I don’t usually use this website to go on a rant (I prefer to save that for watching reality TV shows after a glass of wine), but a recent experience has gotten me all fired up.
You see, my baby has reached that all-important milestone of starting solids – which at first is really exciting, until you realise you’re going to be pureeing your life away for the next few months, but that’s a whole other matter. Anyway, I went in search of that staple ‘first food’, baby rice porridge. I had a particular brand in mind: a lovely organic, brown rice one that I used for my son, but alas, my local supermarket didn’t seem to stock it anymore. So I grabbed another brand – also advertised as ‘organic’ and ‘natural’, and was halfway to the cash register before I noticed a few weird things on the ingredient panel.
First of all, ingredient panel? Shouldn’t it just be rice? Ground rice? That’s all the other one contained… But no, this particular brand also included vegetable oil, a couple of vitamins, and a rather ominously vague ‘herb’ (WTF?). I checked a few other (non-organic) brands, and the same thing… oil, antioxidants, vitamins and (bizarrely) rosemary extract…
I’ve included some examples below taken from some popular brands’ websites (I didn’t want to be a weirdo taking photos in the supermarket).
Now I guess I CAN see the value in adding vitamins to a baby food product, but I don’t really see that it’s necessary given the product in question is only really for VERY young babies, who are getting the bulk of their nutrition from milk/formula anyway. So let’s put that aside. But oil? Surely that’s an unnecessary addition. And as for the ‘herb’ / rosemary inclusion… Apparently it’s a popular antioxidant added to many products, including rice crackers/cakes as well as baby cereal, but it’s ALSO a known allergen due to its high level of salicylates. Furthermore, there has also been some research linking high salicylate intake with behavioural issues in children .
I have a few problems with all of this.
First, why do seemingly simple foods require so many additives to begin with, natural or otherwise?
Secondly, are we as consumers being tricked by assuming that something from the health food aisle or marked organic is totally safe?
I’m by no means a doctor or expert in any way, so I’m going to tread very carefully here… but there seems to be an ever-increasing body of evidence on the negative impact food additives have on kids, from behaviour to increased allergies… And while I’m hardly going to start saying they cause ADHD or autism or whatever, it DOES seem to be the case that kids with those conditions have better outcomes when their diet is addressed.
I’m a big supporter of the JERF (just eat real food) movement, and in recent years I’ve really tried to cut out a lot of the unnecessary additives in what my family eats. Sure, I’m not a purist (don’t try and take my Vegemite away from me, for example), but when it comes to a BABY – and the very first foods you’re giving to them – then yeah, I’m going to be a zealot.
So what’s the answer? Well for starters, read the ingredients panel on everything you buy. It took a hell of a long time (and several health food stores and supermarkets in the process), but I finally managed to find a product that is just plain ol’ ground rice, just like I wanted.
And definitely don’t assume that just because something is labelled as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ that it’s an automatic A+ in the health stakes.