requires burdensome calculations if you scrupulously follow the 40-30-30 proportion.


Babycenter and the Children's Hospital Boston warn women not to follow weight-loss diets while breastfeeding, especially during the first two months after giving birth. Restricting your diet during this time can jeopardize your milk supply and make you feel exhausted. Babycenter advises setting aside calorie counting entirely and instead eating to satisfy hunger. Many women lose weight without dieting while breastfeeding, and gradual weight loss is safer for you and your child. Rather than following any restrictive weight-loss plan, focus on healthy changes. For instance, if you snack on potato chips or sweets, try peanut butter and whole-grain crackers and fruit instead, and replace sodas with milk, soy milk, fruit juice or water.

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