Some baby foods contain as much sugar and saturated fats as chocolate cookies or cheeseburgers.
A survey of more than 100 foods for babies and toddlers found examples that were 29 percent sugar, and others that contained trans fats, which have been linked to heart disease.
The Children’s Food Campaign, part of food and farming campaign group Sustain, examined the nutritional content of 107 baby and toddler foods. Only half the products were low in saturated fat, salt and sugar.
So, what about organic baby food — is it your safest choice?
Katharine Wroth of Grist was curious about her organic baby food options, so she took a look at several types of baby food.
She found that, among other results, Earth’s Best had an extensive selection, but also had high sodium levels. Gerber Organic was easy to find, but came in plastic containers. Organic Baby was from a good company, but was sometimes hard to find.
Plum Organics had BPA-free packaging, but a high price and limited flavor options. Happy Baby had the same advantages and the same problems. Little Lettice comes from a company that uses local ingredients and doesn’t ship outside the region, but that means it is only available in Massachusetts.
In the final analysis, the frozen baby foods tasted better than the jarred ones, but they would be prohibitively expensive if they were all you bought. However, they also noted that there is one option that is affordable, tasty, and healthy: making your own.
As shocking as these findings are, I’m still not surprised. As the food industry is notorious for flooding the market with unhealthy foods – why should you believe the baby food sector is that much different?
Just What Are You Feeding Your Baby?
The results of a survey of more than 100 foods for babies and toddlers found that one brand of dry biscuits contained a staggering 29 percent sugar!
Other weaning biscuits were found to contain unlabeled trans fat, which is known to increase LDL, also known as "bad" cholesterol, while lowering levels of HDL, or "good" cholesterol. It can also cause clogging of arteries, type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems, and can increase the risk of heart disease.
Many food companies use trans fat instead of oil because it reduces cost, extends storage life of products and can improve flavor and texture.
None of these reasons have anything to do with benefitting the health of your child.
Yet despite all the science available on the dangers of trans fats, when a researcher from the Children’s Food Campaign (CFC) spoke to one of the baby food manufacturers, asking about the trans fats in their products, he was told that they were “pretty sure” that there were no trans fats in their baby biscuits, but that they would check with a nutritionist.
They called back two days later and admitted that their biscuits do contain trans fats, but assured the CFC researcher that “trans fats aren’t any worse than saturated fats and that it is the whole diet that matters.”
The CFC researcher was also told that tiny amounts of trans fats “do not pose a health risk, and that if there was any concrete evidence that trans fats were dangerous, they wouldn’t be allowed.”
That’s the kind of ignorant nonsense you have to contend with from many sources within the food industry, but rest assured, they are completely wrong.
As far back as 2002, the Institute of Medicine concluded there is no safe level of trans fat.
Said Christine Haigh, joint-coordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign,
“The results of this survey are staggering. Many foods marketed for babies and young children are often advertised as “healthy”.
In reality, in terms of sugar and saturated fat content, some are worse than junk food. In particular, failing to correctly label products that contain dangerous trans fats is outrageous.”
Infant Formulas and Processed Baby Food Do Not Equal Healthy Babies
Hopefully, you already know that the absolute healthiest food for your baby is breast milk. Unfortunately, many mothers and their infants are paying a hefty price for advertising promoting powdered baby formulas over breastfeeding. The United Nations even blames the manufacturers of formulas and their deceptive marketing practices for the drastic decline in breastfeeding across the world, which is negatively impacting the health of millions of babies.
Nestle continues to be one of the main culprits in dissuading mothers from breastfeeding. Campaigners first called for a boycott of Nestle back in 1977 to try to limit their dirty marketing techniques in some of the poorest of countries. Thirty years later, it is crystal clear that it has done nothing to stop them, even though they are still one of the most boycotted brands in the world.
Unfortunately, infant formulas are still a popular choice here in the United States as well.
I strongly advocate breastfeeding if at all possible. If for some reason you're unable to breastfeed, however, please read my previous article, Healthy Alternative to Conventional Infant Formula, for advice on how to make homemade baby formula and infant “starter foods.”
And while on the subject of formula, please avoid soy infant formulas at all costs!
What are some of the problems associated with soy formula?
Well, for starters it can:
- Adversely affect hormone levels, and has been associated with reduced testosterone levels
- Impair thyroid function through isoflavones present in the formula
- Increase the risk of behavioral problems
- Expose your child to up to 2,000 times higher estrogen content
Soy formula can also contain potentially high concentrations of aluminum and manganese.
It is generally given to infants who aren't breastfeeding and have trouble taking regular cow-milk-based infant formulas. While I am no fan of these formulas either, they tend to be safer than soy formula.
However, the cow-milk-based formulas are derived from pasteurized milk, and if you haven't heard by now, pasteurized milk is not good for you or your baby. Fortunately, you can use raw milk to produce a terrific infant formula, but, again, remember that breast milk is ALWAYS best.
Is Organic Baby Food as Good as Homemade?
Just as organic food in general has become more popular, the demand for organic baby food has increased as well. In 2007, parents were spending $116 million on organics for their babies, a 21.6 percent increase from the previous year alone. But that’s still a tiny slice of the $3.6 billion baby food industry as a whole.
But are organic baby foods the ideal choice?
One mother’s independent evaluation shows you may still end up feeding your child ingredients he or she does not need at that tender young age, such as excessive amounts of salt.
Now, whereas an adequate intake of sodium is required for optimal growth of fat, bone and muscle tissues, you will not get these health benefits from regular processed salt, but from natural unprocessed salts – which you can bet your bottom dollar is NOT what’s used in most processed baby food, organic or not.
You may also expose your infant to toxic contaminants like BPA from plastic containers, even if the content itself is agreeable.
When you make homemade baby food however, you have complete control over the ingredients; no unresolved questions about potential additives, preservatives, mysterious “natural flavors,” etcetera.
Yes, it may require a little more time—but in the end, it’s up to you to decide what the health of your family is worth to you.
Simply cooking a squash or sweet potato, mashing it up and putting it into an ice cube tray is an easy way to have ready-made multiple servings available for the rest of the week.
Egg yolk is another healthy food that requires little preparation. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, egg yolk should be your baby's first solid food, starting at 4 months, whether your baby is breastfed or formula-fed. Egg yolks from free-range hens will contain the special long-chain fatty acids so critical for the optimal development of your child’s brain and nervous system.
However, the egg whites may cause an allergic reaction so they’re best avoided until your child is at least one year old.
Here’s a simple, healthy recipe you may want to try:
- 1 organic egg from a pasture-fed (free-range) hen
- 1/2 teaspoon grated raw, frozen organic liver (optional)
- pinch natural unprocessed salt
Boil the egg for 3 1/2 minutes. Place in a bowl and peel off the shell. Remove the egg white and discard. The yolk should be soft and warm, not hot, with its enzyme content intact. Sprinkle with a small amount of natural salt.
If you wish to add liver, grate it on the small holes of a grater while frozen. Allow to warm up and stir into the egg yolk.