Unhealthy Ingredients in Commercial Baby Food (and Better Options)

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Picture of a baby with commercial baby food formula.Nutrition is so important and particularly so in the first years of life.

Seeing all the baby food advertisements, it appears that a wide range of companies is making nutritious, health-promoting baby food.

However, this isn’t always accurate.

This article will first look at the negative side of commercial baby foods.

Following this, the article will examine some healthier options.

Baby Food and Nutrient Density

There are several reasons why commercial baby food may not be the optimal choice.

First of all, here is a look at research studies examining the nutritional values.

  • A study comparing all 479 commercially available baby foods in the UK found that 65% are sweetened. 79% of these foods were spoonable baby jar foods, but similar homemade foods had more than double the nutrients. The researchers concluded that the majority of the products “do not serve the intended purpose” of providing nutritious meals to infants (1).
  • A recent study on the entire commercial baby food range in the US shows that “the vast majority” of products contain added sugar (2).
  • Commercial baby foods “mainly consist of sweet fruits and vegetables” like mango, banana, and sweet potatoes. As a result, they are “unlikely to encourage a preference for bitter tasting vegetables or non-sweet food” (3).
  • In Australia, 29% of baby foods contain synthetic vitamins and minerals. The “vast majority are fruit-based products,” and they “have relatively high sugar content” (4).

Could Overly Sweet Baby Foods Influence Later Taste Preferences?

Three Glass Jars of Baby Food.

Some research suggests that an emphasis on sweet-tasting foods can have an adverse effect on future food preferences for a baby.

Basically, the idea is that from the time we are born, the foods we eat shape our taste preferences.

In other words, the more sugary food a child eats, the more they will favor it as they grow up (5, 6).

In the modern world, children already have enough problems limiting their intake of sugary snacks without being influenced to prefer a sweet taste.

Key Point: Babies need double the amount of commercial baby food to get the same nutrients as homemade food. Store bought food also contains excessive amounts of sugar.

Ingredient Quality

Have you seen how much a jar of baby food costs?

Given the price, you’d expect them to be full of the very best quality ingredients.

Conversely, many commercial baby jar foods contain nutrient-sparse ingredients.

Vegetable Oils

The same oils used by the fast food industry to cook fries is also in many baby jar foods.

The oil of choice in these products is soybean or Canola oil, which are both usually ultra-processed and contain little nutritional value.

Sugar

As mentioned earlier, sugar is prevalent in jars of baby food.The Nutrition Label of Gerber Baby Food.

Seeing sugar on the back of a jar isn’t so surprising, but it is surprising to see how much some brands contain.

For example, look at the baby food on the right. Apparently, it has “no added sugar.”

However, if you look at the ingredients you can see a combination of grape juice concentrate, peach concentrate, more grape concentrate, and then a bunch of thickeners (flour) and preservatives.

In other words, this whole jar is full of refined carbohydrate (total: 35g) and sugar (25g) and little else. The product is 100% fat-free and contains only two grams of protein.

All in all, it is just fruit juice concentrate mixed with flour.

Key Point: The majority of baby food jars contain extremely sweet mixes, with many having added sugar and some using vegetable oils.

Make Your Own!

Instead of paying a premium price for a mixture of grape and pineapple concentrates, it is easy to make spoonable baby food at home.

Sure, it’s a little more time-consuming, but there are no mystery ingredients, and you can avoid all the additives, preservatives, and possible contaminants.

For some nutritionally adequate ideas, there is a guide to making homemade baby food here.

This particular guide has been developed by dietitians, and it shows how making homemade food is easier than it sounds.

First of all, using an electronic baby food maker makes it simple.

With this, you can puree any number of nutritious foods to make a variety of spoonable feeds.

Final Thoughts

While many baby food products are convenient, they are usually much more expensive and less nutritious than what we can make at home.

For those with any concerns over making nutritionally adequate baby food at home, this may be worth discussing with your pediatrician.

Nutrition is always important in life, and never more so than for a small baby.

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