Reading Baby Food Labels
Reading baby food labels - this is a topic I am hugely passionate about as many of you know!
I am really frustrated at the current state of pre-packaged baby food and even more frustrated that we have major health care providers advocating the such food is nutritionally sound for our babies!
So for or my best selling book - The Nourished Baby - I conducted my own research and looked at all the baby food products on the market here in New Zealand, Australia and the UK. I spoke on the AM Show on about this (though could have talked for a lot longer!).
The major concern for me was finding that 15% - yes 15% of all products (in all three countries) contained ADDED sugar - this means ingredients like sugar cane and juice have been added into the baby food - marketed at baby food for as young as four months old.
This is wrong on so many levels. I also found that a huge percentage - over 50% of the products contained fruit. I go into a lot more detail in The Nourished Baby about fruit and why you need to watch this, especially fruit that has been really processed but what I also realised is that understanding and reading baby food labels is not straight forward - even more so when you are exhausted and are trying to shop with a baby attached to you!
So I hope the following pointers will help give you some guidance of what to look for or more importantly watch out for.
1. It needs to look like real food - this may seem obvious but when you can have custards full of sugar and zero nutritional ingredients being made for babies and have no guidelines on its use - this is not simple. So if it does not look like something even close to what mother nature may have made just leave it on the shelf where it belongs.
2. Watch for hidden sugars - I found sugar added to both fruit and vegetable based baby food - especially juices which can be easily mistaken for 'fruit'. A product like the one below is particularly concerning in this regard as although it states on the front that there is 'actual' fruit in the pouch looking at the ingredients list this is hard to find as the fruit is in the form of a paste with two types of juice added.
3. Fillers - a lot of baby food products will use ingredients such as rice, ground rice and cornflour as fillers to bulk up the product and also help to extent the shelf life without having to say they are 'additives'. You can read more about why I do not recommend baby rice for infants here and I have an entire chapter on this in The Nourished Baby.
4. Watch the titles - like with one of the above examples the titles of baby food can be really misleading - they may for example say they contain vegetables but still have a high percentage of fruit or other ingredients. They may also use 'healthy' words such as 'wholesome' which can be confusing. Another word of caution with organic products - as there are a lot of organic baby food products, however an organic baby rice pouch is still baby rice, the same for an organic fruit pouch - the amount of natural sugar contained in this fruit does not change if it is organic.
5. It is still processed! You may find some baby food with no listed additives or preservatives - remember that there is a reason it will still stay stable on a shelf inside the packet for a long time where as your lovely homemade baby will not if left in a plastic bag on the bench! There is a lot of technological processes including heating and cooling which occurs to the food to deactivate the enzymes (and thus a lot of the nutrients) in order for this to happen even without all the fillers!
I hope this gives some key pointers of what to look for in the baby food - I realise it is only the start! Given the very slim options that we do have available to us that are nutrient dense I really encourage you to make as much baby food as possible at home - in The Nourished Baby I literally cover how to do this - with loads of practical tips, a week-by-week plan, daily routine guide, recipes and more!
Here is to changing the baby food industry!
xxx Dr Julie