With food allergies, intolerances and inflammation in the rise- most of us parents are trying to figure out what the common denominator is. There is no “definitive” answer but I can tell you this- introducing foods at certain developmental stages in life is critical. In this post we will be looking at the first year of life and why baby cereals are worth avoiding.
Similarly to the skull of a baby- a baby’s intestines are not fully developed and essentially still have “gaps” to increase permeability. This allows large particles to be absorbed and it’s actually not a bad thing! In fact, the reason why babies have open intestines is so they can absorb the nutrients from milk more efficiently. But if the particles that are being absorbed into the bloodstream are not ones the baby is ready for their immune system will respond and thus an allergy or an intolerance can start to develop or they could develop leaky gut . Every baby is different, but normally at about 6 months their intestines become less permeable.
We need enzymes to break down protein right? However, we aren’t born with all of the enzymes we need- it takes time to develop. How much time? Typically about 28 months.
Until then, the enzymes needed to break down the protein gluten, particularly amylase, are not in full development. This is why it’s encouraged to introduce grains and complex carbohydrates last among the food groups.
The enzymes that are in full swing are ones that break down fats and proteins (lactase, pectin, and proteolytic)– which makes a lot of sense seeing how breastmilk is 50-60% fat and is critical for development. Ironically enough, a baby’s digestive tract is more equipped to break down animal protein and fats then almost anything else– head over to my post about 3 Shockingly Safe and Nutrient Dense First Baby Foods for more information on this.
Long Term Effects
Few people say it better than Endocrinologist and Obesity Australia chief Professor John Funder “The first four years of a child’s life is crucial in determining whether they will develop eating habits that lead to obesity…Starting a child off on a diet of rice cereal was like giving them ‘an oral glucose tolerance test‘.” He also explained that “children fed high carbohydrate, high salt and high fat diets as toddlers will have their brains wired to desire these foods for the rest of their lives“.
Rice cereal is 90% starch… Can you guess what starch turns into? Glucose- so essentially it’s like feeing your baby a bowl of sugar.
Common Myths Around Cereals
- It will help them sleep longer (https://kellymom.com/nutrition/starting-solids/solids-sleep/)
- It will help with reflux (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3806288?dopt=Abstract)
- They need the iron (https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/104/1/119.full)
- It’s safe and non toxic (https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Arsenic-in-Food-Products.aspx)