In short, we don’t consider rice cereal, organic or otherwise, to be babies perfect first solid food.
[This post was revised on January 10, 2012 to clarify the intention behind it and to further expand upon our recommendations for baby’s first solid foods:]
Yesterday, I read the following list of recommendations on what to feed your baby – organized by age and published by a blogger who shared that as a Registered Dietician she “hopes to inspire people to move from processed foods to whole foods in their natural state”. I decided to re-publish and discuss this list since it raises several concerns in my mind. 1. My first concern is that if the goal is to inspire people to move away from processed foods, then this dietitian, like many other health practitioners, has what I would consider to be much too narrow of a definition of what processed foods are. 2. I am also concerned that the following recommendations may produce a child who will have a compromised gut and other serious health problems. Before I proceed: I want to make it abundantly clear that this post is not about the dietician who published the recommended list, but rather about some of her recommendations which any google search will reveal are fairly typical. This is about ideas not individuals or as I wrote in the original post – about principles and not personalities.
Here are the recommendations, with my own red highlights to discuss momentarily:
- Iron fortified cereal (rice, barely, oat) thinned with breast milk or formula is the first food of choice by most pediatricians. The cereal will provide your baby with iron, B vitamins, and protein. It is a low allergen food.
- If you feel comfortable and with your doctor’s approval, you can add mashed banana, avocado and applesauce to your baby’s diet. Adding applesauce fortified with vitamin C will help your baby absorb the iron in the cereal and formula.
- Add cooked pureed vegetables and fruit to the cereal or baby’s diet. You can use a blender, fork, or good grinder to mash the cooked vegetables. If you feel comfortable and you have your doctors approval use sweet potato, apricot, peach, plum, pumpkin, carrot, peas, mango, and other great vegetables. Fruits and vegetables will add vitamin A, C, and B to your baby’s diet along with fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, and manganese.
- Adventure into other grain products: millet, quinoa, oatmeal, etc.
- Introduce whole fat yogurt and ricotta cheese
- Add flax seed oil, flax seed meal, coconut oil, blackstrap molasses, and chia seeds as nutritional enhancers.
- Add hard boiled egg yolk (no egg white) to your baby’s pureed food for additional iron, choline, fat and protein.
- Add stronger vegetables such as broccoli, kale, asparagus, green beans, beets, etc.
- Start to introduce finger foods such as mashed up homemade macaroni and cheese, pancakes, soft cooked vegetables, etc. Let your child feed him or herself to learn about food and how to use their fingers. Try to use different colors, textures, and smells.
- Introduced finely shredded or chopped soft meats and white fish. Let your child join you at the table and eat the foods you are eating mashed to the appropriate consistency. However, do not give your baby foods that are processed or high in salt and sugar.
Note the last recommendation: “Do not give your baby foods that are processed” … yet the first item on the list is to give iron fortified cereal — which I consider to be highly processed.
Gerber Organic SmartNourish™ Single Grain Cereal – Brown Rice
Organic Whole Grain Brown Rice Flour, & Less Than 2% Of: Tri- And Dicalcium Phosphate, Soy Lecithin, Choline Bitartrate, Mixed Tocopherols (For Freshness), Electrolytic Iron, Zinc Sulfate, Niacinamide (A B Vitamin), Alpha Tocopherol Acetate (Vitamin E), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Folic Acid (A B Vitamin), Vitamin D3, Vitamin B12, (Cyanocobalamin)
Dr. Weston A. Price discovered that there were no processed foods in any of the diets of the healthy people he studied. The diets contained no refined or denatured components. See an overview on this preview of our DVD.
My definition of processed foods
I will define what I consider unprocessed first: foods from an animal eating its natural diet, in its whole, completely natural state such as raw milk from grass fed cows (which is not pasteurized and not homogenized) … or a food item that comes from a tree grown without pesticides, herbicides and the like such as an organic apple … or from the earth comprised of unadulterated soil such as organic beets. I would include traditionally harvested sea salt in a list of unprocessed foods, as well as traditionally prepared olive oil, coconut oil, yogurt, butter, sourdough bread and so forth. Virtually everything else I would consider to be processed food. Quite a wide definition, eh?! What I mean by that is that my definition widens the parameters of foods that one may consider to be processed. If it comes in a box, a can, or a package – even those labeled non-GMO, natural, fortified, organic or otherwise, it is still likely processed and even highly processed – Gerber Organic SmartNourish™ Cereal is a case in point.
So now onto my list of items highlighted in red:
“Iron fortified cereal (rice, barely, oat)”
What’s wrong with infant cereal? Kristen Michaelis of Food Renegade summarizes in her article Why Ditch The Infant Cereals?
1. It’s not traditional.
Traditional cultures didn’t (and don’t) feed their young babies infant cereal. Among the few cultures who fed their babies a gruel of grains, their practice radically differed from what we do today. First, they only introduced the gruel after the baby was more than a year old. And second, they ensured that the gruel was mildly fermented by soaking the grains for 24 hours or more.
2. Babies can’t digest it.
In order to digest grains, your body needs to make use of an enzyme called amylase. Amylase is the enzyme responsible for splitting starches. And, guess what? Babies don’t make amylase in large enough quantities to digest grains until after they are a year old at the earliest. Sometimes it can take up to two years. You see, newborns don’t produce amylase at all. Salivary amylase makes a small appearance at about 6 months old, but pancreatic amylase (what you need to actually digest grains) is not produced until molar teeth are fully developed! First molars usually don’t show up until 13-19 months old, on average.
3. Feeding your baby grains displaces other, more important nutrients.
If you feed your baby cereal or other grains, you’re doing more than simply sticking them with an indigestible food. You’re feeding them an indigestible food in place of something more nutrient-dense. You’re feeding them something their body can’t really use and starving them of the nutrients they need to grow a healthy brain, nervous system, and bone structure.
Dr. Cate Shanahan, author of Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food and Food Rules: A Doctor’s Guide to Healthy Eating, wrote a guest blog for Kristen Michaelis on the topic of iron fortified cereals. Be sure to read part 2 as well. Her conclusion: supplementing iron when iron levels are already normal can lead to serious health problems such as:
Early atherosclerosis, or “fatty streaks”
My take away from these articles was that a seemingly modest excess of iron can be bad for everyone, and especially for children. If baby does in fact need more iron, which can be verified by a test, rather than supplement with fortified “food” – we would recommend including iron rich foods in the diet. Heme iron is more easily absorbed by your baby’s body. It can be found in meats including beef, chicken, lamb, pork and turkey. Chicken livers is another recommended source and one we include in our list of baby’s first solid foods.
Sally Fallon Morell writes: “Commercial infant formulas are highly fabricated concoctions composed of milk or soy powders produced by high-temperature processes that over-denature proteins and add many carcinogens. Milk-based formulas often cause allergies while soy-based formulas contain mineral-blocking phytic acid, growth inhibitors and plant forms of estrogen compounds that can have adverse effects on the hormonal development in the infant. Soy-based formulas are also devoid of cholesterol, needed for the development of the brain and nervous system.” If baby formula is needed, this homemade version is our recommendation.
“Applesauce Fortified with Vitamin C”
If you want more Vitamin C – I would recommend eating more whole foods that contain Vitamin C. Who knows what form of Vitamin C the applesauce has been fortified with and how it’s been done. I personally am not in favor of taking nutrients out of context and supplementing with them.
“Adventure into other grain products: millet, quinoa, oatmeal, etc. at 6 – 7 months and Macaroni and Cheese, Pancakes 7 – 12 months”
It is our recommendation to wait 1-2 years to feed babies grains, being that they do not have the enzymes to digest them. I personally would even wait until 3 years. The later the better in my opinion. Grains are not nutrient dense. They are problematic for many reasons. They displace other more nutrient dense foods.
“Add hard boiled egg yolk (no egg white) to your baby’s pureed food for additional iron, choline, fat and protein.”
We would recommend only slightly cooked, mainly raw egg yolk. From Mama and Baby Love: “Heating the yolks destroys some enzymes, reduces certain nutrients and destroys cysteine (amino acid) which helps make glutathione, which is the master antioxidant. They are also just plain easier to digest raw. Raw egg yolk is the perfect complete protein.” Read more about raw egg yolks from Rami Nagel. So this is an apropos moment to talk about …
Our Recommendations for Baby’s First Solid Foods
Comprised of recommendations made in articles written by Sally Fallon Morell Feeding Babies, Jen Albritton Nourishing a Growing Baby, AnnMarie Michaels When to Feed Baby: Why Start Solids at 4 – 6 Months and Kristen Michaelis Why Ditch The Infant Cereals?
Egg Yolks, Liver, Cod Liver Oil
The first solid foods we recommend you introduce to babies are nutrient dense: pastured raised egg yolks, grass-fed liver and cod liver oil because they are rich in fat soluble activators A, D and K2, plus cholesterol, iron, zinc and choline. They are also foods that are very easy to digest. We recommend egg yolks from hens on pasture who preferably have no soy or corn in their supplemental feed. As Jen Albritton explains, “Thus, the best choice for baby is yolks from pasture-fed hens raised on flax meal, fish meal, or insects since they will contain higher levels of DHA. Why just the yolk? The white is the portion that most often causes allergic reactions, so wait to give egg whites until after your child turns one.”
People avoid egg yolks because they have been taught to fear cholesterol. As Ann Marie Michaels highlights: Cholesterol is crucial for the insulation of the nerves in the brain and the entire central nervous system. It supports fat digestion by increasing the formation of bile acids and is required for the production of many hormones. Since the brain is so dependent on cholesterol, it is especially vital during this time when brain growth is accelerated.
Jen Albritton writes, “A study published in the June 2002 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the nutritional effects of feeding weaning infants 6-12 months of age regular egg yolks, enriched egg yolks, and an otherwise normal diet. The researchers found that both breastfed and formula-fed infants who consumed the egg yolks had improved iron levels when compared with the infants who did not. In addition, those infants who got the egg yolks enriched with extra fatty acids had 30 percent to 40 percent greater DHA levels than those fed regular egg yolks.”
Boil an egg for three to four minutes (longer at higher altitudes), peel away the shell, discard the white and mash up yolk with a little unrefined sea salt. (The yolk should be soft and warm, not runny.) Small amounts of grated, raw organic liver (which has been frozen 14 days) may be added to the egg yolk after 6 months. Some mothers report their babies actually prefer the yolk with the liver. From Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morell.
In the published list above we are advised not give our babies food that is high in salt which I think is easier to avoid if you’ve eliminated processed foods as we are directed do. Yet if you are making homemade food, Jen Albritton counters: “Don’t neglect to put a pinch of salt on the egg yolk. While many books warn against giving salt to babies, salt is actually critical for digestion as well as for brain development. Use unrefined salt to supply a variety of trace minerals.”
AnnMarie Michaels suggests, “If your baby doesn’t react well to egg yolk, wait and try again in a month. Most babies can digest yolks; it is the whites that are most likely to be allergenic. You may also want to check to see if your farmer is adding soy to the feed. If you can find soy-free pastured eggs, you may find that your baby does not react.”
In regard to cod liver oil, we believe that fermented cod liver oil is the best choice. Keep in mind that not all cod liver oil is created equal. Fermented cod liver oil has the recommended ratio of vitamins A and D. Also, it is not heated like other brands of cod liver oil and is naturally fermented so it has enzymes and probiotics.
More Foods to Introduce
After your baby is consuming egg yolks, liver and cod liver oil, we recommend you introduce the following foods as baby begins to show readiness and interest:
- Bone broth – homemade chicken stock or beef stock
- Naturally fermented foods – kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles – foods fermented in salt and/or whey, not made with vinegar
- Healthy fats – grass-fed butter, cream, tallow, lard and coconut oil
- Grass-fed meats – ground up, pureed or pre-chewed
- Organic cooked fruits and vegetables – it is recommend that they be cooked in and/or served with traditional fats
Foods to Avoid
- Baby foods that come in a jar
- Grains – it is best to wait 1-2 years [or even later] to feed babies grains, as they do not have the enzymes to digest them
- Honey – babies should not get honey prior to one year
- Soy – even properly fermented soy is not easy to digest
- Nuts and seeds – wait until baby is over a year, and then always soak and/or sprout
- Grapes and other small foods that pose a choking hazard
- Raw fruits and vegetables – these are hard to digest and should always be cooked or fermented (with the exception of banana and avocado)
It is recommended to introduce foods one at a time, waiting at least a few days to a week in between new foods.
The dietician whose list I republished states that iron fortified cereal (rice, barely, oat) thinned with breast milk or formula is the first food of choice by most pediatricians. While I am not a mother, a dietician, a nutritionist, a pediatrician, or a health practitioner, what I know for sure is that the healthy population groups that Dr. Price studied didn’t use iron fortified cereals, fortified apple sauce or the like. When I look at the mouths and faces of people on a traditional diet that Dr. Price captured, and the mouths and faces of most children who have been feed what I would consider to be this highly processed first food, I would recommend you go with tradition and follow their lead.
Related How the Teeth Tell the Tale
I highly recommend reading the book Nourishing Traditions for Baby and Child Care by Sally Fallon, available via our Amazon affiliation. This book contains a wealth of information!