Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Infant Feeding Myths

In San Antonio Living the article, "Experts Seek to Debunk Baby Food Myths" takes a look at some of our most cherished baby feeding myths and reviews where the scientific evidence for those recommendations is lacking.

Most parents [in the United States]are told to start rice cereal at 6 months, then slowly progress to simple vegetables, mild fruits and finally pasta and meat...Parents elsewhere in the world certainly take a more freewheeling approach, often starting babies on heartier, more flavorful fare — from meats in African countries to fish and radishes in Japan and artichokes and tomatoes in France.

The difference is cultural, not scientific, says Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' nutrition committee who says the American approach suffers from a Western bias that fails to reflect the nation's ethnic diversity.

The recommendations also fail to use evidence as the basis!

In a review of the research, Nancy Butte, a pediatrics professor at Baylor College of Medicine, found that many strongly held assumptions — such as the need to offer foods in a particular order or to delay allergenic foods — have little scientific basis.

I know when my son was younger, our pediatrician gave the same advice to me - start with baby rice cereal since it has the lowest risk of allergy and is fortified with iron, and then progress to the vegetables and mild fruits; wait to introduce eggs, meats, poultry and fish until one year.

When I told her we'd be skipping the baby rice cereal in favor of more nutritious, less processed whole foods, like vegetables, fruits and some egg yolks as the first solid foods, she strongly warned that iron-deficiency might become problematic.

Oh really?

My reason for skipping the rice cereal was simple and had nothing to do with the iron - rice cereal is a highly processed carbohydrate with questionable nutrient value, that I felt would increase my son's simple carbohydrate intake beyond acceptable levels for a six-seven month old.

The whole foods I introduced first all had good levels of naturally occuring iron, which has better uptake than the iron used to fortify baby foods, and I was continuing to nurse. Seems I'm not alone in the thinking that rice cereal wasn't a good idea to start with and there are better foods to start with!

Dr. David Ludwig of Children's Hospital Boston, a specialist in pediatric nutrition, says some studies suggest rice and other highly processed grain cereals actually could be among the worst foods for infants.

"These foods are in a certain sense no different from adding sugar to formula. They digest very rapidly in the body into sugar, raising blood sugar and insulin levels" and could contribute to later health problems, including obesity, he says.

The lack of variety in the American approach also could be a problem. Exposing infants to more foods may help them adapt to different foods later, which Ludwig says may be key to getting older children to eat healthier.

So what were my son's first foods?

Avocado, egg yolk, green beans, banana, sweet potatoes, squash and carrots.

He progressed over the next few months to a much wider range of vegetables and fruits, meats, poultry and select fish, along with assorted cheese and yogurt, some beans and a variety of seed butters. Today, at 14-months old, the only thing he won't eat is white potatoes and pasta. The things we've kept off his plate so far - nuts, shellfish, strawberries - due to a family history of potential allergy.

I like to think he's just naturally a controlled-carb baby since I have offered him both the potatoes and the pasta (whole grain, of course) and he just doesn't eat them, although he does like to toss them off his high-chair tray! He also hasn't had highly processed foods or fast foods and actually likes spicy ethnic foods like Thai, Indian and Lebanese selections we've given him to try.

Is he any worse for the lack of baby rice cereal or other questionable processed food promoted for infants and toddlers? I doubt it - in fact he's the only child I know who made it through the first year without so as much as a cold. Do I think his diet has something to do with his health? Absolutely!

At the time it was appropriate to start solids with my son, I saw (and continue to see) no good reason to start him off with highly processed, refined pab, called baby cereal and skipped the packaged foods marketed for infants and toddlers after reading the ingredients they're made with. Quite frankly, I couldn't imagine how "veggie wagon wheels carrot," that are mostly refined grain (corn), actually contain trans-fats (partially hydrogenated soybean oil) and don't even have carrots in the ingredients list, are better than real carrots!

My basis for how we started introducing solids with our son was based on data that suggests that maternal diet while pregnant and the foods offered as first foods have a strong influence on later eating habits.

As research increasingly suggests a child's first experiences with food shape later eating habits, doctors say battling obesity and improving the American diet may mean debunking the myths and broadening babies' palates.

Recent survey data, as reported on in USA Today, reveals that by 19-24 months, average toddlers eat french fries as their main staple vegetable. My poor son - note sarcasm - still doesn't even know what a french fry is!

"The whole idea of a nutritionally balanced diet has been compromised," said Samuel Gidding, another adviser on the AHA recommendations and professor of pediatric cardiology at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. "I think that fast foods have become — rather than being discretionary choices — the main stop for meals."

The doctor said that 30 to 50 years ago, foods that were nutritional were considered "kids' foods." Now, he said, kids' foods are viewed as sweets, snacks or so-called comfort foods.

And we wonder why our children are growing overweight and obese more and more each year?

1 comment:

  1. I found your blog searching on the history of infant rice cereal. I could not agree more with your reasoning!

    It boggles my mind that while adults are told to avoid processed foods, we're supposed to feed our precious babies ultra-processed, dehydrated, food "flakes" as if it's natural and healthy.

    Doesn't anyone see the contradiction? I'm glad to know I'm not the only one out there that thinks we're being sold a bill of goods.

    I'm currently nursing my second baby and intend to start solids only after 9 months and on whole foods and grains after that.

    I made all my first baby's food. It just didn't make any logical sense that something processed in a jar would be better than a banana I mashed up with a fork!
    Glad I found your blog.