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Shop-bought baby foods 'don't meet infants' weaning needs'

A study shows that some of the foods are promoted for infants from four months – an age they should still be on a breast milk-based diet.

Image: Baby eating baby food via Shutterstock

COMMERCIAL BABY FOODS provide little extra nutritional goodness over breast milk, a new study says.

The research, which is published online in Archives of Disease in Childhood, shows that UK commercial baby foods don’t meet infants’ dietary weaning needs, because they are predominantly sweet foods.

They are also promoted for infants from the age of four months, which is an age when babies should still be on an exclusive breast (or formula) milk diet, the researchers say.

They looked at what sort of products are available in the UK for weaning infants from a predominantly milk-based diet to a family food-based diet.

Recommendations say that weaning foods should not be started before the age of six months, and that they should be introduced gradually.

Analysis

The researches analysed the nutritional content of infant foods intended for weaning made by four major UK manufacturers, including ready-made soft, wet foods, powdered meals to be reconstituted with water, breakfast cereals, and finger foods such as rusks.

They found that:

  • Most (79 per cent) of the 462 products assessed were ready made spoonable foods, almost half of which (44 per cent; 201) were aimed at infants from the age of four months onwards.
  • Analysis of the 410 spoonable foods revealed that their energy content (282 kiloJoules per 100grams) was almost identical to that of breast milk (283kJ/100g).
  • Their protein content was only 40 per cent higher than formula milk.
  • Products containing meat had the highest iron content, but this was no higher than formula milk, and not much higher than products that did not contain meat.
  • Dry finger foods had a much higher energy and nutrient density overall, but they were also particularly high in sugar.
  • Around two thirds (65 per cent) of the stand-alone products were sweet foods.

Babies have an innate preference for sweet foods, which might explain why sweet ingredients feature so prominently in commercial products, said the authors.

But they added that repeated exposure to foods during infancy “promotes acceptance and preferences”, and fruit sugars rather than refined sugars won’t make a difference to tooth decay risk.

They also compared the nutritional content of shop-bought products with typical family-made foods.

They found that 50g of a spoonable family food would probably supply the same amount of energy and protein as 100g of a similar commercial product.

Conclusion

The researchers said that weaning foods are used to increase the energy content of the diet and provide richer sources of nutrients like iron – but the most commonly-used commercial foods in the study supply no more energy than breast or formula milk.

Despite this, they are promoted at an age when they will replace breast/formula milk, which is all that babies under six months really need.

While it is understandable that parents may choose to use [these products] early in the weaning process, health professionals should be aware that such food will not add to the nutrient density of a milk diet.

Read: Ireland gets its own ‘One Born Every Minute’>

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