The Untold Truth of Baby Food

I love reading the untold truth of celebrities, reality shows, and my favorite stores, but baby food? What is so secretive about baby food? Turns out quite a bit.

Over the years, studies have found a huge variety of extra ingredients with everything from preservatives to pesticides to possible carcinogens making their way into our little ones’ mashed peas. It’s also amazing how much money and politics can affect our children’s food. So if you think you know all there is to know about baby food, think again.

Watch out for Preservatives

As a busy mom of two, I would love to prepare organic homemade baby food every day, but that is just not a reality for us, so I do my best to choose the safest and most nutritious store-bought foods. To all my fellow mamas buying their baby food, we’re going to be okay. We just need to pay attention to the ingredients.

“Making your own is always best, because you control exactly what is in the food,” Dr. Barry Sears, author of the Zone Diet book series and president of the non-profit Inflammation Research Foundation, told me. “The only risks with store-bought are usually the preservatives used to extend the shelf life and the restricted selections used based on cost. You have only one opportunity to establish the ideal foundation for a child’s future health.” It pays to be careful with labels.

One ingredient to watch out for is acrylamide. This compound can form in baby food as it cooks and has been found to be carcinogenic is higher doses. According to a study in Food and Chemical Toxicology, researchers tested acrylamide levels in a variety of baby food and found some in Poland that exposed infants to higher levels than adults are used to. If you’re ever unsure of the type of baby food you’re buying, talk with your pediatrician.

Beware of Pesticides

You probably wouldn’t buy fresh fruit that had high levels of pesticides, but we may be unknowingly buying it for our babies. A study in the International Journal of Environmental Analytical Chemistry reported that the pesticide residue found on the skins of fresh apples can also be found in processed apple baby foods. Some apple baby foods even exceeded the maximum allowed amount of pesticides for children!

If you go apple picking every fall, think about making your own applesauce and freezing it for you and your family to enjoy. If you don’t have a ton of extra time to make homemade applesauce, look for organic baby foods at the store to avoid the pesticide concerns.

There is a Political Component

Unfortunately, not everyone is as concerned about your baby’s health as you are, and some of those people control baby foods and prices. Laurie True, the former executive director of the California WIC Association and current director of the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health, has voiced concerns that baby food companies have been known to add ingredients that sound good in order to raise prices, but lack research to find out if these ingredients benefit our children’s health. This becomes especially interesting when the government is forced to pay more for the WIC program’s baby food.

“These include additives like DHA/ARA, ‘probiotics,’ and others, which are increasingly showing up in infant formula, baby food, juice, milk, eggs, bread, and other WIC-allowable items,” True wrote in The Hill. “These ‘value-added’ foods are more expensive, and are heavily marketed as improving a baby’s immunity, brain development, or digestion. However, there is no clear scientific consensus that they confer any health benefits to full-term infants or toddlers.”

In fact, buying baby food and formula with these added “functional ingredients” costs the government an additional $90 million each year! It’s important for consumers to continue to be on the lookout and question claims that aren’t proven. Many of us remember a time when formula companies marketed their powdered formulas as better and healthier than mothers’ breast milk. If there is no evidence to back up a baby food company’s claim, we simply cannot accept it.

Watch the Sodium

Just like any other canned or jarred food, baby food can be high in salt. However, because babies’ bodies are so much smaller, it’s crucial to monitor just how much salt they are taking in.

A study in Experimental Biology and Medicine found that the high sodium levels in baby food may be linked to hypertension or high blood pressure as an adult. Researchers fed traditional jarred baby food to rats who were predisposed to hypertension. All of the rats who ate the baby food developed hypertension, and half of them died or became critically ill.

Researchers voiced concern about the amount of sodium found in processed baby food. “This added [sodium] is unnecessary for the health of infants,” researchers explained. “It may contribute to the later development of hypertension in genetically predisposed individuals.” If hypertension tends to run in your family, consider making your own baby food to prevent health issues down the line.

It could be full of Nitrates

As a health foodie, I know which foods to stay away from because of their nitrate levels. The nitrates in certain meats and other foods have been found to increase your risk for heart disease, because they can damage blood vessels. That means giving up some pretty delicious treats.

See ya later hot dogs. Sorry bacon, well on second thought, we can still see each other sometimes. However, I never thought about nitrates being in tiny jars of baby food. Researchers from the University of Iowa College of Medicine studied nitrate levels in store-bought baby foods. Study authors found that the baby foods most likely to contain nitrates were “mixed vegetables, bananas, carrots, garden vegetables, spinach, green beans, and beets.”

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