Ready-made baby food is often thought to be the most convenient and foolproof way of ensuring that babies receive their daily portion of recommended nutrients. However, recent research results have revealed the contrary.
According to research carried out by the University of Greenwich’s School of Science, ready-made baby food, sold in leading UK supermarkets, contained less than a fifth of the daily recommended supply of calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium and other nutrients.
The study, which was first published in the journal Food Chemistry in 2011, has left parents all over the world questioning whether the same is true for baby products sold in their respective countries.
Findings of the research
The baby samples that were analysed during the British study were semi-puréed and packed into glass jars. The samples studied were eight different kinds of baby foods produced by four popular brands in the country. They included meat and vegetable based products and from these, researchers investigated their micro-nutrient content.
According to the results, infants given one meat and one vegetable baby food jar as well as 600ml of formula milk, do not receive enough calcium, magnesium, copper and selenium. The average results showed that levels fell below 20% of the recommended daily requirement.
Declaring the micro-nutrient content of ready-made baby food
“This may be one of the reasons why manufacturers of complementary ‘ready to eat’ infant meals do not declare the micro-nutrient contents of their products. This may provide opportunities and scope for both product and process optimisations to improve the nutritive value,” said Dr. Nazanin Zand, the university’s food science and nutrition specialist.
According to popular baby food brand Purity, loss of nutrient content is minimised by cooking baby food in the sealed jar.
Baby food typically found in your local supermarket is free from preservatives and sterilisation and vacuum packed so as to preserve the safety and nutrition of the food inside.
Vacuum-packing involves storing food in a vacuum environment. This is usually in an air-tight bag or bottle. The vacuum environment removes oxygen that bacteria needs to survive — which ultimately prevents the food from spoiling. That explains why baby food can stay on the supermarket shelf for several months.
Zand, who also lead the research, stressed the importance of weaning babies from six months onwards with a healthy balance of supplementary foods and breast milk, or follow-on formula when breastfeeding was not possible.
“I’m trying to raise awareness and say, ‘can we please pay attention to this area’ instead of concentrating so much on breast milk,” Zand said.
According to Zand, the investigations showed that there is a need to advance the nutritional value of some complementary baby foods. In addition, the regulations governing them need to be tighter so that manufacturers can be held accountable.
Ready-made purées vs. home-made foods
According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers found that children who were spoon-fed food purées were more likely to be overweight and obese when compared to children who were allowed to feed themselves with finger foods.
The study suggests that offering finger foods and allowing infants to feed themselves, fosters healthier eating habits and is a preventative measure against childhood obesity.
According to a CSPI report titled Cheating Babies: Nutritional Quality and cost of Commercial Baby Food by Doctors Daryth D. Stallone, and Michael F. Jacobson, labels found on baby foods are generally subject to the same regulations as regular foods. However unlike regular food, it is difficult for parents to estimate amounts of important ingredients used just by looking at the foods’ appearance. This is because baby foods are strained, puréed, blended foods or food combinations.
This subsequently means that consumers rely on the name of the food to make their decisions. Parents therefore may assume that the ingredients emphasised on the label, such as, vegetables and beef, are present in larger amounts than they actually are. While labels list ingredients in order of predominance, parents must take note that they provide only a rough guide on the actual amounts of the ingredients used.
Preparing your own
As a result, doctor Stallone and Jacobson suggest that parents prepare their own baby foods whenever possible, with a blender and food processor after the food is cooked. Other soft foods like bananas can be mashed with a spoon or fork.
A helpful idea for busy moms is to make large quantities of ready-made baby food and freeze it in ice-cube trays or small containers if it isn’t eaten right away.
While less convenient, home-made baby foods allow parents more control in deciding on the flavour, texture and variety of their baby’s food. However, parents must make sure that the food is prepared and stored safely, and that relevant cooking methods are used that can conserve important nutrients.
Remember to avoid adding lots of salt and sugar, follow hand washing guidelines and sanitise all the equipment used when preparing the food.