Packaging and labeling can trick us into thinking certain foods and drinks are healthier than they actually are. And prominent marketing can also convince us that baby needs a product which she really doesn’t.
The packaged baby food in the supermarket offers numerous options ranging from classic glass pots of mush to tiny, overpriced packets of certified organic, no-added-anything finger foods. But are these fancy brands really better for your baby? Not necessarily. Several researchers and dietitians makes us aware how to avoid falling into the trap.
Good nutrition is one of the strongest foundations you can lay down to build your child’s immunity, allow them to reach their growth potential and developmental goals and ensure that they are happy and healthy individuals. However, in today’s fast-paced lives with full-time work, family commitments, everyday errands and long commuting hours taking up most of the day, parents often struggle to find the time to prepare healthy meals. The consequence is often depending to packaged, ready-to-eat foods, which are not only convenient but also claim to be nutritious and wholesome.
You have probably heard that lead has been found in drinking water that certain kinds of fish contain high levels of mercury, and that good amount of arsenic have been found in rice. But you may not know why that is a problem or that these elements, commonly known as heavy metals, are also in many other foods. This includes foods made just for babies and toddlers, such as popular snacks, cereals, prepared entrées, and packaged fruits and vegetables. Exposure to heavy metals can harm the health of adults and children. One of the biggest worries is of cognitive development in very young children.
Babies and toddlers are particularly vulnerable due to their smaller size and developing brains and organ systems. They also absorb more of the heavy metals that get into their bodies than adults do. That’s why food safety team analyzed several nationally distributed packaged foods made for babies and toddlers, checking for cadmium, lead, mercury, and inorganic arsenic, the type most harmful to health.
These tests had lot of trouble in findings
- Every product had measurable levels of at least one of these heavy metals: cadmium, inorganic arsenic, or lead.
- About 70 percent had critical levels of at least one heavy metal.
- Fifteen of the foods would pose potential health risks to a baby regularly eating just one serving or less per day.
- Organic foods were as likely to contain heavy metals as conventional foods.
Effect of heavy metals on babies
The human body needs small amounts of certain heavy metals, such as iron and zinc, to function properly. But cadmium, inorganic arsenic, lead, and mercury can be toxic for everyone and pose particular risks for babies. Exposure to even small amounts of these heavy metals at an early age may increase the risk of several health problems, especially lower IQ and behavior problems, and have been linked to autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The effects of early exposure to heavy metals can have long-lasting impacts that may be impossible to reverse. Exposure to inorganic arsenic may also affect IQ. Babies who had been exposed to arsenic in drinking water had IQ levels 5 to 6 points lower, on average.
The risks from heavy metals in baby food grow over time because they accumulate in the kidneys and other internal organs. These toxins can remain in your body for years. Regularly consuming even small amounts over a long period of time may raise the risk of bladder, lung, and skin cancer; cognitive and reproductive problems; and type 2 diabetes, among other conditions.
A recent study suggests that low levels of lead from food and other sources contribute to about 400,000 deaths each year, more than half of them from cardiovascular disease. Getting too much methylmercury can cause nerve damage, muscle weakness, lack of coordination, and impaired vision and hearing. And as time passes, cadmium exposure can lead to kidney, bone, and lung diseases.
Results achieved by food safety personal
Previous Consumer Reports work found critical levels of heavy metals in baby food like in canned tuna, protein powders, fruit juice, and rice and rice products, including infant rice cereals. Other food safety organizations and the Food and Drug Administration have also found heavy metals in Baby foods. But this is the first time food safety personal has looked at the levels of heavy metals in an array of baby and toddler foods, or determined the consumption levels that pose a risk to babies.
The products fall into four categories i.e. Baby cereals, packaged fruits and vegetables, packaged food like turkey and rice dinner and packaged snacks, including cookies, crackers, crunches, puffs, snack bars, wafers, and biscuits such as teething biscuits and rice rusks.
Two rice cereals contained measurable levels of methylmercury. Although the amounts were not high enough to be associated with potential health risks from heavy metal in the analysis, other research suggests that rice cereals may be an overlooked source of mercury in infants diets. Products made with rice fared the worst in our tests. That's because they contained worrisome amounts of inorganic arsenic, and many also had lead and cadmium.
Real snacks are better than baby snacks
Some baby snacks mimic adult junk foods, like cheese puffs, yogurt drops, meat sticks, cookies and baby dessert. Their added sugar and salt train your baby’s taste buds to prefer unhealthy foods, which can lead him down the picky eating pattern.
Even if the nutrition facts look fine, serving these foods teaches baby that cheese puffs are what snacks are supposed to look like. Instead, choose snacks that are healthy. Think cooked peas, whole-milk yogurt or banana.
Sugar and salt limits
There’s nothing nutritious about added sugar and salt in baby foods yet they are present in large quantities. Choose foods with the lowest amounts of sugar and salt. As a parent, you should keep an eye out for some of sugar’s common aliases. Glucose, glucose syrup, molasses, treacle and honey are all refined sugars that should be kept to a minimum.
As for salt, no more than 100 mg of sodium per 100 g in foods containing meat, vegetables and fruit, no more than 300 mg per 100 g in biscuits, and no more than 350 mg per 100g in rusks.
The nutritional benefit of juice for babies and adults is very limited as fibre is absent and the concentration of sugars are high. Juice, even those packaged specially for babies, can contain as much sugar as carbonated drinks, risking decay for your little one’s new teeth. Stick to milk, whether breast milk or formula and choose real fruit or homemade fruit purees, depending on your baby’s age, instead of juices.
Why health experts wary to recommend packaged food
- Food pouches are consumed through sucking, not chewing. Simply sucking the goo out of a package skips out on a learning experience and a whole range of oral skills can be bypassed because of this.
- Many children who consume an excess of puree foods for a long time become picky with solid foods later on. Certainly you don't want to rely on pouch nutrition into childhood.
- Children develop fine motor skills when they pick up their food and play with it. This is a vital part of learning about food and how to eat it.
- Pouches tend to be higher in calories and sugar compared to the real fruit or vegetable. They are often lower in fibre, which gives you that full feeling. This means babies eat a lot of fructose in a short period of time, and are at risk for eating more than they need which can cause obesity.
- Food pouches don't help kids link food with its origins. Mushed banana in a foil packet doesn't look like a banana in a peel.
- Most food pouches offer a mix of different fruits and vegetables. The baby doesn't learn what the individual food tastes like on its own.
- Pouches may seem relatively inexpensive, though purchasing the fruit and veg in its natural state is often cheaper.
- Pouches are bad for the environment. The packaging ends up in a landfill i.e. a ton of waste.
Is all packaged Baby Food unsafe?
Feeling guilty because you have been relying on packaged foods to feed baby when you get home late from work? Don’t. We lead very busy lives where we juggle parenting, work, school and after-school activities for older kids. Make as much of your baby’s food as you can, but there is nothing wrong with having packaged foods periodically as a bit of a life and time saver.
Some baby foods have been shown to contain misleading claims such as “low in sodium” on the packet, but upon closer inspection the sodium guidelines they used were for adults. Read the labels and the fine print. Marketers know you want the best for your baby and they want you to buy their product, so be aware of those little tricks.