A new UK study has found that most commercial baby foods don’t meet infants’ dietary weaning needs. This is because they use predominantly sweet ingredients which provide less nutrition compared to breast milk. More concerning is the fact that many of these products are aimed at infants aged just four months old, when their diet should consist exclusively of breast milk or an equivalent formula.
Baby food picture from Shutterstock
Researchers in the UK analysed the nutritional content of 462 commercial baby foods intended for weaning in terms of energy, protein, carbohydrates, fat, sugar, iron, sodium and calcium.
The study encompassed a wide variety of food types including ready-made spoonable foods, powdered meals to be reconstituted with milk or water, breakfast cereals and finger foods.
While many of the foods tested contained good amounts of energy and protein, they regularly failed to match breast milk in these departments and were often high in sugar; particularly when it came to dry finger foods such as rusk biscuits.
When compared to home-made baby foods, the study found that commercial foods generally had a much lower nutrient density and around half the energy due to the manufacturing process and additives involved. The main point of weaning foods is to increase the energy content of the diet and provide richer sources of nutrients. However, the mean energy content of ready-made spoonable foods was 282kJ per 100g which is no higher than breast milk.
Around 65 percent of the foods also contained sweet-tasting ingredients, which the researchers argue could trigger a preference for unhealthy, sugary snacks in later life. The paper also notes that while most products favoured fruit sugars over refined sugars, the risk of tooth decay remains the same.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that solid feeding be deffered until an infant reaches six months of age. Despite this, around half of the infant foods tested in the study were labelled as being suitable 'from age 4 months'. This clearly offers encouragement to introduce complementary foods before 6 months and may also lead to the premature displacement of breast milk.
"The majority of products had energy content similar to breast milk and would not serve the intended purpose of enhancing the nutrient density and diversity of taste and texture in infants’ diets," the report concludes.
"Health professionals should be aware that such food will not add to the nutrient density of a milk diet, and when advising families, should encourage them to progress to suitable family foods, particularly later in the first year of life."
While tinned baby food is definitely more convenient, it would seem that parents would be better off mashing up their own concoctions. On the plus side this is also more economical and also makes the feeding process more meaningful (i.e. -- you're feeding your baby something that you actually made).
Mind you, we're willing to bet that the chances of food poisoning are probably higher with home-made foods; especially if you don't regularly and thoroughly clean the dirtiest areas in your kitchen.