10 Second Summary...
An enzyme called amylase is required to digest grains
Humans don’t produce this enzyme until 6months to 2 years old
Babies mostly need healthy fats, and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K)
Traditional foods like bone broths, liver, and egg yolks are great nutrient-dense foods for babies
For a lot of parents, grains seem like the perfect baby food. They are mild in flavour, mushy, and have long been touted as “stick-to-your-ribs” satisfying foods. But giving you baby grains could be setting up them for serious failure when it comes to their digestion, allergy response, and overall health.
Why? Because babies can’t digest grains!
In order to digest grains, your body needs to make use of an enzyme called amylase, an enzyme responsible for splitting starches. Babies don’t make amylase in large enough quantities to digest grains until after they are a year old at the earliest. Sometimes it can take up to two years, and newborns don’t produce amylase at all. Salivary amylase makes a small appearance at about 6 months old, but pancreatic amylase (what you need to actually digest grains) is not produced until molar teeth are fully developed. First molars usually don’t show up until 13-19 months old, on average.
So what does that do to a baby’s body?
Undigested grains wreak havoc on the baby’s intestinal lining. It can throw off the balance of bacteria in their gut and lead to lots of complications as they age including food allergies, behavioural problems, mood issues, and more. As mentioned above, I recommend not feeding your baby grains (or even highly starchy foods), until all of their first molars have emerged. Not only that, but if you feed your baby cereal or other grains, you’re doing more than simply sticking them with an indigestible food. You’re feeding them an indigestible food in place of something more nutrient-dense. You’re feeding them something their body can’t really use and starving them of the nutrients they need to grow a healthy brain, nervous system, and bone structure.
What do babies need to develop properly?
Firstly, babies need fat…
More than 50% of the calories in mother’s milk comes from saturated fat. That’s for a good reason - babies need fat in order to grow their brains, nervous system, and cell membranes. The remaining calories come from protein, and carbohydrates in the form of lactose. Fun fact, newborns actually make lactase, the enzyme necessary to digest lactose! Plus, lactase is also common in raw milk. So, whatever deficiency in lactase production your baby might have is made up for by the raw mother’s milk you provide them while breastfeeding. In traditional cultures, it’s common to breastfeed children at least two years and generally well into toddler-hood. This may be frowned upon in North American society, but there is some important science behind it. Namely, the gut lining doesn’t start to really seal until about 2 years old, and the body’s immune response isn’t fully developed so that there is a higher likelihood of developing foods sensitivities to hard-to-digest foods like grains and overly processed dairy if consumed before that age.
Secondly, babies need lots of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K)…
These vitamins are essential for your baby to grow a strong, sturdy bone structure. The best place to find these vitamins is in animal-based foods (especially organ meats), and because they are fat-soluble, they will be more bioavailable (i.e. easily absorbed and utilized in the body) when coupled with healthful fats. Plant-based foods that contain some of these vitamin include yams, carrots, dark leafy greens, butternut squash, apricot and peppers, however many of those foods are on the starchier side of things so proceed with caution and remember our little chat about amylase.
Ok, so what SHOULD babies eat then?
Start with bone broth…
Broth is recommended for those with gut problems to help “heal and seal” the gut and improve the symptoms of leaky gut. Babies are naturally born with a leaky gut because this allows beneficial antibodies and enzymes from mom’s milk to pass into the bloodstream and increase immunity. Eventually, the gut needs to seal so that particles from foods and pathogens don’t enter the bloodstream as well. Broth is also a great source of collagen, amino acids, bio-available minerals and other nutrients. As a liquid, it is also an easy transition for baby.
Then try meat + liver…
While these may seem counter-intuitive as a first food, meat is a complete source of protein and amino acids and liver is nature’s multivitamin. Organ meats are high in iron, zinc, copper, chromium, and highly important fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K in their most bioavailable form found in nature. Unlike rice, beans and vegetables, meat provides more nutrients (especially in their complete form), per ounce than other foods. While this is common sense in much of the world, in the US, meats are some of the last foods to be introduced and first meats are often processed foods like hot dogs…gross! I recommend only pastured grass-fed high quality meats and liver that have been lightly cooked and very finely grated to the broth.
Next, incorporate some mashed banana (or plantain is even better) + avocado…
Bananas (and more so plantains) are one of the few fruits that contain amylase, making them easier to digest for most babies. However, they shouldn’t be given to babies straight because of their high sugar content, so mix them with avocado, meat or liver so baby doesn’t get too used to sweeter flavors right away (and doesn’t have those blood sugar spikes and crashes…yes even babies get those too). Not only that, but avocado is packed with beneficial fats and another good first fruit or vegetable choice.
Followed by butter + other vegetables…
Mix grass-fed pastured butter (for the healthy fats and Vitamin K2) and non-starchy vegetables. Vegetables have a much higher nutrient content than grains and less chance of an allergic response, so it is recommended to introduce almost all vegetables before any grains, including rice. A great way to cook and introduce the vegetables is to add a tiny bit of chopped veggies to the baby’s broth and boiling until soft. Then strain out the soft veggies, let them cool before serving. Of course, we’re always striving for organic/unsprayed produce, preferably from a local source so that they have the high nutrient content, and are free of harmful toxins.
At this point experiment with other dairy products like kefir and buttermilk…
Ideally we should all be eating raw dairy from pastured animals, but the second best scenario is minimally processed varieties (so full fat, non homogenized etc.). Why? Because the chemistry and nutrients contained in dairy are delicate, and the more pasteurization, skimming, heating and whatnot it goes through, the more denatured it becomes, leading to an imbalance of elements that make it hard to digest and utilize in the body. Minimally processed dairy products like kefir and buttermilk also contain additional probiotics that help build up a balance of good bacteria in your baby’s gut, thus ensuring that they properly digest all their foods. Plus, introducing your baby to the sour taste early can help their palate enjoy more of these nutrient-rich foods later.
Finally, give egg yolks a try…
While many people get nervous about the allergy potential of eggs, the more common reaction is usually to the egg whites, not the yolks. Furthermore, the yolks are where the nutrients are. They contain high levels of vitamin E and selenium, as well as carotenoids, which give them their yellow colour. The carotenoids in egg yolks are more bioavailable than the carotenoids in vegetables, because they come packaged with fat. Note that the carotenoids in eggs are strongly influenced by the hen’s diet, and free-range eggs have a lot more. That’s why free-range eggs have a much more vibrant yellow colour (sometimes almost orange) than factory-farm eggs. Most importantly, egg yolks are high in Vitamin K, which you cannot get this from plant-based foods. Like the other fat soluble vitamins mentioned above, Vitamin K is important for bone and teeth development and overall health.
Quick tips on preparing baby food
Raw food can be hard on digestion and somewhat difficult to process, so I generally recommend sticking to cooked foods for the first little bit. Of course foods like banana and avocado are great raw, but cooking most vegetables, and of course meat, liver and eggs is suggested. Boiling is fine, but remember that when you boil something, most of the nutrients leach into the water. If you are going to boil, make sure you’re using that water for a broth for later consumption. Steaming is a fantastic method, so is slow roasting on low temperatures (this helps preserve the nutrients as best as possible). I usually recommend avoiding most spices and flavourings as this can not only cause potential reactions, but can also dull the palate of the baby. Remember that your little one is experiencing all of these flavours for the first time, so often foods are exciting enough without seasoning. If you are going to add flavour, very small amounts of high quality sea salt should do the trick, as well as fresh herbs (dill, thyme, basil), and even a little bit of turmeric especially for when they’re teething (this reduces inflammation). As mentioned above adding some grass-fed butter will also provide a bit of extra flavour, or you can also experiment with extra-virgin coconut oil. Finally, investing in a good hand-held blender makes for quick and easy purees. That being said, don’t be afraid to give your baby food in larger chunks as they get a bit older. Mastering their motor skills and chewing abilities is crucial for development, and also a way to make food and eating more fun!
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