A varied diet is necessary for your baby’s development and growth, right from when you start introducing solids. Unfortunately, while parents are good at offering their babies a variety of textures and tastes, it’s often the case that they end up limiting important foods packed with essential nutrients due to a fear of allergic reactions. At the same time, parents are not always warned about the risks associated with certain ready-packed foods available in supermarkets, that are better NOT to give to babies. In this blog post, I would like to clarify some of the contradictory information found online on foods to avoid giving your baby during its first year.
It is important to be aware of foods that can cause allergic reactions, but this doesn’t mean that you should not introduce them in your baby’s diet during the first year. Instead quite the opposite.
To spot any allergic reaction, allergenic foods should be introduced:
Once the new food is introduced, you should continue to give it to your baby regularly as part of their usual diet and only stop and search for medical advice if you notice an allergic reaction. Remember that topic reactions from skin contact are not allergies. Some acidic foods like tomatoes or citrus can cause a skin irritation around the mouth, but this is not a sign of a food allergy. It’s just a skin reaction to the acid present in those foods.
Egg allergy is not as common as you might think and there is no scientific reason to delay the introduction of eggs in your baby’s diet. Actually, scientific studies found an association between the early introduction of well-cooked eggs (around 6 months) and a lower risk of egg allergy.
Moreover, eggs contain many essential nutrients for your baby such as iodine and B vitamins, high-quality protein with all nine essential amino acids. When consumed in moderation, eggs are therefore a great source of energy for growth.
Wheat can cause two types of immune reactions: one is a classic food allergy with symptoms such as hives after eating a food made with wheat, and the other is coeliac disease.
Coeliac disease is a genetically linked condition, but even if there is a family history, this does not guarantee that your baby will ever develop the condition. There is also no increased risk that your baby develops the disease if you introduce gluten after 12 months of age rather than at 6 months. Usually, the symptoms for coeliac disease can be noticed around 9-18 months but it can take years to get a diagnosis due to the presence of very mild symptoms.
From 6 months you can introduce your baby to full fat cheese which is a great source of calcium. Watching out for any reactions of cow’s milk protein allergy such as a big skin rash, frequent spitting up or vomiting, diarrhea, blood in stools or signs of abdominal pain. Cows' milk protein allergy is one of the most common in babies but is often confused with lactose intolerance since some of the symptoms are similar. However, lactose intolerance in babies can be temporary, lasting for just a few days.
Exposure to nuts in the form of nut butters or ground nuts should also start early during the complementary feeding period.
Extensive research has been done on the introduction of peanuts, and similar results as with eggs has been found. Today there is enough evidence regarding potential benefits of supporting early rather than delayed introduction, to prevent peanut allergies in infants.
However, it is important to remember that peanuts in the form of entire nuts or butter can be a choking hazard. The latter should never be fed to babies from a spoon but should be mixed into purees or porridge, or spread in a thin layer on toast.
Shellfish is another controversial food when given to babies, because it has a risk of other side-effects than just a potential allergy. Under-cooked clams and mussels may contain viruses and bacteria that can lead to food poisoning. Lobsters, scallops, and crab can be prone to mercury contamination, especially when harvested from polluted waters.
Shellfish can be introduced in your baby’s diet if you purchase them from trusted sellers that can ensure no contamination, if you cook them well at home, and feed small amounts at a time, prepared in the right texture (for example as a puree or a mash until your baby has the correct feeding skills for the food texture).
I am sure you have heard many times that you should avoid adding sugar to the food you give to your baby, and to avoid buying them sugary snacks and drinks. Instead, you can for example make a banana pancake stack or fruit pyramid as a birthday cake. There is no need to ban naturally sweet fruit and vegetables like bananas or pumpkin, but make sure you also introduce bitter and tangy flavors since they are more receptive to them under 12 months of age, and this way you can build a good flavour foundation.
Be careful with the ready-made products you buy in the supermarkets from the most famous baby brands. Even yogurts or cookies for babies sometimes have too much added sugar and are not safe.
Too much salt in your baby’s diet can cause an overload for the developing kidneys, so it is important to pay attention to how you cook and what you buy. Unfortunately, most of the processed foods today are high in salt, so it is a good habit to check food labels when you buy anything especially pasta sauces, ham or smoked fish, stock cubes and soy sauce, to name a few.
Keep in mind that babies under 1 year of age shouldn’t get more than 1g of salt or 0.4g of sodium per day.
Reducing salt in the cooking will also help to ensure that your child doesn’t develop a taste for salt and that the adults in the household readjust their taste buds. A good alternative to increasing flavour in your food is to use herbs and spices. These are all safe for you baby in moderate amounts.
You can use cow’s milk for cooking from 6 months of age but not as a main drink until 12 months of age. This is because unlike formula and breastmilk, it’s too high in proteins and too low in calories and vitamins to meet your baby’s needs.
Unpasteurized products like some cheeses, juices or honey can contain bacteria that can cause life-threatening illness in babies. Fruit juice also isn't a good option for babies because it contains too much sugar, and not all the other nutrients that babies need which are instead present in whole fruits.
The only fish you need to avoid during weaning are big predator fish which contain high levels of mercury such as swordfish, king mackerel, fresh tuna, shark. Fish are rich in essential nutrients, and safe varieties include haddock, wild salmon, tilapia, flounder, trout and shrimps.
Due to the content of sodium, nitrates and other chemicals, bacon or other smoked meat or fish should be served to babies very rarely, or even better, not at all.
Hard, round, or sticky foods can increase the risk of choking for babies because they can’t smash them adequately with the gums or palate. Therefore, avoid giving them whole nuts, grapes and blueberries, raisins, peanut butter on a spoon, or hard raw veggies or fruit until they have refined their oral motor skills and the molars come in, at around 12 months.
Babies grow rapidly, so they need lots of energy and nutrients from the foods they eat. Including fibre in their diet can provide plenty of energy and a wide range of nutrients, but too much fibre can fill their tummies up quickly and they won’t eat enough from other food groups to meet their nutritional needs for growth. So it is important to find a balance in feeding low and high fiber foods.
Are you soon going to introduce your baby to solids? Then you might find interesting my article If you are planning to start weaning but you have no idea how read my article The best weaning start. Why you should introduce vegetables first.