Knowing what foods to feed your baby can be overwhelming.
Then there’s the supermarket shelves packed with products that tell you to buy their products because they’re “packed with iron” or “contains the goodness of real fruit”.
While shop bought or packaged foods can be convenient, and let's face it, life is not about trying to be perfect, there may be times where something out of a packet is going to be handy, so it's important to have an understanding of what is actually in the food you're feeding your baby so that you can make an informed choice if you do decide to feed them some packet foods.
So when considering whether or not to feed your baby packaged foods, consider my three principles;
Food manufacturers cover their products in images of whole fruit and vegetables, with cute animals and use colours that make you think of wholesome, home cooked foods - they spend millions of dollars on this every year - but are they really as nutritious as the packets would have us believe?
Most cooking techniques destroy nutrients in whole foods to some extent - particularly the water soluble vitamins like vitamin C which is vital for healthy immune function.
However, packaged baby foods go even further than this with ultra high temperature heating to kill bacteria in the food so that it can last on a shelf for long periods of time (around 2 years).
The higher the temperature, the more nutrients destroyed. This heating also kills enzymes in the foods - these enzymes are actually needed for proper digestion.
Packaged baby foods also lack fibre - an important ingredient for a healthy gut microbiome. Without the fibre, your baby is getting a big hit of sugar with the pureed fruits and starchy vegetables, without the benefit of fibre to slow down the release of the sugars into the bloodstream.
This can give your baby a sugar “high” they then have to come down from, leaving them feeling irritable and tired. A high sugar intake like this also triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, making them feel good and wiring their preferences for sweeter tasting foods.
Pureed or refined grain foods such as teething rusks, tend to stick on teeth and gums, increasing the risk of dental decay and bacterial overgrowth in the mouth.
Additives go hand in hand with processed, packaged foods - even baby foods. Food manufacturers use additives to make transporting these foods easier, to extend their shelf life and to make them look, taste and smell a certain way.
Additives include colours, preservatives, antioxidants, sweeteners, flavour enhancers, emulsifiers, stabilisers and thickeners. Some of these are categorised as artificial or man-made, and others are derived from natural sources.
Now I used to believe that if a food product was on the shelf in the supermarket, it must be safe for my baby. I had never been taught how to read food labels and I didn’t really understand what many of the ingredients actually were.
Like so many of us, I was lulled into a false sense of security by looking at the packaged baby food with pictures of fruit and vegetables on the front - thinking that they were wholesome and healthy.
Many packaged baby foods will say “no artificial additives or preservatives” on the label, and that may be technically correct, but additives derived from natural sources, like maltodextrin yeast extract and polysorbate 80, can still have negative consequences on the health of your baby.
For example - maltodextrin is a highly processed, white starchy powder, usually made from corn, potato or wheat that has no nutritional value. It is often added to foods (including baby foods) as a thickener or to help increase their shelf life.
As it’s a highly refined carbohydrate, it can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance and weight gain, and has also been linked to asthma, skin irritations and stomach cramps.
Evidence also suggests that maltodextrin can negatively affect gut bacteria - decreasing the number of beneficial bacteria and increasing the “bad” bacteria. This can lead to intestinal damage and a higher risk of inflammatory bowel disease.
Now let’s look at sugar. There’s nothing nutritious about added sugar in baby foods – yet many packaged baby foods contain sugar - often in high amounts.
At a time in their life that your baby is developing their food preferences, packaged baby foods that are high in sugars can wire their taste preferences for sweeter foods.
Many packaged baby foods often pair vegetables with fruit to make them taste sweeter with the aim of getting them “hooked” onto these flavours so they’ll eat more of them.
Sugar can also be labelled as many different things on a packet including glucose syrup, fruit juice or fruit juice concentrate, barley malt, maltose, rice syrup or evaporated cane juice - plus lots more - so it’s important to understand exactly what ingredients are in the foods you’re looking at.
So while the marketing on the packet shows you pictures of fresh fruits and vegetables and comes with claims like “packed with real fruit” and “no artificial additives” they really aren’t what “real” or whole foods are - they don’t support your baby’s nutritional requirements or their gut health and they don’t help them to build a positive relationship with nutritious whole foods.
Now I will always recommend homemade foods over packaged, “fast foods”, and I do believe this needs to be a priority for the health of your child, but I also understand that sometimes, the convenience of packaged foods can be helpful.
So when choosing packaged food products, look for;
If you want to learn more about this, then I go into more detail on this topic and much more in my “Get it Right From Their First Bite” Program for introducing solids… so scroll down below and click on the link to find out more about the program.
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