Commercial baby food full of sugar, empty fillers - expert
Commercial baby foods are not "good enough" and many of them should be avoided, says a child health expert who is calling on baby food manufacturers to up their game.
Dr Julie Bhosale says caregivers get confusing messages about what to feed their babies and are told commercial baby food is just as good as homemade when that is not the case.
Bhosale analysed 1500 products in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom in February of this year. She found that 15 per cent of all products had added sugar and half contained fruit when vegetables are the recommended first food for babies.
Empty fillers such as rice were used to bulk out many baby foods and excess salt was a problem too.
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"Considering these are for infants from 4 to 6 months of age and they're the first foods they have tried, it is extremely worrying," say Auckland-based Bhosale, who has written two books on nutrition for children and babies.
She recommends caregivers make their own nutrient-dense baby food at home, pureeing soft vegetables and iron sources such as meat and spinach.
"Across the first year, the baby's metabolic blueprint — the way their body processes sugar and fat — is really set," she says. "We are looking at 42 million children around the world who are obese. Seriously, we can do better than this for our most vulnerable population."
Plunket national clinical advisor Karen Magrath says families "make choices appropriate for their own individual situation", which might include feeding their babies store-bought food.
"Our advice, based on Ministry of Health and WHO guidelines, is that commercially prepared food appropriate to the age of your child can be part of a balanced diet," says Magrath. "As any busy family will tell you, sometimes it is a practical option to feeding young children."
Plunket works with families to help them choose baby foods with no added fat, salt, sugar, honey or other sweeteners, says Magrath.
Bhosale says she understands the time pressures families face. "I'm not against bought baby food, It's 2017, we do need bought baby food. But parents are getting the message that bought baby food is as nutritionally sound as what they make at home and that's just not true.
"The parents I'm working with are very confused."
A spokesman for the Food and Grocery Council says the quality of baby foods available in New Zealand is high.
"The majority of baby foods do not contain any added sugars," says the FGC spokesman. "Those that do are usually custards, and the level of sugar in store-bought custards is generally less than the level in a homemade custard.
"There is a wide variety of foods available, including a significant number of savoury and vegetable foods. Formal recommendations for first foods for babies in New Zealand include fruits and vegetables."
Bhosale was also surprised by the lack of allergens in supermarket baby foods, which are needed to help babies avoid food allergies as they grow.
The new guidelines from the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy are to introduce small amounts of allergenic foods such as eggs, peanuts, fish as soon as possible.
"We've seen this exponential rise in allergies. One in 10 children will have a food allergy and it's because we've been told to withhold allergenic foods," says Bhosale.
"Mums [I see] are in tears because they're so afraid of doing something wrong."
In response to a story about sugar in baby foods last month, Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said, "Parents can be confident that store-bought baby foods are a nutritious option for their babies and can be used with confidence as part of a mixed, healthy diet."