The blurb reads “Solid food: Since Brandon looks hungrily at your food and tries to grab it, how about starting him on a little solid food? Don’t waste your time with cereals, since they offer little added nutritional value. Read more about when, how and why to start your child on solid foods.”
Don’t waste my time with cereals? I spoke with some friends whose doctors told them to start with rice cereal. My mother claims my preemie brother was put on rice cereal at five weeks to gain weight. She says I was put on rice cereal when I was consuming 32 ounces of formula, which was probably around four months since I was quite the plump baby. Fast forward some 32 years later — my nanny, a 50-something Trinidadian, asked when we would be starting rice cereal.
Confused by the contradicting information, I set out to learn the intricacies of the rice cereal debate.
Dr. Frank R. Greer, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Nutrition stated that “by the 1960s, most U.S. infants (70%–80%) were fed cereal by 1 month of age. By 1980, rice cereal predominated, as it was considered to be well tolerated and “hypoallergenic” – given growing concerns about food allergies.”
One of the reasons rice cereal is recommended as a starter food is that it is low-allergenic, easily digested and fortified with iron. Also, babies who are not growing properly or have severe acid reflux are sometimes put on rice cereal by their pediatricians for those specific needs.
Dr. Greer continues to explain that “rice cereal has traditionally been the first complementary food given to American infants, but complementary foods introduced to infants should be based on their nutrient requirements and the nutrient density of foods, not on traditional practices that have no scientific basis.”
We are choosing our baby’s first foods based on tradition? Is it as simple as apple pie and baseball?
Dr. Alan Greene, a California-based pediatrician, launched a “White Out” campaign in 2011, urging parents to change how babies are introduced to solid foods. He believes white rice cereal is at the core of our childhood obesity problem. Dr. Greene states:
“White rice flour cereal has not just been the first food for many babies, but also the largest source of solid food calories in their first year. Babies’ long-term food preferences and metabolisms are influenced by early food exposures.
At this critical window of development, ripe with opportunity, we are giving babies large amounts of a concentrated unhealthy carbohydrate. Metabolically, it’s not that different from giving babies sugar. Highly processed white flour with the fiber removed can cause insulin spikes that can lead to insulin insensitivity/resistance ultimately leading to obesity and/or diabetes.”
So Dr. Greene believes that rice cereal is essentially a gateway drug for junk food lovers?
If rice cereal is a must, Dr. Greene promotes offering babies brown rice instead of white rice. “One in three babies born today is expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime, unless something dramatic changes. If we just made the simple switch from white rice to brown rice for babies we might cultivate a taste for whole grains and prevent millions and millions of people from developing diabetes.”
I can’t argue with the nutritional benefits of whole grains over white flour, but is rice cereal really the culprit of the obesity epidemic and the cause of diabetes? We should look at the big picture and not the tiny rice seed. I am not a nutritionist, but I have worked with eating-disordered individuals and know that family behaviors and attitudes toward food play a role in shaping an individual’s opinions about food.
As I await the four-month visit and the solid food discussion, I am left with mixed feelings. Do these initial foods in fact affect our children’s future weight and eating habits? Only time will tell.
For my own family, my husband and I plan to encourage healthy food choices, but we also do not want to excessively restrict or have “black or white” thinking about food. I personally believe restricting affects future obesity more than some rice cereal as an infant, but you may have your own beliefs.
As with most parenting practices, there appears to be no single right way. Your approach to feeding your child will probably be different than mine. We can share our opinions over a piece of apple pie.
Wachter , K. (2009). Rice cereal can wait, let them eat meat first: AAP committee has changes in mind. Pediatric News, 43(11), 1-5.