The lowdown on baby food jars

We’ve all been guilty of cracking open a jar of baby food on busy days, perhaps in a plane, possibly in a long journey or even fairly regularly, under the wrong assumption that these manufacturing giants have got our backs as far as our baby’s health and nutrition is concerned. After all, otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed to bear the ISI stamp that we have no idea what is or what quality checks it makes, but are so satisfied to see on the products we buy. But is it safe? Is it nutritious? Is it worth it? Here’s the lowdown on everything you wish you’d known before cracking open a bottle of this overpriced pulp for your child – 
  • Extremely expensive – There’s no doubt that packaged baby food, be it PediaSure or Gerber is just overpriced. A pack of 4 variety Gerber pouches retails for a whopping 2691 on Amazon. Clearly the people who use these things buy them abroad or are sent them by well-meaning friends or family. Look at this chart for instance. Though the prices are in USD, you’ll get the idea pretty quickly.
  • Bulked up – Don’t be misled by the colourful, healthy vegetables and meat displayed on the packaging of the baby food jar or the smiling, happy baby on it. Ever wonder why homemade baby food is never the dull colour of packaged food? Because it doesn’t contain preservatives, additives, and most importantly starch which cut manufacturing costs. Eeks! Besides, most baby food jars list “water” as the main ingredient. Why then are they so expensive?

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The lack of nutrients – As though to confirm your worst fears, packaged baby food isn’t healthy either. Commercial baby food hardly contains any nutrients at all. Most popular brands contain less than a fifth of the baby’s recommended supply of almost everything – calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium and copper. So, if a baby were to eat 2 jars of any given food and 600 ml of milk, he still wouldn’t be getting enough nutrients to meet his daily dietary requirements!

In fact, giving your baby a jar for every meal is akin to feeding her junk food for.every.meal. That’s not ok, is it? Didn’t think so. In fact research has shown that jars of baby food are in fact less nutritious than a cheese burger! Besides because they baby foods are canned, they can last forever, longer than the baby’s life till then even. They’re manufactured by heating to super high temperatures for sustained periods of time, which not just kill the bacteria but also the nutrients. So the food has to be “fortified” by addition of synthetic vitamins and minerals. And since these aren’t organic in nature, they’re not as easily absorbed in your baby’s body. That’s just bad news. There’s more –
  • Lack of quality – We’ve discovered there’s starch in the food to increase volume, artificial vitamins and minerals to supposedly nutritionalize and even possibly preservatives to keep them forever. If that’s not enough, a lot of time baby food contains even more sodium and sugar than the adult version. Really! And most labels don’t even read the comprehensive list of ingredients.

 Trans-fat is one such thing which is by law not required to be declared in the label. Ever notice how different the purees look when cooked at home and store bought? Look at the illustration above.

  • Contaminants – A recent study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) revealed that across 190 samples of baby food, some tested positive for 5 types of pesticides which significantly increased the risk of toxicity in the babies who consumed more than 4 oz of the stuff everyday. Add to this independent studies that show the risks of arsenic poisoning, links to cancer, neurological and kidney damage, lead poisoning, leukaemia and a host of other diseases and health issues.
  • Lack of regulations – Lax rules, weak legislation and manufacturing giants are all contributing factors to the fact that contaminated baby food is so widely and innocuously available in the markets. The main loophole is that most health regulations are by adult standards. But for babies, this is way higher than the acceptable limit.
  • Waste – Typically commercial baby food used to be only in glass jars (which are the best). But recent demand and manufacturing costs have resulted in them being produced in large numbers in plastic sealed containers and pouches. This has contributed to the waste of food and packaging filling up the landfills and dumps.
  • Danger of packaging itself – Often times, the packaging of the baby food itself is not entirely safe. Jars in glass aren’t shatterproof – they break easy. Pouches come with a screwable “cap” which can be a choking hazard and more.
  • False marketing – There are a lot of terms that parents like to see on baby food labels.
 Here’s what they really mean though – 
  • Made with “real” vegetables – Typically this means purée wasn’t used. But all that means is that there’s probably one real pea used. And “baby grade vegetables” are leftover scraps that aren’t allowed to be sold in markets for lack of form. Really!
  • Mildly sweetened – All this means is that there’s some form of sweetening that’s added deliberately. It could be sugar, it could be artificial sweeteners. Who can tell?
  • Healthy – What that means is that it should have the “required” amount of nutrients. The regulations don’t care if these are natural or artificially added. And they can still contain a large amount of sugars, preservatives and artificial ingredients.
  • Green – All it means is that it’s literally green. Not fresh. Nothing. It could be artificial colouring too.
  • Multigrain – not whole grains. Just many grains. So literally multi-grain.
  • Made with whole wheat – Unless it also specifies 100% whole grain, it probably has a couple of grams of whole wheat.
  • Simple – Meant to mean that the ingredients are pure and simple, this is often a misnomer. Most baby foods contain in excess of 5 ingredients. That’s not simple anymore.
  • A source of – It just means that there’s a minute amount of whatever it is in that food. A source of Vitamin D means it could provide you with 0.01% of the daily dietary requirement.
  • Hearty – Meant to mean filling and healthy, the word has now transcended to mean starchy and more likely to fill you up easily.
  • No added salt and sugar – Flouted by naturally occurring sugars in fruit syrup or salts in cheese.
  • No artificial preservatives – Because these foods were boiled to death.
 In conclusion, DON’T buy jarred baby food. Instead buy organic and puree them yourself with really no additives while maintaining their fibre content. Freeze ahead by a week at most to provide your baby with the most natural and chemical-free nutrition that’s possible.