It’s been a while since I’ve bought baby food. Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever bought baby food for my child. I used to bring jarred baby food (the fruity ones) in my packed lunches to school or work, so it’s been a long time. By the time I had my son I decided baby food wasn’t for us and opted for baby led weaning or making our own baby food.
So, when I found myself in the baby food aisle the other day I was actually pleasantly surprised to see about 75% of the choices were organic. Even some of the non-organic brands were still pretty clean products overall. It’s evident that parents are demanding better options to feed their children. But as I looked a bit closer at some of the products on the shelves, I discovered there is still a long way to go. Some options were still highly processed foods containing MSG, GMOs, and more. I decided to detail just what ingredients to avoid and why they aren’t a healthy option for your child. The products I found were:
- Gerber 3rd Foods- Apple Blueberry with Lil’ Bits
- Gerber 3rd Foods- Apple and Bananas with Mixed Cereal
- Gerber 3rd Foods- Turkey, Rice, & Vegetable Dinner
- Gerber Graduates- Breakfast Buddies Bananas & Cream
- Gerber Graduares Lil’ Meals- Spaghetti Rings in Meat Sauce
- Gerber Graduares Lil’ Meals- Pasta Stars with Chicken & Vegetables
Additives, Sugar, Sodium, and Processed Food
Packaged food in general is processed food, and that’s the case with baby food too. In order to give these items a shelf life, make them palatable and nutritious after pasteurization stripped away vitamins, these foods contain additives, thickeners, and synthetic vitamins. Instead of pure apples and blueberries, the processed version contains added purée concentrate, which ups the sugar level.
In one serving of Gerber Apple Blueberry with Lil’ Bits there are 17g of sugar. The AHA recommends children get no more than 12g of sugar a day, and this food is for an infant. It’s well above the necessary amount of sugar.
The Graduates Lil’ Meals Spaghetti Rings has 3/4 the daily sugar recommendation for children with added sugar listed as one of the ingredients.
Sodium is a concern as well. Americans get more than 75% of their daily sodium from processed foods. With 9 in 10 children getting too much sodium, processed foods plays a factor. It can lead to raised blood pressure, and ultimately heart disease and stroke.
Aside from sugar and salt, there are other things being added into these processed foods. When steaming and pasteurizing fruits and vegetables, many of the nutrients are lost along the way. The manufacturer’s solution is to fortify the product with artificial versions of vitamins like folic acid, vitamin B, and iron, among others. The problem is, these aren’t always easily absorbed by the body. In addition, the fortification of foods with folic acid has been linked to cancer. Pure fruits and vegetables are the best way to ensure your child is getting absorbable nutrients.
Processed foods early on in a child’s diet can lead to preferences for sweeter or saltier foods. Some say an abundance of puréed foods or pouch foods can also promote lump aversions, where the child won’t eat anything chunky or with a texture that isn’t smooth. And just because a food is marketed to kids, doesn’t mean it is healthy for kids. There are some processed foods that you should never feed your children.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
This excitotoxin overstimulates the nervous system and is linked to brain tumors, learning disorders, behavioral problems and more. Not only does MSG trick the brain into believing food tastes better, it also makes your body think it’s still hungry. This encourages overeating because the brain doesn’t get the message that the stomach is full. Less severe symptoms include dizziness, nausea, headaches, and asthma attacks.
You’re likely to find MSG is the following ingredients from the products I looked at, as well as in this full list of 90 hidden MSG ingredients.
- Autolyzed Yeast Extract: Corn Starch
- Modified Corn Starch
- Natural Flavor
- Cooked Enriched Macaroni Product
- Enriched Flour
- Citric Acid
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
GMOs are organisms whose genetic material has been artificially altered through genetic engineering to create something that does not occur naturally or through crossbreeding methods used in traditional farming. With little to no independent research, the safety of GMOs in the long term is unknown. Some types of GMOs are engineered to withstand large doses of toxic chemical pesticides, while others are actually created to contain a pesticide that explodes the stomach of insects that ingest it.
GMOs are a fairly new addition to our food, and with no mandatory labeling required in the United States, it can be hard to know if you’re consuming them. These hidden ingredients are likely to be from generically modified sources and the ones found in the baby foods I looked at are listed below:
*Animal source fed GMO feed
- Ground Turkey*
- Brown Rice Flour
- Canola Oil
- Ascorbic Acid
- Rice Flour
- Citric Acid
- Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin)
- Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate
- Cooked Chicken*
- Dried Chicken Broth*
- Chicken Fat*
- Modified Corn Starch
- Autolyzed Yeast Extract
- Egg Noodles (Eggs)*
- Dry Yogurt Culture (Nonfat Milk)*
- Natural Flavor
- Cultured Cream*
- Meat Sauce (Beef)*
- Parmesan Cheese*
- Corn Oil
- Cream Powder*
- Enriched Macaroni Product (Egg Whites)*
- Ricotta Cheese (Whey, Skim Milk, Cream)*
- Romano Cheeses (Cultured Cow’s Milk)*
- Soybean Oil
- Sour Cream Powder*
- Cheddar Cheese*
Although there is currently no GMO wheat, wheat crops are high-risk for GMO contamination, so the wheat ingredients in these products could contain GMOs.
Not only are the above ingredients possibly GMO, they may contain harmful synthetic pesticides. Herbicides and pesticides, such as glyphosate, can be toxic. The WHO concluded that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen and independent research found glyphosate to cause rapid tumor growth in lab rats. The Environmental Working Group ranks pesticide levels of food from highest residue to lowest residue. The dirty dozen are the among the fruits and vegetables that are best to be bought organic.
Half of the top 12 on the list are in the baby foods I found at my local grocery store.
What’s the Alternative? Better Baby Food Options
There are plenty of better options when it comes to feeding your child. As I mentioned before, there were an abundance of organic options that I found at the store. The USDA Organic label ensures that no synthetic pesticides are used, no GMOs, and no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
Make Your Own
It’s much easier than you think make your own baby food. Best of all, you control what’s in the final product. Purchase organic vegetables, steam and blend them up. Purée organic fruits alone or blend them together for different flavor combinations. The science behind homemade food is there to back you up too. Research found homemade baby food was more nutritious than store bought. In fact, babies would need to eat twice as much store bought food to get the same nutrients in one serving of homemade food.
Consider Baby Led Weaning
If making baby food sounds like a lot of work or one more meal to make, baby led weaning might be an option if your child is ready for solids. Baby led weaning worked great with my son once he was ready to eat solid foods. The concept behind this method is to skip the purées and jars of food and instead opt for finger-size pieces of food that babes can feed themselves. It allows the child to explore new tastes and textures on their own rather than being fed.
Were you surprised to see what’s actually in these popular baby foods?