Commercial Baby Foods May Not Be A Good Idea During Weaning—Homemade Alternatives

Monday Nov 4 | BY |
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Baby Food

A lot of ready-made commercial baby foods have added sugar.

If one food we buy off the shelves is expected to be nutritious, it’s baby food. Many parents turn to commercial baby food options every day to be sure their children are getting the nutrients they need. Particularly when weaning baby off breast milk, baby food becomes particularly important.

A new study, however, raises concerns about what’s actually in those jars. Here’s more, and a few options for health-conscious parents.

When to Wean

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends moms breastfeed only for the first six months of life. Moving baby from breast milk to other foods is a critical time in her development—a time when the healthy benefits of breast milk must be supplemented with solid foods.

Whether parents should introduce solid foods before six months remains a topic of debate. Most health organizations recommend against it, but in 2011, a controversial report from the Institute of Child Health in London questioned that advice. According to Dr. Mary Fewtrell, a consultant pediatrician there, exclusive breastfeeding for six months without introducing other foods could increase risk of iron deficiency anemia, food allergies, and unhealthy eating in later life, as it reduces the window for introducing new tastes.

“In reality,” says Professor John Warner, a professor of pediatrics at Imperial College, London, “…a lot of babies will be hungry by this age and need something else—they won’t be able to manage on liquids alone.”

Regardless of when you wean baby, nutrition is important. What researchers found in this recent study is that weaning early—say, at four months—can be detrimental if baby receives sugary, low-nutrition foods in place of breast milk.

What the Study Found

Published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, this recent study looked at the nutritional content of 462 standard baby foods. These were produced by four United Kingdom manufacturers and included ready-made soft and wet foods, powdered meals that required added milk or water, breakfast cereals, and dry finger foods including biscuits, snacks, and raisins.

Of these, 79 percent were ready-made spoonable foods, of which 44 percent were aimed at infants from the age of four months. How these foods compared to breast milk was a primary concern, since most health organizations recommend breast milk exclusively for the first six months.

The researchers found that the spoonable foods had identical energy content to breast milk, and 40 percent higher protein content than formula milk. However, there were some key drawbacks:

  • The ready-made spoonable foods showed much lower nutrient density, compared with homemade foods.
  • Dry finger foods showed the highest levels of energy and nutrient density, but were significantly higher in sugar.
  • Overall, nearly two-thirds of the products were sweet foods. The researchers noted that repeated exposure to sweet foods during infancy can lead children to develop a preference for such foods, affecting diet and health later in life.
  • A 50-gram portion of spoonable homemade food was likely to supply the same amount of protein ad energy as 100 grams of a spoonable commercial product. Researchers recommended parents serve homemade food in its place, as long as it’s prepared correctly (without added salt and sugar).

It seems the study showed essentially that buying prepared foods for babies contains similar drawbacks to buying prepared foods for adults—added salt and sugar, without a nutritional advantage.

“Offerings for infant foods are too sweet in general,” said Dr. Peter Richel, chief of the department of pediatrics at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y. “Parents should be aware of processed foods, artificial sweeteners in fruits and ‘baby-friendly’ yogurts and yogurt drinks. These products seem so nice and easy, with great marketing, packaging and convenience.”

Homemade Instead

Overall, these researchers recommended that parents make baby foods at home, rather than buying ready-made. Here are some quick tips:

  • Blanche fruits and veggies, blend a bit of liquid (water, breast milk or formula) and you have a healthy puree. Buy organic to reduce exposure to pesticides and always scrub and peel.
  • Consider getting a “baby food maker” that steam-cooks and then purees fruit, vegetables and meat. Some parents find a baby food grinder or even a food processor works just as well.
  • Grains like quinoa or milliet can be pureed or ground into a food mill. Cook them first according to package directions.
  • Keep in mind that you can use the same foods you’re feeding the rest of your family—just puree, blend, or mash.
  • Don’t sweeten the foods—babies don’t need the extra sugar. Avoid honey and corn syrup as well, as these can cause botulism in babies.
  • Try seasonings—though you may think babies need bland foods, you can try different flavors with healthy seasonings. (Avoid too much salt.)
  • Homemade foods can spoil more quickly—refrigerate immediately in airtight containers. If you make a lot of servings ahead of time, freeze a good portion of it.
  • Find homemade baby food recipes here.

Do you make your own baby food at home? How do you make sure your baby gets the nutrition he or she needs?

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Sources
Rachel Ellis, “So when is the safest time to wean your baby?” Daily Mail, January 17, 2011, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1348093/So-IS-safest-time-wean-baby.html.

Honor Whiteman, “Commercial baby foods fail to meat weaning needs,” Medical News Today, September 10, 2013, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265838.php.

Robert Preidt, “Commercial Baby Foods Fall Short for Nutrition: Study,” MedlinePlus, September 10, 2013, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_140492.html.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com

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