Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Dietitian confessions: starting my baby on solid foods

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I haven’t written in a little while because it feels like a nutrition blog is so irrelevant when we’re in the midst of a pandemic. I also don’t want to write about anything related to the covid because self-care for me right now means not overwhelming myself with pandemic-related info. But, maybe you’re like me and you’re trying to avoid too much virtual exposure to covid-19 and you’d welcome a break with a little nutrition confessional. So, I’m here today to share with you my experience starting my baby on solid foods.

As a dietitian I’ve learned all about starting infants on solid foods. As a dietitian who works in public health I’ve even taught classes on the subject. As a lover of cooking and eating I was feeling pretty confident and excited about introducing my nugget to new flavours after six months of only ever consuming breast milk and formula. The first stumble in my plan was the fact that she wasn’t ready to start solid foods at six months.

If you’re aware of current pediatric recommendations, it’s advised that babies be fed only breast milk or formula until six months of age. I dutifully waited all that time, but babies don’t all mature at the same rate. Something that never came up when I learned about introducing solids was baby’s age versus their adjusted age. My baby was born a month early and this meant that even though she was six months old, developmentally she was more like five months. I ended up having to give her a couple of extra weeks before she was interested in and able to eat solids.

Another current recommendation is to start babies on iron-rich foods and once they’re consuming them regularly then you can introduce other foods. These foods include: meats, egg yolk, beans, lentils, and fortified baby cereal. I was confident that I was going to feed my baby whole foods, that fortified cereal was an old-school first food. Ha ha ha. My baby had other ideas. She was uninterested in my concoction of puréed chickpeas mixed with pumped milk. She was displeased with puréed hardboiled egg. And she was absolutely appalled by the jarred chicken baby food I bought in a desperate attempt to get her to eat something from that list of iron-rich foods (see photo above). Honestly, I couldn’t blame her – have you ever tried chicken baby food?? Finally, I abandoned my smug plan and fed her some iron-fortified baby oat cereal which she ate but with little enthusiasm. I made her strained green peas, which were a pain in the ass to make and which she rejected. I moved on to offering her some foods that weren’t iron-rich (gasp) but were possibly more palatable: banana (acceptable), avocado (no thank you), and sweet potato (could not get enough). I managed to get some iron in her through a combination of mixing these foods with baby cereal or with sweet potato.

I had also envisioned making her baby food myself, after all, she should quickly advance from purées to soft whole foods according to everything I’d read. It turns out that it’s pretty much impossible to get super small quantities of food smooth in my food processor. It also turns out that she wasn’t ready to try different textures for nearly two months. So, I bought ready made baby food packets from the grocery store and supplemented with baby cereal and easy to purée foods like sweet potato, butternut squash, and banana. This was an easier way for me to introduce a variety of new foods to her without ending up with a freezer full of puréed food.

She’s now advanced to consuming a mix of commercial baby food, homemade baby food (like tiny baby pancakes and muffins) and modified foods that we’re eating like puréed dal or mashed pasta. Despite what many people believe, babies don’t have to eat bland food. Yes, it’s great to let them taste unadulterated foods so that they experience the different flavours of whole foods but they can also handle herbs and spices and these are also important flavours to expose them to.

If you’re a new parent starting your baby out on solids there can be a lot of pressure to do this in a certain way. I see so many blogs with these elaborate baby meals and that’s awesome if you have time and money and your baby is interested in these foods but you are not failing as a parent if you’re feeding your baby infant cereal or food from a jar or squeeze pouch. As long as your baby is experiencing new flavours, and then new textures, then you’re doing just fine.


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Is a spoonful of sugar the way to get the vegetables to go down?

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When I saw this article: “Sugar, salt or sweeteners may be key to getting children to eat greens” last week in the Nutrition Resource Centre “News in Brief” email I knew that I had to read more. I mean, were the authors really suggesting that we should add sugar to veggies to get infants and toddlers to eat them? Or was this just a case of a misleading or misinterpreted press release? I found a copy of the full article: Mary Poppins was right: Adding small amounts of sugar or salt reduces the bitterness of vegetables and set about reading.

One thing that struck me right away was that this study was done with adults, no infants or toddlers, or children of any age were involved in the research. Adult participants were provided with puréed vegetables (broccoli, kale, and spinach) with varying concentrations of added sugar. They were asked to rate them on various attributes, and most importantly, they were asked to indicate whether or not they liked or disliked each sample. I was surprised that the conclusion would be drawn that adding sugar to green vegetables is a reasonable means to encourage infants to eat them (I’m saying infants because these were puréed veggies and as such are really only suitable for babies just starting to eat solid foods) based on ratings by adults. After all, adults have very different palates than infants and have very different relationships with food that have been shaped over decades. To me it seems inappropriate to conclude that because adults preferred sugar sweetened veggies that infants will as well. The authors themselves also state that, “It should be noted that infants and toddlers are also not merely small adults”. However, they also use the analogy of adults beginning coffee consumption with added sugar and gradually weaning off the sugar as justification for proposing adding sugar to vegetables when the World Health Organization, among many other bodies, is currently encouraging reduced consumption of added sugars.

The second thing I wondered about was precisely how much sugar was added to each serving of vegetables. The news article, and much of the journal article, references 1% and 2% concentrations but what did that translate to in teaspoons or grams? It sounds pretty innocuous, right? 1% or 2% is hardly anything. Well, in actuality the 1% was equivalent to the addition of 1/2 teaspoon per serving and the 2% was equivalent to 1 teaspoon per serving. Not an insignificant amount when you’re talking about toddlers who are generally only consuming a tablespoon or two of a food in a serving. Interestingly, the researchers asked parents how comfortable they would be offering their babies vegetables with added sugar in amounts of 8 calories, 16 calories, 1/2 teaspoon, or 1 teaspoon. The 8 calories = 1/2 teaspoon = 1% concentration. The 16 calories = 1 teaspoon = 2% concentration. Essentially asking: how can we frame this added sugar to make it more palatable to parents who are trying to feed their children healthy diets?

Despite the general conclusion that adding sugar to vegetables may encourage young children to eat them, even the ratings by adults were not overwhelmingly improved by the added sugar. For broccoli and kale purées both 1% and 2% sugar increased overall liking. For spinach the 2% sugar (but not the 1%) increased overall liking. For broccoli and spinach the sugar increased the ratings of liking from disliked to liked. However, for kale, even at the highest sugar level ratings never rose above the midpoint (i.e. neither like nor dislike). So, these adults did not like any of the green vegetables to begin with (at least not in puréed form) but after adding higher quantities of sugar they liked the spinach, and even with the smaller quantity of added sugar they liked the broccoli. But neither amount of sugar was enough to get them to like the kale. Would babies have different initial reactions to these vegetables? Would the addition of sugar cause them to change these reactions? I don’t know and I don’t think anyone can say based on the results of this study alone.

Just for fun, I took a look at the funding sources for the study after I finished reading it. Can you guess what one of the funding organizations was? If you guess the Sugar Association you’d be correct. I think this explains a lot because honestly I was a bit baffled as to why anyone would be looking into adding sugar to get babies to eat vegetables and why such tenuous conclusions would be drawn and publicized based on the actual findings. But who other than the Sugar Association would think that we need to encourage babies to eat more sugar?

I think a better analogy than the sugar sweetened coffee for this research would be the argument that chocolate milk is a good way to get kids to drink milk or that baking apples into a pie is a good way to encourage fruit consumption. In some ways it’s even worse because infants are at the mercy of their caregivers when it comes to what foods are offered to them and encouraging a preference for only sweet foods at such a young impressionable age could have long lasting implications for their food choices and health throughout their lives.

 


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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.