Like most moms and dads you probably feed your infant or toddler with store bought food once she’s done with breast milk or formula. It’s a familiar habit that’s quick and easy. Americans have done it for generations.
But a recent study in the journal Pediatrics found that commercial toddler foods and infant or toddler snacks, desserts, and juice drinks “are of potential concern due to sodium or sugar content.”
Pediatricians, the authors advise, should tell parents to look carefully at labels when buying commercial toddler foods and limit salty snacks, sweet desserts, and juice drinks. They define toddlers as beginning at age 1.
Another study found babies would need to eat twice as much commercial food to get the same energy as home-cooked meals. The researchers also found that many of those foods contain high levels of sugar. Some are even recommended when your baby turns 4 months -- when she should still be on breast milk or formula.
A pediatric dietician at a noted children’s hospital solely dedicated to chronic illness and disabilities (La Rabida) says “it is absolutely 100 percent better to use fresh fruits and vegetables and meats (organic if possible) and cooking and processing them at home.”
“Through the whole (commercial) process, per se, of jar baby foods, many of the nutrients are lost,” says Robyn Felton, nutrition manager at the Park Forest, IL., hospital. “Therefore it is best to eat (the foods) as close as possible to the time they were fresh, just as you take a zucchini you bought yesterday from the fridge, cook it, blend it, and serve it for dinner to your baby.”
Felton echoes the study in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, that contends young children are inadvertently being set up to develop a preference for sweet and salty foods that could, in turn, lead to their being overweight or obese.
Nearly a quarter of all U.S. children aged 2 to 5 years are overweight or obese. “Obesity and excess sodium intake are associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure among children,” the study authors say, “and children with high blood pressure are more likely to develop hypertension as adults and, subsequently, cardiovascular disease.”
Adds Felton: “As if a baby's palate really needs to be introduced to salt and sugar that early in life to start developing those habits and preferences for sugary and salty foods.”
“It is important for the baby to start off knowing the actual taste of the food and appreciate it for its natural taste. Plus, more and more research is coming out on the dangers of added sugar, as more and more children get diseases that were once only heard of in adults, such as type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, hypertension, and heart disease.”
Prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the United States has increased five-fold since 1958. It was once referred to as adult-onset diabetes but is now frequently diagnosed in adolescents, one study says.
“Sixty percent of overweight 5- to 10-year-old children already have 1 biochemical or clinical cardiovascular risk factor (such as hyperlipid- emia), elevated blood pressure, or increased insulin levels, and 25 percent have 2 or more risk factors.”
“These risk factors observed in children mean that (chronic health conditions) may become clinically overt earlier in adulthood.”
Throw in a well-documented trend toward a sedentary lifestyle — the decrease in childhood physical play is associated with the doubling of childhood obesity in the past 20 years — and the problem is worsened. Research has found that just time spent watching television raises the risk for diabetes, lower “good” cholesterol levels, and higher fatty acid levels.
This is a lot to take in. If you need to boil it down, think about what your infant or toddler is eating now, read food labels, try to avoid foods that will instill a craving for sugar and salt later, and consider making your own baby food. It takes more time, but it’s an investment in your children.
March 02, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN