Researchers at the University of Glasgow’s School of Medicine found that leading baby food brands including Cow & Gate, Heinz and Boots contain fewer nutrients than homemade meals, and just as many as the breast milk these foods are designed to supplement – which begs the question: are these special products necessary?
A total of 479 shop-bought products were tested for the study, which was published in Archives of Disease in Childhood. The study involved some of the UK’s leading brands, including Ella’s Kitchen, Organix and Hipp Organic, which are all marketed as healthy baby products.
Dr Charlotte Wright and her team in Glasgow discovered that half were sweet and most were ‘spoonable’ i.e. soft.
While most of the products were found to be flavoured with natural fruit sugars rather than added sugars, the team still raised concerns about the effects these sweet foods could have on babies’ palates.
Weaning guidelines advise parents to give their babies sweet foods ‘occasionally or not at all’ to encourage healthier eating habits and avoid setting them up with a sweet tooth.
The whole point of weaning is to slowly introduce infants to a wider range of tastes and textures to boost their energy and nutrients intake as they move on from breast milk. UK experts specify that weaning should take place after six months, however Dr Wright found that many ‘weaning products’ sold in the UK were aimed at babies from the age of four months and failed to offer any added benefits.
While rusks and biscuits proved more energy-dense and calcium-rich than the ‘spoonable’ foods, they were also too high in sugar.
Savoury blended dinners made at home had a higher level of nutrients than shop-bought blended foods, but the commercial products did contain more iron.
In fact, for a baby to get the same amount of protein and energy as a home-cooked meal, it would have to eat twice the amount of baby food.
Dr Wright said: “People might think that something sweetened with fruit is healthier, but it’s not. Young babies like sweet food because it tastes like breast milk but it is not moving them on. It’s processed food that’s been put in a jar so it’s not that surprising that it does not match up with home-cooked foods.”
The British Specialist Nutrition Association recommends feeding babies under 12 months old with commercial products alongside a mixed diet including breast milk, homemade foods and formula.
A spokesperson said that weaning products are aimed at infants under six months old because in Europe babies are weaned from four to six months.
To find out how a nutritionist can help you meet your baby’s dietary needs, please visit our page on Infants and Pre-school Children.
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