This post that you’re about to read will probably stir something inside.
You will either agree with it and start changing your little one’s diet or you will totally rebel against it and conclude that everyone has something against some food or other these days.
Anyways, regardless of your final decision, I wanted to share with you some findings of mine related to some of the popular foods given in the weaning process, which are at the same time foods to avoid giving to baby.
They are mainly trendy foods, like smoothies, chia puddings, overnight oats and maple/agave syrup, but I’m also touching the subject of cacao powder and what you can use instead.
I wanted to find scientific, or at least internationally recognized and trusted sources of information, regarding the overall healthy-ness of the above, in big or small quantities.
I wanted to make sure that if I decided to give them to my little one, I would be making her a far bigger favor than a disservice.
Turns out it would have been mainly the latter.
I’m a mom on a mission to teach others how to cook. And I have a weekly newsletter where I share my kitchen experiments, failed recipes and food tantrums of my 3 year old. Join me in my cooking challenges and get a free meal plan. My project is called Cooking School for Moms and it’s gonna be epic.
Let me explain what I mean and why these are foods to avoid giving to babies.
This post contains affiliate links, meaning I will get a small commission if you purchase anything by following those links. This comes at no extra cost to you. Thank you!
Let’s talk about smoothies – the elephant in the room
The text below is from my first version of this post. As you can see in the comments, it has stirred quite a conversation. Further research on my part came to the conclusion babies under 1 do not need fruit juices or smoothies, as per this link.
Another link talks about the fact that blending does keep some fiber intact, however the effects of a fruit smoothie are still similar to drinking a soda.
If you do decide you are going to give it a go anyways, recommendations are to dilute 1 part smoothie/juice to 10 parts water and for older children no more than 150ml per day, with a main meal, so as to make sure they take in other nutrients as well.
I don’t know who invented smoothies, but he or she must have been quite in a hurry.
I mean, that’s what we love about them, right? They’re quick to make, you can basically throw anything in there and the blender will do the rest. You’ll have a drink ready in seconds, full of vitamins, minerals and energy.
Well, it is also full of sugar. In fact, one glass can have the same amount as a glass of coke. This source tells it better and in more detail. It’s the British Heart Foundation, if you’re wondering, and they put smoothies right next to fruit juices and fizzy drinks in terms of sugar content.
Yeah, but how can they be full of sugar, if all that’s in there is fruit, vegetables and some liquid, usually water?
They contain what is called ‘free sugars’. They are called like that because they are not actually inside the cells of the food we ingest. When fruit is turned into juice or smoothies, all the fiber (the extra nutrients) is lost and sugar comes out of the cells in the form of free sugar.
Think about it this way: you probably can’t eat 4 oranges, 1 banana and let’s say a handful of spinach (?) in a row, but you can drink that glass of smoothie made out of these and not feel full at all. It’s easy to consume more sugar and not know it.
This article (same British Heart Foundation) says it better and even has a short video explaining free sugars. Increased sugar consumption leads to diabetes or obesity, which in turn can lead to heart problems and other conditions. Not to mention the effect it has on our teeth. Here’s a study by the British Medical Journal, which talks about type 2 diabetes and the correlation with simple fruit and fruit juice consumption.
Lots of British sources and articles. Well, they are the only country to take the World Health Organization’s recommendations to the letter and actually implement them in a food and nutrition guide. It is mentioned there that an adult should not drink more than 150 ml of fruit juice per day.
That’s an adult we’re talking about. Imagine how little a baby should drink. A baby with his kidneys and digestive system not fully developed yet.
So drop the smoothie, give your baby some fruit. It will help him more in the long run.
Maple and agave syrup
The same ‘free sugars’ reasoning from above applies in the case of maple syrup. In fact, let me put here the WHO’s definition of free sugars which contains all the forms of free sugar:
“Free sugars include monosaccharides and disaccharides added
to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates”.
I just went on Amazon and searched for pure Canadian maple syrup and found one whose nutritional values mention 64% sugar. Yeah, it might not be added, but it’s free. Also searched for agave syrup and found one with 66% sugar.
So, I think the point is made.
For sweetness, try to replace these sugar sources with very ripe fruit, even in cooking or baking. How about dates, apple, pear, bananas? Definitely a lot healthier than some maple syrup.
- 125 first foods baby can eat without teeth
- 10 reasons baby is not eating solids
- 33 powerful tips to put an end to picky eating
- 30+ baby led weaning breakfast ideas
- Blueberry galette recipe
- 2 ingredient cookies (fruit and oats)
A quick search on Google will tell you that most people love the idea of overnight oats and the quick breakfast option it presents to the ever busy man.
However, what they do not take into consideration is the one ingredient in oats that is hard to digest if left uncooked.
That ingredient is starch. The digestion of starch by the human body starts in the mouth, where our saliva starts to break down the molecules in a process called amylase hydrolysis. In order to help our body to start digesting it however, starch needs to go through another process called gelatinization. This process involves the presence of water and heat at the same time, disintegrating the granule structure of the starch.
In plain terms, under the process of cooking in a liquid, the starch cells burst open and start to swell. Their structure is disrupted, making them easy to digest.
Eating raw starch doesn’t provide the human body with this help and digestion is slower and less complete. Fewer calories and nutrients are extracted (making overnight oats a perfect meal for those on a diet) and what remains undigested passes on to the colon. There begins a fermentation process, usually leading to flatulence.
I have tried to make this as easy to understand as possible. I have spent a couple of good hours trying to understand the process and chemical reactions.
This study clearly states the digestibility of raw starch is doubtful if the crystalline structure is not destroyed by cooking. And there has been a study of digestibility of starch in infancy, which also mentions that starch is rapidly digested in cooked state.
I have also found that the starting gelatinization temperature of oat starch is around 55 degrees Celsius, so overnight oats in the fridge are definitely not a solution to help with the process.
I have left chia puddings second to last because technically there is nothing wrong in giving your baby chia.
It’s the dosage and way of serving that represent the problem.
I have found most recipes of chia puddings to start from several tablespoons up to half a cup of chia. The daily adult serving recommendation from the US Department of Health and Human Services 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines is of 1 tablespoon and the recommendation of the European Commission is no more than 15 g per day (which is about a tablespoon).
These are adult serving size recommendations. You can also check most chia seeds packages, they recommend the same.
Now, for children under 2 years old, there aren’t clear suggested serving sizes due to lack of information. However, in the UK Government dietary recommendations, fiber (which accounts for 60-70% of the nutritional value of chia) shouldn’t account for more than 15 g daily. Assuming children will get fiber from other foods besides chia, imagine how little they can consume in any given time period.
A lady who is a doctor and member of one of the weaning groups I am part of has recommended no more than 1/2 teaspoon of chia seeds per day for babies (not given every day!), due to the high content of fibre and the fact that foods with high content of fiber can irritate the colon.
As regards to the way of serving, chia seeds need to be hydrated in water or milk for at least 15 minutes, with at least a ratio of 1 part chia seeds to 9 parts liquid. This helps with digestion and prevents obstructions. Like what happened to this guy. So sprinkling raw seeds on top of porridge might not be such a good idea for your little one.
A word on cacao powder
I have a problem with the ingredients found in cacao powder and whose negative effects are usually ignored when parents use it in cooking for their little ones.
These are called theobromine (which stimulates the nervous system), theophylline (again a stimulating compound) and not to mention caffeine, which we all know the effects of.
So I’m not sure if I want to give my baby something that has such a stimulating effect on the body. I’d rather leave cacao out of the cooking altogether or replace it with carob powder. Carob doesn’t contain the above ingredients and is similar to cacao in terms of taste and looks.
I hope I haven’t made this post too technical or scientific for you and I hope it helps in case you were looking for answers related to the foods above.
Just remember: what is good for adults, might not be the best for our little ones! Even when it comes to things labeled as “superfoods”, like chia seeds or cacao powder.
I would like you to share this post on social media if you think it might help other parents make healthier decisions too.