Why you should be careful of fancy food trends
I recently met a woman who pulled me aside to ask me some questions about her two-year-old son.
She teared up, and confessed, “I skipped iron-fortified cereal because I was afraid of the arsenic. Now I regret it, because we went to a neurologist, and while rare, he verified a link with inadequate/low iron intake and the development of tics.”
I don’t know much about tics in young infants, but I do know about iron and the high requirement infants and young toddlers have for normal brain development, especially around six months of age when they start eating solid foods. From 6-12 months, iron requirements jump. While babies who drink iron-fortified formula will generally meet their iron needs, the breastfed baby needs supplemental iron sources, and this generally should come from iron-fortified cereal or pureed meats.
Yet, the trends say skip cereal, vilifying it as a contributor to obesity development or an unnecessary part of feeding. I rarely hear healthcare providers or parents promoting pureed meat as a first food (except researchers who recognize meats as an important source of both iron and zinc) as an alternative to skipping cereal.
Other feeding trends are afoot too, and some of them, while popular, concern me.
Trends like refusing to use the spoon to feed baby in the name of baby-led weaning, a feeding approach that is wonderful for helping baby self-regulate his food consumption but may fall short on important nutrients like iron and zinc. Or, getting stuck for too long in one stage of feeding, which may happen when parents become over-invested in making homemade baby food. The danger of this is that baby may not progress along the normal developmental stages of eating, including sophisticated textures and developing the all-important ability to chew, which is a precursor for learning to speak.
There’s a lot to do in the first year of life when it comes to feeding your baby. And there’s a lot of confusion about when to start foods and what to introduce.
One thing I think all parents can do is seek nutrition information from a trusted resource. And remember, just because something is trendy or popular doesn’t mean it’s right for your baby or toddler, or even has the research to back it up. It’s important to ask questions and verify the information.
Nutrition mishaps can happen but may not reveal themselves until later, such as the woman’s story above. Good nutrition isn’t about following the latest trends, it’s about making sure your child is getting the nutrients he or she needs, in a manner that supports the goal of independent eating, normal growth and development, and eating enjoyment.