Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Grocery store lessons: Baby food pouches

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Sometimes I have loads of things to blog about and other times I struggle to find a topic that I feel like ranting about. This was one of those weeks where nothing noteworthy caught my attention. Thankfully, my friend who runs a day-home suggested I write about baby food pouches which seem to have crept from being food for babies to being food for school-aged children.

If you’re not a parent of young children you may ask (as I did) “what are food pouches”? They’re basically pureed baby food but in a squeezable pouch. Generally they’re more expensive than your traditional jarred baby food and they come in fancy flavours like “wildberry, rhubarb, kale, & quinoa”. Parents like them because there’s no need for a spoon so they’re handy when you’re on the go. Just twist off the top and let your kid squeeze and suck away at it while you’re running errands. But, what’s the best feature of these newfangled baby foods is also the worst feature.

While there’s no disputing the fact that these are handy in a pinch, that’s really how these pouches should be used. Ideally, you’d want to be squeezing these pouches out into a bowl and feeding the to your baby (or letting them feed themselves) with a spoon. When babies are learning how to eat (at about six months of age) there’s this window of opportunity during which they learn things like chewing, appreciation for various textures, and how to put food in their mouths. Gone are the days when purees were the mainstay for babies for month on end. Now parents may use them for a short period, start baby with a variety of textures, or skip the purees altogether. The concern with children receiving all of their food from squeeze pouches is that their mouths may not develop properly and they may also be unaccepting of different textures when they are finally introduced. There’s also a missed opportunity for infants to develop hand-eye coordination when feeding themselves. These pouches really shouldn’t be considered a meal for a toddler or older child.

Something else I’ve wondered about when it comes to these fancy baby food pouches is the gourmet ingredients themselves. Introducing babies to a variety of foods and flavours is important but what about food allergies? When you’re giving your baby new foods, generally you would introduce one new food at a time so that if there’s an allergic reaction it’s easy to pinpoint the source. When you’re giving your baby “yumberries and plum with ancient grains” what are the odds that he or she has had at least two out of three of those ingredients before? I mean heck, I’ve never had yumberries. I’m not even sure what they are. I feel like by marketing these as baby foods that provides parents with a potentially false sense of safety when it comes to giving them to their children.

Speaking of safety, I’ve seen a number of recalls of these baby food pouches in recent years. When I worked in a grocery store, I also came across one that was bulging (a common sign of bacterial growth). I think that it’s a lot easier for these packages to be opened and closed and put back on the shelf without anyone noticing that the seal’s been broken than it is with jarred baby food where there’s usually a plastic wrap around the lid as well as the popped down seal of the jar lid. Not to fearmonger. I just think that it would be easier for a child (or adult) to be curious about a flavour, twist the top, and put it back on the shelf without the fact that it had been opened being obvious.

Back to the issue of price. Many of these retail for around $2 (some a bit less, some more). Which can add up quickly if they’re the primary source of food for your little one. Jarred baby food is generally less than a dollar. Even more affordable though, is to give your baby an unseasoned version of what you’re eating. You can puree it or mince it for younger infants, or provide finger friendly options as they’re ready. There’s a lot more that can be said about infant feeding and starting babies on solid foods. If you have questions, there’s a great resource from Best Start. If you’re in Canada, you can also contact your local public health unit to find out if they offer infant feeding classes.

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Is store bought baby food better than home cooked?

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When I saw this article in the Daily Mail (yeah, I know) last week I knew that I had to read the original research to see what it said. As a dietitian I’m always trying to encourage people to cook their own meals. When I talk to mums about introducing their babies to solid foods I suggest that they see it as an opportunity to enjoy balanced meals as a family. Just what I need is headlines and articles proclaiming that pre-made store bought baby food is healthier than what ever they might be preparing at home.

I was frustrated to be unable to see the list of cookbooks the authors used in this study. The link just takes me to Amazon, and the list of the most popular baby food cookbooks they used was complied in 2013 so any results I might find could be considerably different today. Naturally, I worry about the use of baby food cookbooks as a comparison to ready-meals as they tend to be written by people with limited (or no) nutrition credentials (*cough* Pete Evans *cough*. Cookbooks are also quite unlikely to provide a true picture of what parents are feeding their children.

The obvious conclusion to draw from the study is that home cooked meals are superior (from both a cost and nutritional standpoint) to ready meals (at all ages) provided parents are preparing foods without added salt and sauces. The authors didn’t seem to reach this conclusion though. Perhaps the disingenuous comparison between cookbook recipes and ready meals, and the conclusion that ready meals may be better for babies, had something to do with the funding they received from Interface Food and Drink, an organization aimed at connecting the food and drink industry with researchers.

So, we know that home cooked meals can be healthy if parents don’t waste their money on special baby cookbooks. I think that it’s also important to note that the researchers were comparing quantities based on recipe yields and packages, not what babies are actually eating. Even if babies were eating recipes prepared from these cookbooks, they may not be eating every bite. Babies are much better than us adults at knowing when they’re full. If parents are respecting their babies cues and only feeding them as much as they show a desire to eat then it shouldn’t matter how much a recipe makes, or how much is in a package.

The true message from this study should be that you don’t need to waste your money on baby food cookbooks. Nor do you need to waste your money on packaged baby foods. Most babies will thrive on, and enjoy, a variety of simply prepared “normal” foods.

If you’re looking for more information on starting your baby on solids, I recommend visiting Best Start as well as watching this video from Toronto Public Health. If possible, sign-up for an infant feeding class through your local public health office.

 


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Big gay baby formula?

 

 

 

Google alerted me to this article: Got milk? Indonesian mayor says infant formula leads to homosexualityI hardly know where to begin with this. It’s one of those things where you kind of just sit and stare in shock.

I’m not going to get into the breastfeeding debate. We know that breastfeeding is optimal for babies for many reasons. However, we also know that there are many reasons why mothers can’t or choose not to breastfeed their babies. That choice should be informed and should be the mum’s alone.

Okay, let’s say the mum decides not to breastfeed. That has no bearing on what the child’s sexuality will be. That’s decided before birth. Sorry mums, you can’t do anything to change the fact that your child is going to prefer partners of the same or opposite sex, or both. You can certainly make them feel ashamed of their innate preference, you can maybe even drive them to hide it or deny it from themselves. That’s not going to change their sexual identity nor is whether or not you breastfeed them.

It’s crazy to think that this is even an issue. Sometimes I see things like this and realise that even though we live in such a globalized society somethings are very very different in other parts of the world. It makes me feel so fortunate that I live in a country where the big debates are whether craisins should be considered fruit or candy or if paleo/vegan/low-carb is the best or worst ever diet. Where there’s still a long way to go regarding discrimination but no one (please oh please don’t prove me wrong) would tell mums that choosing not to breastfeed their babies will “turn them homosexual”.

Seeing the article, I feel this strange combination of great fortune and deep sadness. Great fortune to have been lucky enough to have been born to educated parents in Canada. Deep sadness knowing that most people are not so fortunate.


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Why is under 6 months too young for solid food?

I was actually a little bit shocked when I read an article about the introduction of solid foods to infants. According to a new study from the US, nine percent of parents are feeding their children solid food when they’re as young as four weeks of age! I knew that many parents weren’t following the current guidelines, which recommend waiting until six months of age to introduce solid food. Previous guidelines recommended 4-6 months of age and advised parents to watch for cues that their child was ready to begin on solid food. Many health care practitioners, unfortunately, have been slow to adopt the newest recommendations so it’s understandable that parents are confused.

I think that parents might be more accepting of the guidelines if they knew the reasoning behind them. It’s one thing to tell someone what to do. It’s another all together to give them a valid reason regarding why they should do it. There are many reasons why parents start their children on solid foods before they’re 6 months of age: lack of time for breastfeeding (if maternity leave is over and your workplace isn’t accommodating, pumping all that milk is quite a commitment), lack of money for formula, the misguided notion that it’s a developmental milestone (like walking and talking) and a child starting solid food at four months is “more advanced” than a child starting at six, the also erroneous belief that it will help the baby to sleep through the night.

The current guidelines were developed based on nutrient needs of infants and their digestive systems. Breastmilk is a highly nutritious food for babies (not to mention the benefits of maternal and infant bonding provided by breastfeeding). Weaning infants too soon deprives them of that free source of nutrients and energy. Breastfeeding is protective against gastroenteristis and respiratory infections during infancy and may have longer-lasting protective benefits. In turn, introducing solid food too early may be detrimental to their developing digestive systems.

The risks and benefits of introducing solid foods to babies should be clearly outlined to new parents by their healthcare providers so that they can make the best choices that they’re able to for their children.