Commercial baby foods offer little nutritional benefit over breast milk and infants would get more from homemade purees than from a jar when transitioning to a solid food diet, a study found.
Researchers looked at more than 450 products for infants being weaned off breast milk. The products were made by Danone's Cow & Gate, H.J. Heinz Co., Boots, Hipp Organic, Ella's Kitchen and Organix Brands. Fifty grams of homemade baby food would have about the same energy and protein as 100 grams of commercial food, they wrote in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, published by the British Medical Association.
The main purpose of weaning food is to increase the energy children consume and provide richer sources of nutrients such as iron, the researchers said. Commercial foods with meat had the highest iron content though no higher than formula milk and not much higher than vegetarian-based commercial food, they said. Commercial rusks and biscuits had more energy and higher amounts of calcium and iron than homemade foods as well as more sugar.
"People buy processed food because of convenience, but people should understand what's in it," said Charlotte Wright, a pediatrician who worked on the study.
Two-thirds of the commercial foods studied were classified as sweet and 44 percent were advertised for infants 4 months and older even though the recommendation from the World Health Organization, Britain's National Health Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics is 6 months. Health professionals should advise families to progress to homemade weaning foods prepared without salt and sugar, particularly later in the first year of life, the researchers said.
"Just as you wouldn't live on McDonald's every day, that's how baby jars should be viewed," said Wright, a professor of community child health at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.
Some parents want to wean infants before six months and Organix makes clear which foods are for that age, said Anna Rosier, managing director at the British company. "All of our foods are complementary to breastfeeding, and we adhere to the regulations for complementary foods for babies," she said.
Organix products aren't fortified with vitamins or minerals because it isn't permitted with organic food, she said.
The European Union and the American Academy of Pediatrics say commercial food can be added as a compliment to a milk diet as early as four months if the child is ready, Meike Schmidt, a spokeswoman with Vevey, Switzerland-based Nestle, the world's biggest food company, said.
Heinz products are prepared to meet babies' nutritional needs with recipes that provide the right tastes and textures, the Pittsburgh-based company said.
"Generations of parents have trusted Heinz baby foods as safe and nourishing," Heinz said.