It's all too easy to pick up a jar from the shelf, pop it in your basket and not think twice about the ingredients, measurements, and content that may or may not be good for you before paying for it. We are very visual when it comes to our purchases and so when we see the words "fat free", "sugar free", and "with added vitamins" we tend to take it at face value and trust the labelling.
It is of course impossible to provide every single piece of information about a product on a small label but it is within the ethics of the food industry to provide the most necessary and important information which will give the consumer enough information to make a decision about whether the product is for them or not.
Over the years, advertising standards agencies around the world have attempted to keep labeling truthful and honest without misinforming customers or tricking purchasers with inaccurate information. So how do we know what to trust? Due to guidelines and standards, the food industry is obliged to specify the ingredients and nutritional information but there are times when the industry labels foodstuffs in such a way that it can be confusing as to what the exact measurements are. They can trick us into believing that something is fat free when in fact it has been supplemented with ingredients which are far worse for you.
As a parent we are even more conscious of the foods we are giving our babies, infants and toddlers. A balanced and nutritional diet is always necessary but those first 1000 days of a newborns life are vital in establishing good nutritional habits to help them grow. But does the baby food industry help us parents choose right for our children by labelling and advertising their products in the best possible way? Do they provide our children with the nutrients, vitamins and healthy diet they need? It's not always a good idea to trust what you see on the box. Let's see the varying ways the baby food industry have lied to us over the years.
15 Sugar Free
One of the reasons parents make their own baby food is due to the excessive amount of sugar which is added to baby cereals and toddler dinners. Sugar is one of the worst ingredients to add to baby's food for a number of reasons.
The added sugar is refined sugar which contains a number of chemicals which could quite possibly depress the immunity of babies resulting in an increase of infections due to a low immune system. In addition, sweet and sugary foods will naturally lead to a sweet tooth meaning your baby and toddler may refuse healthier options such as vegetables in favour for the sweeter things in life and can lead to obesity in adolescence. A high sugar intake can lead to excessive oral bacteria resulting in tooth decay. Finally a recent study discovered that high intake of sugar can lead to poor concentration in older children.
Baby food manufacturers are not always forthcoming about the excessive amount of sugar in dinners and especially in infant formula. Sugar should be limited for the first year of a newborns life and slowly introduced. However many baby foods have more than the minimum allowed for young babies but still declare that their product is low in sugar or in some cases sugar free. Be very cautious of the sugar content of all baby foods especially infant formula.
14 Strategically Wording Labels
Good advertising is an incredible skill and can lure an unsuspecting customer in by cleverly placing images, graphics and words to entice the purchaser on the labels. The simple food label, which displays all of the ingredients and nutritional facts of the food, is the first thing you see and good marketing will make sure it's the only thing you see.
The label is, of course, what can easily sell a product to you. By adding in large, bright and flash words that grab your attention you are more inclined to buy it. Words like "Fresh", "New", "Organic", and "50% Free" are enticing and instantly grab attention. It's highly likely that you will drawn to these products but that does not make them the right choice. A brand of what appears to be organic baby food may be a Wolf in sheep's clothing. Always read the label probably and be fully aware of the ingredients and nutritional values in comparison to a competitor to ensure you make the correct choice.
13 How Many Calories Per Serving
The food industry has taken to cleverly disguising high contents of sodium, fats and carbohydrates by in effect diluting the measurements. High contents of fat and sodium will naturally dissuade a consumer from purchasing a product so in order to hide the high values, the industry has split the label to lower the percentages. Many are still unaware of this fact and fail to notice what they are reading.
The measurements you see, read and trust on a a package are normally watered down to a "serving" rather than the entire content of the container. This can be somewhat confusing and misleading if you are not aware that the nutritional values are split into serving sizes and you may not be aware that you are in fact feeding your baby more than the recommended serving as you continually spoon feed your baby the full pot. It is essential to be aware of the serving sizes on a container especially when feeding your baby.
12 Gluten Free
Celiac disease is an inflammation of the gut which makes it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients from digested food. It has been advised by health practitioners to avoid giving your baby food which contains gluten, a protein found in oats, barley and rye, to avoid your baby from developing celiac diseases.
If you believe your baby is at high skills of becoming coeliac or if they have already been diagnosed then you will be actively looking for baby food which is gluten free. With so many baby manufacturers on the market at the moment, it can be confusing to know who supplies gluten free food. While many have declared their entire range gluten free, others specify certain products only to be gluten free. Knowing what products are gluten free is essential if this is the diet you wish to provide your baby so ensure you choose your products wisely as not all are gluten free.
11 Includes Whole Grains
Processed cereal grains have long been a first food for babies and heavily marketed as such by the baby food industry. There has been an argument that the cereals are not appropriate for baby's as they are unable to digest the grains due to a lack of the amylase enzyme which helps to break down the grain in the body. There are many who are on the side of avoiding cereals and others who see it as a convenient first food. The baby food industry will of course counter any negativity to the consuming of baby cereals
Many baby food manufacturers will declare that their products contain whole grains which contain the entire whole grain seed providing richer nutrients in comparison to refined grains. Whole grains are higher in protein, vitamins and fiber making them a good choice. Baby food cereals with whole grains may appear to be the wiser and healthier choice but the industry fails to tell us that whole grains can have a weakening effect on the absorption of iron in a baby as whole grains are higher in phytates which bind iron during digestion thereby inhibiting absorption. If your baby has a low iron intake then refined grains are more appropriate.
10 Zero Calorie Drinks
Keeping our kids hydrated keeps their minds and bodies active. Water may be the only zero calorie drink available on the market but we will still be sold the idea of zero calorie drinks by the food industry who declare that their baby waters and juices are free of calories. Naturally water and milk are the best choices for our children but that idea won't make the baby food industry rich. Water is the sugar free alternative while one cup of milk has 300mg of calcium which is needed to grow healthy bones.
Sugary drinks have varying degrees of calories despite what the industry says with juice and carbonated drinks being the obvious worst offenders. The added calories in sugary drinks are unnecessary and wasteful calories which are not needed or could be added with better, alternative choices. Zero calories on a label is rarely the case.
9 Low Fat Or Fat Free
Low fat or fat free labels are enticing to a mum of three who is hoping to lose the extra pounds after the third baby arrived. But not in baby food. While it may seem like a good choice because low fat is what we are indoctrinated with as adults, babies and children need a certain level of fat in their diet.
High calorie foods are essential for your baby so that they develop and grow well. Their nervous system and their brain are dependent on these fats to develop normally. Fats are basically nutrients that are used by the body to develop nerve tissues and hormones so don't discount them and don't purposefully cut fats foe ubder twos. Obviously, too much fats are not good for you but there are certain fats which are good for a developing child.
Also bear in mind that labelling items as fat free or low fat comes with advertising and marketing rules. Fat free foods must contain no more than 0.5 grams of fat per serving and low fat foods must contain thre grams of fat or less per serving. There are no regulations for phrases such as "light" or "reduced fat" which can be misleading and contain higher portions of fat content than you may initially suspect.
8 Trans Fats
And speaking of those added fatty extras in our babies diets, you may have come across the term "Trans Fat" but not known exactly what it is. These kinds of fats are the least healthy of all the fats. They basically raise the “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease the “good” HDL cholesterol in the blood which can lead to heart disease and stroke. One of the reasons saturated fats and trans fats are used in foods is due to the fact that they help to increase the shelf life of packaged foods. Bearing in mind that many of the baby food pouches have a long shelf, these bad fats are often used to keep these products available longer.
In essence these products are marketed as convenience foods and despite being advertised as organic, the food inside will have some sort of preservative, sweetners and additives which are not in general good for your baby.
7 The Healthy Choice
Just this year a baby food product advertised as "99% fruit and veg" from Heinz was discovered by a court to contain so much sugar that it really should have been classed as confectionary. And Heinz are not the only baby food manufacturers who are misleading the public in this way.
While the product may be made from natural ingredients such as fruit, making it appear healthy, once the product is processed, in other words blended into a smoothie, the naturally occurring sugars are broken down and released into the blood stream quicker having a negative effect on the body. While natural sugars are better than refined sugar, the processed foods are not healthy.
6 Natural Flavours
Natural flavouring sounds perfect, after all what occurs in nature is better than the alternative chemical used in products, right? But natural does not necessarily mean healthy if the processing of the ingredients used disrupts the natural and healthy elements of the foods.
Many of the brightly coloured labels and packaging of baby foods are often labelled with "natural" or "natural flavours", making it seem like a positive thing but these flavours can have more harmful sugars. Added to that, the term natural flavours is quite ambiguous and hides just exactly what this ingredient is. Natural flavours are essentially providing an additional flavour to the product to make it more appealing. However these flavours are quite similar to artificial flavourings which obviously don't sound as healthy. Again the marketing of baby foods aims to confuse and slyly hide the truth from consumers. While artificial flavours are entirely man made, natural flavouring, while occurring in nature, can be just as harmful as we simply don't know exactly what is in these flavourings. Irish us up to us to educate ourselves on these ingredients as the food industry will always try to hide the truth from us.
5 Confusing The Customer
It's very easy to trust the brightly coloured pouches and jars which are marketed directly at us but the fact of the matter is that the marketing tools used deliberately make us believe certain things about the product. These "facts" unfortunately are often shrouded in a bit of myth.
They wouldn't be good marketers however if they didn't get us to buy their products so using convincing terminology, by adding words like luxury and deluxe, draw us in to the appeal of these foodstuffs. Clever marketing ensures we don't think about the negatives of products that have unhealthy ingredients or foods that are lacking in the required nutrients and vitamins. It can be very easy to be played by the food industry in general but it is somewhat worse when it's the baby food industry as a infants diet is important for their growth and development.
As a parent we need to know that the foods we are giving to our babies and toddlers are healthy and trust the industry to provide a healthy alternative for our family. Sadly, this is not the case and the industry will often try to confuse the consumer in order to make a sale.
4 Low Sodium
Babies and toddlers only need a very low dose of sodium in their diet. Less than 1g a day is needed until they turn one year old. However, on average the majority of children have a higher consumption of sodium due to the foods sold by the food industry in general and not just the baby food manufacturers. Salt is added to almost everything we eat including bread biscuits, beans and the processed foods marketed at children.
Remember to never add salt to your baby's food as they are more than likely already consuming more than their average daily allowance. You may see certain baby food products claiming to be low in salt but this does not mean that the salt content is still appropriate for your baby or toddler. Being low in salt may simply mean that for that particular product, the salt content is lower than competitors or a similar product in their range. Or it may mean that the salt content is lower than in previous recipes. Either way, it is essential to be proactive and to check the salt content per serving on the packaging of all purchased baby foods.
3 Healthy Alternative
Many food industry manufacturers will come out and say that their products are the healthy choice in comparison to competitors and some even have the audacity to suggest their foods are healthier than a homemade variety. While some may be a good choice and a healthy option, we have to look at what they are comparing it with. We've already witnessed the excessive sugar, the bad fats and the alternative advertising used in the baby food industry. We've seen how misleading they can be to encourage us to buy their products.
As a baby's diet is somewhat particular in that they need certain vitamins, nutrients and fats in order to develop properly, we often lean towards trusting an industry that has supposedly researched and developed products specifically for our children. However, these healthy alternatives, while containing some good ingredients, are often supplemented with others that are not healthy and can possibly be damaging. Remember, the healthier alternative is more often than not the meals you make yourself.
2 More Cost Effective
An argument often used by the baby food industry is that their products are more cost effective to your household budget than making your own home meals and purees. This is often not the case as it is especially easy to freeze homemade purees for your baby and toddler and make batches of these foods and purees in bulk.
The baby food pouches and jars are often quite expensive when you compare the price of the home made alternative. While one single purchase may seem a decent price, adding up the cost of these products overified a week is fairly costly. After all with three meals a day, the costs mount up. Aside from the cost element of these products, making your own purees is healthier and a more worthwhile investment.
1 Contaminant Free
As a parent, one of the most terrifying thoughts are that you are feeding your baby something dangerous. In recent years, sadly, this has been realised as a terrifying occurrence as inorganic arsenic has been uncovered in various baby foods. Certain rice products including rice milk, baby rice, cereals, granola/cereal bars and rice cakes have been discovered to be contaminated. As arsenic is in our environment, in our food and water, we are all exposed to this chemical however it is the amounts of the chemical which is worrying. However, it is very hard to figure out how much our baby is exposed to.
As arsenic exposure is harmful over a long period of time, its not a bad idea to limit any exposure to your baby which includes avoiding or limiting the amount of baby rice and other rice products your child consumes. It's never too late to make a change.
Sources: NHS; The Health Site; WHO; BabyCenter