It's morning. You groan and roll over, trying to pretend that the day isn't beginning. You're dreading today because today, like every day, you know you'll be facing your government ration. It's bland and colorless. Some days it's watery. Other days it's thick. They tell you it's for your own enjoyment, so you build up to new tastes. Sometimes they mix it with a liquid and request that you suck it down. It will help you sleep better, they say. At first you looked forward to it. It was kind of new. It gave you a rush as soon as you had it. It didn't take long, however, to realize that you crashed and burned shortly after eating. You got sleepy, couldn't do anything. They assure you it's just your age. You're supposed to get sleepy and cranky… after all, when you “graduate” to better food, it will be healthy whole grains that do the same exact thing…
It doesn't sound very appealing, does it? Yet thousands, if not millions, of babies face that same bowl (or bottle) of bland mush every day. Baby cereal, especially rice cereal, is the hallmark of “first foods” — at least it is today.
Nutritious? No Way.
Rice cereal has almost no nutritional value. Most baby cereals have no nutritional value. In fact, they're harmful and set your baby up for a lifetime of health problems. Despite vain attempts to “fortify” cereals with nutrients your baby needs, they remain a poor filler that sits like a brick in your baby's stomach.
White flours and white rice have very little nutritional value. Though there may be room for moderate, nutrient-poor “fillers” like these when serving a holiday meal, growing babies and children don't need them as part of their daily fare.
Children react powerfully to food, especially to carbohydrate foods. These foods cause the blood glucose levels to spike, then subsequently crash.
Children are resilient — you most likely won't see problems with diabetes in your child. But those blood sugar spikes send children on an energy rush they learn to enjoy. Think of how many children you know who will only eat carbohydrate-heavy foods like crackers, chips, fries, and breaded meats.
What goes up must come down, and the same is true with your baby's blood sugar. These crashes can lead to tired, irritable, and cranky babies. As your child gets older, the tantrums get worse. It keeps going until yet another carbohydrate-laden meal or snack is served to keep them up yet again.
Obesity and Fear
Dr. Alan Greene has begun a campaign to end serving white rice cereal to babies (download white paper). He notes the alarming rise of obesity, even among very young children and points to nutritionally-devoid foods like white rice as being one of the initial sources of the problem.
As I stated above, Dr. Greene feels like early training in bland, tasteless (and blood-sugar spiking) foods sets our children up for eating patterns that will harm them throughout life.
Humans enjoy sweet things — breastmilk is sweet and we're programmed that way from the womb. But babies develop other tastes quickly as they begin solid food (the start of the weaning process). Repeated exposure to a family's favorite flavors teaches a baby and toddler what tastes good.
Isolating babies and toddlers from “real” tastes by feeding only processed cereals, then “graduate foods” leads them to be hesitant, even fearful of new tastes. Children learn to reject food that doesn't have the same comforting, bland taste they're used to. In other words crackers, chips, and breaded foods take the throne as the kings of childhood tastes.
As I said above, you and your baby are hard-wired to enjoy sweet things. But in centuries past, sweets weren't so easy to come by. Sweet and starchy foods were enjoyed more in moderation. When starchy foods were eaten, they were often fermented so that they were easier to digest. Proteins and fats were well-prized.
Sweets day in and day out are not as natural for our bodies. Carbohydrates are sugars. All carbohydrates, even “complex carbohydrates” are sugars. The human body eventually gets exhausted from having to handle the constant flow of sugar. It may not happen until your child reaches the age of 30, 40, 50… maybe 60… but eventually the body's metabolic systems begin to break down from years of abuse.
What was hyperactivity, tendency to tantrums, inattention, and inability to work in school becomes lack of energy and an expanding waistline. Eventually that gets worse and becomes diabetes, obesity, and a slow, painful decline to death. It's an epidemic in our modern world, and it takes an intelligent and aware parent to stop this deadly trend before it begins.
Meals featuring protein and healthy fats (butter, coconut oil, etc.) nourish your child's brain and body. Meats are suitable even as a first food for babies. Vegetables and moderate levels of starchy veggies (like mineral and nutrient-packed potatoes and sweet potatoes) provide taste, vitamins, minerals, and energy for rapidly growing children… without taxing the body. By properly preparing grains (following the model of our healthy ancestors), we can give our easy-to-digest nutrition. Serving these foods in moderation, as a compliment to the life-giving protein and brain-powering fats in our meals, is what gives our children lifelong health.
Processed baby cereals are a tasteless induction to a life of poor health. I agree with Dr. Greene… it's time to “white out” these pages of white, empty foods from our baby's first food lists.
I've written extensively about healthy first foods (including tons of recipes divided up by age) in my book on feeding babies and toddlers. Click here to get more info on how First Bites and Beyond can help you bring up a smart, happy baby.
Photo by nate steiner