Are there enough vegetables in baby food?

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A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the contents of baby food to understand vegetable intake in infants and toddlers.

In the United States, infants and toddlers do not receive enough vegetables in their diet, especially dark green vegetables like spinach and broccoli. Since toddlers can learn to desire certain foods, eating vegetable-flavoured food increases the likelihood that they will consume those vegetables later in life.

In a recent study, researchers aimed to determine how many kinds of baby food are on the market, the kinds of vegetables they contain, and the order in which the vegetables are listed in the ingredient list. They published their results in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

For the study, they included a total of 24 US-based companies that sold baby food between December 2016 and March 2017 and had easily accessible ingredient lists and nutrition information. They only used the products that contained vegetable names, or names that implied vegetables in the ingredients. No juices, beverages, or baby formula were included. They categorized foods based on what age range they were suited for: stage 1 included foods for infants that were four months old, stage 2 included foods for six-month-old infants, stage 3 included foods for 7-8 month-old infants, and stage 4 included foods for those over 12 months old.

More vegetables in baby foods for older infants

Single vegetable foods were predominately found in Stage 1 and 2 foods. In all, 52 of 548 products contained only one vegetable, and the most commonly found vegetables were red and orange vegetables, “other” such as beets, and starchy vegetables.

Most baby foods were foods for children in the Stage 2 category. The products contained red and orange vegetables (65.9%), other vegetables (31.2%), dark green vegetables (24.6%), starchy vegetables (23.9%), and beans and peas (8.8). respectively. Carrots were the most commonly found vegetable, and vegetables belonging to the “beans and peas” category were the least found vegetable. Spinach was the most commonly found dark green vegetable.

The majority of Stage 1 baby foods contained only one vegetable, whereas baby foods in stages 2, 3, and 4 on average contained three vegetables or fruits. Fruits were commonly found before vegetables on the ingredient lists and were listed first in 37.8% of all products. In terms of vegetables, red and orange vegetables were mostly found before dark green vegetables and beans and peas. Dark green vegetables also had a tendency to appear as the fourth ingredient or even lower on the ingredient list and were listed first in only 1.1% of the products.

Added salt and sugar commonly found in baby foods for infants older than 12 months

Baby foods for Stage 4 most frequently contained added salt and sugar, and baby foods for Stage 1 did not contain any. Sugary and salty foods were most commonly found in toddler dinners, grain desserts and savoury snacks. Products with vegetables and fruits contained more sugar than products with only one vegetable, vegetables and meat or vegetables and dairy and/or grain. However, products with only one vegetable had more calories from sugar than products with multiple vegetables.

Baby food products lack dark green vegetables

The results of the study show a lack of baby food products with dark green vegetables. With this information, companies that produce baby food can work to find a balance between providing infants and toddlers with enough dark green vegetables, while still providing a great taste that will allow children to obtain necessary nutrients.

Written by Monica Naatey-Ahumah, BSc

Reference: Moding, K.J., Ferrante, M.J., Bellows, L.L., Bakke, A.J., Hayes, J.E., and Johnson, S.L. (2018). Variety and content of commercial infant and toddler vegetable products manufactured and sold in the United States. The American Journal of Clinical  Nutrition, 107, 576-583.

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