Ask most new mothers what the best first introductory foods are to give her baby when weaning off breast milk and they will most likely go into a regurgitated diatribe, often facilitated by their pediatrician, about the benefits of feeding their babies a combination of grains, legumes and vegetables, most commonly initiated with the introduction of rice cereals. However, if you look at traditional cultures around the world, the first foods are invariably animal products, such as meat, fish and eggs. While most mainstream recommendations focus exclusively on grains and legumes for infants, there is perhaps a small glimmer of hope.  At least one Western government agency, in the form of Health Canada, may be helping lead things back in the right direction.

In their relatively recent guidelines, Health Canada recommended incorporating meat and eggs as the baby’s first foods. These are excellent choices as they provide an excellent complement of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids essential to both the physical and brain development of the infant.  Particularly cited was these foods iron content, which is important due to the fact that it is around the six month point, when the first foods are introduced, that the babies iron stores are almost depleted. Numerous studies, such as those conducted by Beard in 2008 in the Journal of Nutrition, have found iron deficiency to be linked to issues in brain development. Choline is another essential micronutrient that is inexorably linked to brain development and that deficiency in which can lead to lifelong memory and learning dysfunction, as illustrated by Sanders and Zeisel in 2007 in the journal, Nutrition Today.

Pop quiz: What foods are highest in choline?  If you guessed liver and eggs, followed by meat, you would be correct; these are good sources of iron, as well.

Surprisingly, liver was not specifically named in their guidelines, especially given its nature as a potent superfood to human health (which we will soon cover in upcoming Optimal Life blog post).  However, even more surprising was their inclusion of soy and other legumes in their guidelines.  While their goal was clearly to provide a route to iron sufficiency in vegan populations, no mention was given to ensure that these foods were properly prepared.  Without soaking, sprouting or fermenting these foods, the antinutrients within (i.e. phytic and oxalic acid) can wreck havoc on the babies developing digestive tract and immune system.  Is there any question as to the etiology of the recent influx of allergies and autoimmune conditions running rampant in today's youth? In Rich Food, Poor Food, we not only teach you how to identify the healthiest grains and legumes, but how to ferment and soak these foods to remove some of the potential health dangers.

It is also extremely important for the vegan populations to recognized a couple of the drawbacks of choosing soy. First, according to the Center for Food Safety, genetically modified (GMO) soy makes up 91 percent of all soybeans. This is a huge problem. Additionally, parents may want to be cautious about giving their infants a soy-based formula, as some experts believe that an infant’s development may be vulnerable to the estrogen-like effects of soy.

Not sure you are ready to transition to the new guidelines? Perhaps the developmental benefits of eating eggs and meats weren’t enough to sway you yet? Maybe reading a little more about the potential pitfalls of rice cereal might help! Here are three great reasons to remove rice from infant formulas:

  1. Arsenic. According to a November 2012 report by Consumer Reports arsenic levels in many brands of rice (brown more than white) as well as popular rice products like baby formulas, rice pastas, rice syrups, and rice-based cereals are at worrisome and potentially dangerous levels. To reduce exposure to this potential carcinogen, scientists at Consumer Reports recommend restricting most rice-based foods to less than 1 ½ servings per week for children and rice-based infant cereal to ONLY one serving a day for toddlers.  Obviously, an infant needs to eat more often than this.
  2. Rice spikes insulin. Rice is moderately high on the glycemic index and unless we are trying to rear a generation of obese diabetic children perhaps spiking their insulin levels at such a young age is not a smart first step. (A 2012 study from International Rice Research Institute determined that rice ranges from anywhere from 48 to 92 on the glycemic scale, with an average of 64 depending on the type of rice consumed.)
  3. Digestion. An infant is a milk-loving machine.  So much so that their little bodies primarily produce the enzyme lactase that helps to digest the lactose in milk. Until they are a year old they hardly produce any of the enzyme amylase, which is what they need to digest grain.  This contributes to a lot of digestive problems.

So while most mother's are still shoveling rice, soy and lentils into their children, at least one government agency is helping in the fight to get it right.  After that six-month period of exclusively breastfeeding, that initiation of the right solid foods is crucial to the child's development.  And choosing RICH FOOD sources for these meat and eggs, such as grass-fed and grass-finished beef (see our favorites here) and pasture-raised eggs (organic to ensure they are free of synthetic hormones and antibiotics) will supply greater micronutrient content to insure your child their best chance at an optimal life.

To locate the best meat and eggs for you and your family, check out Aisle 1: Dairy and Aisle 2: Meat in Rich Food, Poor FoodOrder today and join the RICH FOOD REVOLUTION.

To read Health Canada's Recommendations Click here:

What is best after breast? | Best first foods for babies @caltonnutrition