From baby's first food to finger foods the ingredient list has the potential to be very confusing. Don't let these labels intimidate you! Decode the ingredients and figure out what it is you are really feeding your little one.
Many people give some form of cereal as baby's first food. While this is an individual choice, know your options. There is a growing trend to skip straight to a heartier cereal, such as oatmeal, or to skip cereals all together. Also know that all cereals are not created equally, compare brands and ingredient labels to find the right one for your little one.
For instance, Gerber rice cereal contains the expected ingredients of rice flour and added vitamins and minerals. But, it also has soy lecithin as an ingredient. Soy has found its way into everything, even baby's first food. Read The Truth About Soy.
The first few stages of baby food contain minimal ingredients. Most of them are watered down versions of the pictured fruit or vegetable. It is a common problem that these purees also have a starch ingredient which acts as a filler. Be on the lookout for rice flour, corn starch, and maltodextrin on the ingredient list.
Either way, adding anything to the puree, whether it be water or starch decreases the nutritional density of product while cutting costs for the company. Unfortunately, the larger containers of baby food contain a larger proportion of water to food, meaning the more food your little one needs the less they are actually getting.
Another common ingredient you will see in the first few stages of food is ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Ascorbic acid is an antioxidant that helps protect the body from free radicals. It is used in baby food to prevent the food from turning colors. The form of vitamin C used in food production is typically made from corn. Corn sold in the US is typically GMO so if you are trying to avoid GMOs or corn, be wary of this ingredient.
Many of the first finger foods marketed towards babies are items such as puffs, teething biscuits/cookies, mum mums. Read more about The Great Puff Debate, here.
On the ingredient label many brands of teething biscuits is sugar, canola oil, soy lecithin, non-fat dry milk, salt, natural flavors, and starch. There are many problems with all of the listed ingredients but most of all, they combine to form a food lacking any nutritional density.
Three of the biggest problems on this ingredient list are sugar, salt, and non-fat milk. Babies need fat, and they don't need sugar or salt!
Natural Flavors are found on the ingredient list from your baby's first finger foods and will likely stay on the ingredient list for the rest of their lives. But, do we know what natural flavors means? Natural flavors can be a friendly way of wording that animal by-products can be found in the item. Or, it is a way of hiding MSG, which can be naturally occurring, from the label. Natural flavoring can mean anything that is derived from a natural source and its purpose is flavoring, not nutritional content. This means you won't know exactly what your little one is eating if it contains natural flavors.
What You Can Do
If any of this concerns you, read labels! Compare brands and buy the one that is right for your family.
Also, you can consider making some or all of your baby's food. Purees are incredibly easily to make and you can personalize your child's diet.