Recent studies demonstrate that commercial baby food, even those promising only organic, healthy ingredients, may be lacking in nutrients while supplying ingredients that babies don’t need.
A closer look at what’s in the jar
The Alternative Health Journal recently studied over 100 baby foods and found that many contain ingredients that are not necessary to a baby’s diet, let alone health. Results concluded that many commercial baby foods contain high quantities of sugar and trans fats; both ingredients that are not considered to be healthy for adults, much less babies. Even organic brands are not exempt from this, as one popular organic baby food brand was shown to contain high sodium levels.
Metal lids on jarred baby foods can contain Bisphenol A—more commonly known as BPA . It is thought that limited exposure is not harmful to adults; however infants do not possess mature immune systems and are more susceptible to health dangers in general. This is one reason why so many parents are switching from commercial baby foods to jarring their own homemade baby food.
By jarring baby food at home, the food level can be adjusted so that the food is not directly in contact with the metal lid, as it often does in commercial jars. This can dramatically lessen the chances of your baby being exposed to BPA.
Another consideration when evaluating commercial baby food is whether or not there are added acids in the list of ingredients. When most people think of acid reflux, the last thing they consider is that it could affect babies.
Dr. Jamie Koufman conducted a study in 2010 to measure the level of acids in various baby foods. Over 30 varieties of baby food were studied, and the results monitored pH levels and identified which acids were added to the food.
Not surprisingly, the baby foods highest in acid content were fruits such as prunes, apples, pears, and applesauce combinations—while the foods lowest in acid content consisted of starchy vegetables or grains such as potatoes, corn, green beans, and rice combinations. Even though the acids found in fruits are naturally occurring, parents should be mindful not to overfeed these, as the acids still have an effect on the delicate digestive systems of infants.
While some foods are more acidic than others, store bought baby foods often have acid added. Ingredients such as ascorbic acid and citric acid can often be found in the ingredients list. Acid reflux is painful for individuals of any age, and it is definitely worth the effort to avoid feeding your baby foods that can cause this condition.
Why choose organic?
All of the concerns discussed so far also apply to store bought organic baby food. A certified organic baby food does not guarantee that the contents are actually the healthiest option for your baby. Parents still need to be educated on the issues and learn to read and understand labels.
The benefits offered by certified organic baby food are the same as those of adult foods. Most of the ingredients in organic baby food are grown or produced according to certified organic standards.
For produce, that means fruits, vegetables and grains have been grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. If the baby food contains animal products, these are raised on feed and in environments that are similarly free of these inputs. Importantly, animals are not treated with hormones and antibiotics.
By choosing organic, you can reduce your baby’s exposure to these chemicals in two important ways. Not only will your baby not ingest them, since they are not used in production; fewer of these substances will be used to grow crops, protecting the environment in which your child will grow up—and ultimately inherit.
How organic is it?
It’s logical to assume that baby food labeled as certified organic would contain nothing but organic ingredients. As with most labels these days, the logical conclusion is usually wrong.
Products labeled USDA organic must contain at least 95% organic ingredients. Uncertified products that say ‘contains organic ingredients’ are also regulated. They must contain at least 70% organic ingredients.
Cost of organic vs conventional
When comparing the cost of organic vs conventional store bought baby food, we found that sometimes organic can be had cheaper. While that is not always true, it pays to shop around. It also pays to either have a strong head for maths or carry a calculator.
For instance, we compared two online adverts for commercial Mixed Vegetable baby food. Both are well known brands—one organic and one not. The organic option was available in a single 4oz jar for $1.00. The other, non-organic brand, came in a two pack for $1.70. Where the maths come in is in figuring out the price per ounce, rather than the total advertised price. Because even though the non-organic came in a two pack, each jar was only 3.5oz.
That brings the price of the organic option to 25 cents per ounce, while the non-organic product actually came in just slightly higher, at 25 and one half cents per ounce.
Making your own organic baby food
The movement away from processed foods has focused parents’ minds on the importance of feeding their babies a wholesome and natural diet from the start.
Fresh organic foods are definitely better for your baby. And even if jarred organic food is not much more expensive than its non-organic counterpart, there are still issues with BPA, acid, added salts and so forth. Just as making your own food from fresh, whole ingredients allows you to know and control exactly what goes into your meals, making your own organic baby food will give you that same confidence that you are feeding your baby the best possible diet.
Your baby can enjoy the fresh fruits and vegetables that you do on a daily basis with minor modifications. To save money and buy the freshest produce, find a local farmers market and choose items that are in season.
Another helpful resource is the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 charts, which list the best and worst of fruits and vegetables on the market in regard to pesticide exposure. The Dirty Dozen lists fruits and vegetables that are routinely treated with at least 10 pesticides—while items on the Clean 15 list are treated with less than two.
You can use a traditional food mill, a hand crank baby food mill or a convenient electric baby food maker. Another happy outcome of making your own baby food is that you can avoid single serving containers that need to be disposed of. Even if you recycle, it takes energy and fossil fuels to collect and process glass for reuse. By removing yourself from that cycle, you are making an important contribution to the first two Rs of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Do babies need baby food?
Babies primarily need their mother’s breast milk for the first many months, and then they need proper weaning to soft foods—working their way up to solids. Babies will benefit from pureed or softened food; however it does not have to be from a jar.
To give your baby the best in nutrition and health from the start, you can make your own baby food very simply, from food that you eat every day. Not all foods have to be pureed or softened of course. Mashed potatoes, as well as many vegetables and fruits may be soft enough on their own for your baby to enjoy. It is a great idea to introduce different textures and flavors in your baby’s diet to help encourage them to try new things. Commercial baby foods are often one dimensional, and don’t provide adequate variances in the taste and texture to get babies interested.
Here are some of the basic signals that will show you when your baby is ready to start solids:
- When your baby can sit upright with minimal or no support
- When your baby stops pushing solid foods back out of their mouth
- When your baby begins chewing on things
- When your baby begins to grasp objects
- When your baby starts pulling yummy looking food off of your plate and trying to eat it
- When breast feeding just doesn’t fill up your baby’s tummy anymore
For most of human history, babies have been weaning onto solid foods without jarred food, or even food mills or processors, for that matter. It’s only in the last 50 years or so that commercially prepared baby foods have come on the scene, and that is only in industrialized countries. Even today, jarred baby food is absent in many cultures. In her book, French Kids Eat Everything, Karen le Billon, an American mother in France, describes her amazement at seeing French toddlers happily (and courteously) eating everything from beets to mussels.
The popular consensus on weaning babies to solid food is that there is a gradual process by which parents start weaning with tasteless, textureless foods and work up from there—gradually including new flavors and textures. There is no scientific reason why this is the adopted method—or why our babies live the first years of their lives conditioned to a severe lack of variety and textures—which are needed to encourage healthy eating habits. If encouraged in the right time, babies will do a large portion of the switch to solid foods on their own. Curiosity mixed with an increase in appetite will lead babies to try new things.
Baby-led weaning is a method that covers the entire process of weaning from milk to solid foods. Babies may not need to start chewing on carrot sticks when they are a few months old, but by about six months of age, babies will often begin the process of grabbing for food, chewing on things, and enjoying new flavors and textures in their mouths.
Gill Rapley is an authority on weaning practices in the UK, and is the author of Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food. She promotes baby-led weaning as being one of the healthiest, most natural ways to wean your baby. This ultimate guide focuses on what is really healthy—both nutritionally and developmentally—for your baby.
Babies and children are not all together unlike adults when it comes to eating. When babies are hungry, they cry; children learn to express their hunger in words, and both will accept nutrition to quell the hunger. It is important to incorporate flavors and textures in a baby’s diet when they are ready in order to avoid feeding complications later.
No parent likes the fight over not eating something that is green versus yellow, or not liking the way something feels; and many of these behaviors are conditioned by babies and young children not getting the variety and incorporation of flavor and texture that they need at an early, appropriate stage of weaning. Babies who are allowed to explore real food, sample from mom and dad’s plates, and enjoy new tastes and textures are more likely to feed themselves and eat more healthy foods without the hassle of processing, pureeing, freezing, and worrying over nutrition.
Why is baby-led weaning highly successful?
- It is a natural process. Eating is a basic instinct and babies will eat solid foods when ready
- Your baby will learn to explore and enjoy food
- You baby will begin developing healthy self-feeding habits
- Your baby will begin to learn about the environment around them through food
- Self-feeding encourages hand-eye coordination and other motor developments
- You and your baby will enjoy baby being a part of family mealtime
- You will enjoy sharing a meal with your baby without complicated baby food issues
- Your baby will learn to enjoy different varieties of food, which will minimize food refusal and picky eating later
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