Learn why rice cereal isn’t the best or safest option for a baby’s first food, and find out healthier, safer first foods to feed your baby instead.
What are the best first foods to feed your baby when they’re ready for solids? For years, many parents have turned to rice cereal. However, rice cereal isn’t the best or safest option for a baby’s first food. Here’s what parents need to know before feeding their baby rice cereal, including alternative first foods that are healthier and safer for baby.
Baby Rice Cereal Can Contain Arsenic
Many rice products, including baby rice cereal, contain high levels of inorganic arsenic.
Arsenic is a metal that appears in two forms, organic and inorganic.
The inorganic form of arsenic is the more dangerous of the two. It is known to cause cancer, and to increase the risk of other cognitive problems.
Even worse, according to the FDA, infants and young children are at even greater risk of these harmful health effects when they consume inorganic arsenic.
The problem gets worse because of babies' lower weight. The AAP reports that, on average, babies eat three times more rice than adults relative to their weight.
How does all the arsenic get into baby rice cereal?
Pesticides contain inorganic arsenic. As pesticide use has increased, so has the amount of inorganic arsenic in the soil, water, and air. Rice plants usually absorb more of this arsenic from soil than other plants, probably because they grow in lots of water.
The FDA knows that this is dangerous, especially for babies who eat baby rice cereal. So, in 2016, they proposed a limit on the amount of inorganic arsenic that baby rice cereal can contain. The AAP supports the FDA's proposal. However, these limits haven't been legally enforced yet.
First Foods: What should I feed my baby instead of rice cereal?
Many parents turn to baby rice cereal when starting solids because it's fortified with iron. There are plenty of other iron-fortified cereals that don't contain rice, though.
- If you want to feed baby an iron-fortified cereal, opt for cereals with grains like oats or barley instead.
However, any iron-fortified cereal still isn't the best first food option for baby, especially on its own.
- These cereals contain fewer nutrients than healthy meats and vegetables. Plus, the cereals are usually bland.
Introduce a Variety of Colors, Textures, and Flavors
Feeding your baby nutritious, unprocessed foods with a variety of colors, textures, and flavors will decrease the chances that baby will be a picky eater later in life.
- Even better, it will help them maintain healthy eating habits later on.
Baby's first foods should include soft fruits, cooked vegetables, dairy products and meats that reflect this variety.
- Think beyond the puree. Introduce at least some of these soft foods as finger foods, in pieces baby can easily pick up and manage.
- For example, you could introduce ripe banana pieces, cut grapes or strawberries, mango slices, and/or shredded meats.
- Avoid hard foods like raw vegetables, as they can be choking hazards.
- Consider baby-led weaning, where you skip the purees altogether in favor of soft finger foods.
Along with these foods, keep feeding baby breastmilk or formula during their first year of life. No food can beat the vitamins and proteins that breastmilk or formula provides.
Be Sure to Introduce Allergenic Foods
When deciding on baby's first foods, don't forget about introducing allergenic foods.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), "there is now evidence that early introduction of peanuts may prevent peanut allergy."
For early introduction, you'll need to introduce common allergenic foods (such as peanut, egg, and milk) as early as 4-6 months of age, and consistently feed baby these foods multiple times per week for several months.
- To maximize safety, wait 2-5 days in between introducing each allergenic food, in case of a reaction.
Introducing these allergenic foods can be difficult especially for picky eaters, but Ready. Set. Food! makes allergen introduction easier for families.
- Our gentle, guided system introduces allergens in the exact amounts used in landmark clinical studies, is fully organic, and easily mixes with breastmilk, formula, or puree.
Learn more about how Ready. Set. Food! makes early allergen introduction easier and safer.
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