What is in baby food?
Have you ever wondered what is in baby food and then looked at the label hoping to find an answer?
Here’s a closer look at what is in baby food that you buy at the store.
I’ll never forget my dad’s reaction when I told him I was planning to make my own baby food. He called me a hippie. I started to tell him about what is in baby food and how terrible it was. He didn’t hesitate to remind me that jarred food was “good enough for you when you were a baby”. I had spent hours researching and reading through multiple studies with each one illustrating the nutritional inferiority–and in some cases, revealing the dangers of jarred baby food. Researching what is in baby food simply solidified my decision to make my own.
The first thing I noticed when I started looking at baby food jars is that fruits and vegetables used to make baby food are listed as “baby grade” on the jar label. At first glance this sounded like it might be a good thing. I envisioned smiling farmers growing vegetables especially for babies and watering their crops with hugs and kisses. But the truth is that “baby grade” is basically scrap produce. These are fruits and vegetables that no adult would buy at the grocery store because they are misshapen, small, bruised or otherwise damaged.
The next step in the process involves cooking all the scraps at a very high temperature to kill off bacteria. Unfortunately, this type of cooking process also reduces the nutritional content of the food. Thus, the baby food is “fortified” by adding synthetic vitamins and minerals to make up for what was lost while the manufacturer was cooking it to death. Manufacturers also like to use the phrase “no sugar added” even when they add sugar in the form of fruit syrup and/or juice. These terms, along with the practice of labeling ascorbic acid as “vitamin C”, are extremely misleading. Ascorbic acid is typically added as a preservative and is not a complete vitamin and therefore, should not be labeled as such.
Here’s a quick science lesson. Naturally occurring vitamin C, like that found in citrus fruit, has many parts and includes rutin, bioflavonoids, Tyrosinase, Ascorbinogen, and other components in addition to ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid is the part of vitamin C that preserves the other parts of the vitamin. Vitamin C is only present when all the components and mineral co-factors are available. If any parts are missing, the body will draw from its stores so that vitamin activity can still take place. Because ascorbic acid is only one piece of the puzzle, the body doesn’t treat it like vitamin C, and doesn’t benefit from it in the same way it would if you were to eat an orange.
Thankfully, there have been a few studies to help consumers be more informed about what is in baby food. One of the most interesting reports available is ”Cheating Babies: Nutritional Quality and Cost of Commercial Baby Food”. In the study, researchers found that fillers typically account for 40-50% of the contents in a baby food jar. The percentage varies by brand and stage with later stage foods containing the most fillers. Surprisingly, they also found that a 2.5 ounce jar of stage one fruit actually contains more fruit than the 4 ounce jar of stage two food because of the fillers used to thicken it.
Unfortunately for parents and babies, there is no regulation for how much real food needs to make it into each jar. Because the FDA failed to finalize a proposition for stricter baby food labeling, manufacturers are not required to indicate the percentage of “real food” vs fillers on the label of the jar. Current industry standards show that only 20-30% of each jar is fruit or vegetable. The remainder is water and fillers.
Dr. Stallone and Dr. Jacobson had this to say when evaluating the nutritional value of home made baby food vs jarred:
“Apricots are a good source of potassium and vitamin A. One 4-ounce serving of fresh apricots provides about 335 mg of potassium and 2860 IU of vitamin A. By contrast, a 4-ounce serving of Gerber’s apricots with tapioca contains only 139 mg of potassium and 1333 IU of vitamin A–or less than one-half as much. Heinz’ apricots with tapioca compare even less favorably with the fresh fruit than Gerber’s. A 4-ounce serving contains only 78 mg of potassium (23% of the amount in fresh apricots) and 813 IU of vitamin A (28% of the amount in fresh apricots), suggesting that Heinz’ product is less than 30% fruit by weight.”
Because of the lack of regulation, manufacturers take a lot of liberty with the types of fillers they add and use all kinds of starches, flours, sugars, gums, lecitin, and sugar components like maltodextrin. Chemically modified food starch is also a common filler in baby food, although it is less accurately labeled as “tapioca”.
Manufacturers also like to introduce additives to the babyfood to extend the shelf life or change the appearance of their product. Sodium phosphates (sometimes seen as disodium hydrogen phosphate on the label) can be added to change the appearance or texture of the baby food. It is not necessary nor is it recommended that table salt (sodium chloride) be added to homemade babyfood, but it is not unusual to see it on the label of commercially available baby foods. As such, jarred food and pre-packaged meals can be very high in sodium.
Another concern with baby food is pesticide residue. Seeds treated with pesticides and fungicides produce fruit/vegetables with residue in the flesh. In other words, these contaminants cannot simply be rinsed off or peeled away with the skin. Ninety eight percent of apples tested by EWA were positive for pesticides and 92% of them contain two or more. Recent studies by the USDA have revealed that 92% of pear samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue. Included among them was iprodione, a probable human carcinogen NOT approved by the EPA for use on pears! Green beans tested positive for five pesticides including organophosphate methamidiphos and organophosphate acephate, both of which cause damage to the brain and nervous systems. The levels of methamidiphos contamination were such that a 22 pound child consuming just one four-ounce serving would have been exposed to 50% of the EPA’s allowable risk value. Because babies weigh much less than an adult, the amount of risk per exposure is greater. In addition, babies eat more food in relation to their body weight. My pediatrician compared a baby’s appetite to an adult eating Thanksgiving dinner at every meal. Obviously, an adult can’t eat Thanksgiving at every meal. We’d probably be sick, or at least feeling pretty terrible! It’s not the same case for babies. They have a lot of growing to do so they eat a lot of food for their little size!
With processed foods, the FDA allows a certain level of contamination by “NON-FOOD” ingredients. These are things you wouldn’t want to eat or feed to your baby. Contaminants such as bug parts, rodent droppings, rodent hairs, mold, and maggots are some of the contaminants found in foods that are canned, frozen, or jarred.
Contamination means it’s anyones guess as to what is in baby food. Bugs, glass, maggots, wood chips, and mold are just some of the delicious additives that have been found it baby food. Just do a google search and you’ll turn up all kinds of articles about what someone found in their baby’s food.
To make matters worse, the FDA publishes a threshold, called a defect action level, outlining the amount and types of contamination that are safe for human consumption. You won’t find baby food on the list. Because baby food is not published on the list, the industry standard is zero contamination. So the FDA is saying that it is not acceptable for baby food to contain any level of any type of contamination by national regulations. But Central Hudson Laboratory conducted mold tests on baby food samples and found that 50% of the samples (including organic samples) contained mold. In other words, 50% of the baby food sampled did not meet FDA guidelines. Mold growth can occur in harvested crops as a result of poor storage conditions, heat, or humidity. It can also grow inside any processed food if air has gotten into the packaging somehow. Aflatoxin, a mold toxin created by a species of mold that grows in corn, peanut, and grain crops is known to cause liver cancer. Produce can be contaminated before it even makes it into the jar!
Manufacturers know that baby food is poorly regulated and they purposely keep parents in the dark about what they are feeding their children. The truth is that they rely on clever marketing campaigns and liberal labeling guidelines, as well as our society’s infatuation with convenience food to boost their profits. They are in business to produce babyfood cheaply and sell it to make money, even if it’s at the expense of your child’s nutrition. It’s no wonder that many parents that find out what is in babyfood choose to make their own!
Dangers of mold toxins in food crops
“Cheating Babies: Nutritional Quality and Cost of Commercial Baby Food” study by Dr. Stallone and Dr. Jacobson