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.
I think the take-away is to realize that a lot of these “trends” are not trends at all – we’ve been feeding babies from the table and making our own homemade baby food for generations – and also to realize that it is not one size fits all. If you are a diehard BLW’er and yet your baby has no interest, it’s important to reevaluate your feeding plan. And if you are hung up on only purees yet your baby is launching himself over to your plate to grab some beans, it might be time to move on. I do think it’s great parents are thinking beyond the rice cereal box, and I wish more time was spent at well visits covering this super important topic so we can get our babies off to their healthiest starts!
This is a great article. It’s tough to figure out what to feed, especially given the vast amount of information out there. Many babies nearly exclusively breast fed in the latter half of their first year of life have little supplemental iron in their diet (either because they are picky or they simply are not supplemented with cereal or meats). Iron stores are usually sufficient up to 4 to 6 months of age. This makes checking for anemia (usually iron-deficiency anemia) at 9 to 12 months of age and again at 15 to 18 months of age important.
Thanks Dr. Morgan! Yes, checking for iron status is super important!