Are Commercial Baby Foods Unhealthy? What You Need To Know

Are Commercial Baby Foods Unhealthy? What You Need To Know

Any baby food ad boasts of its nutritious product filled with vitamins, minerals and a healthy start for your baby’s diet.

Baby food is primarily fruit and vegetable based so it’s just as healthy as homemade, right?

Are Commercial Baby Foods Unhealthy?

According to recent reviews in the UK, Australia and the US, many commercial baby foods aren’t as healthy as we are led to believe.

In fact, some even contain shocking ingredients for babies, such as added sugar, which isn’t something little palates and bodies need. Many even contain vegetable oil which is highly processed and of little to no nutritional value.

Commercial children and toddler foods have long been criticised for their lack of nutrition, high sugar content and sodium levels.

In fact, a lawsuit was filed against Heinz for misleading advertisements about the nutrition in their toddler foods.

Now it seems baby food needs to be watched as well.

What Ingredients Are Being Found In Baby Food?

One review in the US found added sugar and high sodium levels in a number of commercial infant and toddler foods.

Of the 79 mixed grains and fruit baby food reviewed, 41 contained added sugar. Of those, 35 had 35% or more of their calories attributed to sugar.

When they reviewed toddler dinners, they found 72% had high sodium level. They also found 32% of toddler dinners and most cereal bars, fruit products, infant/toddler snacks, juices and baby and toddler desserts contained added sugar.

The nutrition profile of baby and toddler foods in Australia was reviewed and researchers found some items contained added sugars and sodium.

While natural, the amount of fruit based products was also concerning. Fruit is a healthy part of a well-balanced diet, but it can be overconsumed.

Some infant and toddler foods also contain processed oils. While fat is essential for brain development, processed vegetable oils aren’t the healthiest form, especially for infants.

Why Is The Nutrition Content Of Baby Food Important?

In the UK, researchers looked at commercial baby food purees targeted to the youngest of infants, just 4-6 months. Sometimes added ingredients aren’t the only concern, but rather what’s lacking.

They found that while some of the purees had comparable calories, they lack the vitamins, minerals and protein one would find in breastmilk or formula. Meaning they could be used as complementary foods but shouldn’t replace breastmilk and formula in the first year of life.

Why is this a concern? Babies grow very quickly in the first year of life. Their brains are developing and a number of bodily systems are maturing.

In addition to adequate caloric intake, babies need a lot of protein, vitamins and minerals for optimal growth and brain development.

Replacing breastmilk or formula with commercial baby foods which don’t contain enough nutrition could be potentially dangerous for their growth and development.

The research did find homemade spoonable baby food to be more nutrient dense. This is likely due to less processing. Homemade baby foods are also typically made free of added sugar and sodium.

Is Added Sugar Really That Concerning?

A lot of parents find themselves trying very hard to get baby food into new eaters. And toddlers? Well they’re certainly known for being picky.

It makes sense then, that some commercial products contain added sugar, and are also fruit based for more sweetness. It’s likely easier to get a baby to consume pureed mango with a bit of carrot than it is to get pureed peas into them.

The problem with added sugar is babies don’t need it, and the calories from sugar can fill them up and end up replacing more nutrient dense sources such as breast milk or formula.

We are also now seeing the effects of several generations becoming heavy sugar consumers. Diabetes and obesity are at epidemic proportions, even among young children.

Exposing children to added sugar right as they’re beginning to eat has the potential to create a preference for added sugar. While breastmilk is sweet, it doesn’t have any of the negative effects that come with added sugar.

Is Added Sugar The Only Way To Get Babies To Eat?

The popularity of commercial baby food since last century has had quite the impact on what we as consumers assume babies need.

During the first year of life, breastmilk or formula is the best source of nutrition. Around 6 months, many infants develop interest in solid foods. For many babies, this is just the start of getting nutrition from solids.

Contrary to what we might see based on advertisements, few babies go from zero solids to suddenly ready for three meals and a few snacks throughout the day. When we aim for that, we find ourselves trying those sweet, packaged and enticing baby and toddler foods in hopes we can get them to eat more.

Many parents find the baby led weaning approach to be helpful in exposing their baby to a variety of tastes without having to push processed purees with added sugar.

Be sure to read Starting Solids For Baby – When Should I Start Solids to learn more about when to start solids and how to introduce healthy eating habits.

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Maria Silver Pyanov is a mama of four energetic boys and one unique little girl. She is also a doula and childbirth educator. She's an advocate for birth options, and adequate prenatal care and support. She believes in the importance of rebuilding the village so no parent feels unsupported.

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