If you want to give your baby the best start nutritionally, do not follow the advice in most baby books encouraging you to start feeding rice cereal. Other than breast milk or formula, rice is the number one source of calories for infants in the first year of life, according to Stanford University pediatrician Alan Greene, and this is a nutritional disaster.
Optimal Nutrition for the First Year of Life
Ideally, your baby should be breastfed exclusively -- meaning no other food or water is supplemented -- for at least the first 6 months. Then, at the age of 6 or 9 months, you can begin to supplement with solid foods (while still continuing to breastfeed as well).
Choosing what those solid foods will be is incredibly important, but unfortunately most pediatricians encourage their patients to start rice cereal at about 4 to 6 months of age. White rice is a refined carbohydrate, a group of highly processed, nutritionally devoid foods that have been linked to increased rates of heart disease, insulin resistance, eye damage and cancer in adults, and are worthless nutritionally for infants as well.
Feeding infants cereal has been associated with an increased risk of type 1 diabetes and may prime your baby's appetite for a lifetime of processed carbs in the form of white bread, cookies and cakes.
A diet based on these types of refined carbs is responsible for many bulging stomachs and fat rolls in thighs and chins, and even worse, high insulin levels that lead to diabetes and suppress two other important hormones -- glucagons and growth hormones -- that are responsible for burning fat and sugar and promoting muscle development, respectively.
Insulin from excess carbohydrates promotes fat, and then wards off your body's ability to lose that fat. Excess weight and obesity not only lead to heart disease but also a wide variety of other diseases later in life.
What Should Your Baby's First Solid Food Be?
You can easily cross any form of grain-based infant cereal off of this list. When flour is refined to make cereal, the most nutritious part of the grain is removed, so the flour essentially becomes a form of sugar.
When you feed your baby a bowl of infant cereal, picture yourself dipping directly into your sugar bowl and feeding baby a spoon or two, because that's essentially what it amounts to.
So what's a better option?
According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, egg yolk should be your baby's first solid food, starting as early as 4 months, whether your baby is breastfed or formula-fed. Egg yolks from free-range hens will contain the special long-chain fatty acids so critical for the optimal development of your child's brain and nervous system.
However, the egg whites may cause an allergic reaction so they're best avoided until your child is at least 1 year old.
Here's a simple, healthy recipe you may want to try:
1 organic egg from a pasture-fed (free-range) chicken
1/2 teaspoon grated raw, frozen organic liver (optional)
pinch natural unprocessed salt
Boil the egg for 3 1/2 minutes. Place in a bowl and peel off the shell. Remove the egg white and discard. The yolk should be soft and warm, not hot, with its enzyme content intact. Sprinkle with a small amount of natural salt.
If you wish to add liver, grate it on the small holes of a grater while frozen. Allow to warm up and stir into the egg yolk.
After that, freshly pureed, organic vegetables are an excellent option. The following foods are soft and packed with nutrition for young infants:
Cooked peas or carrots
A few months later, as more teeth begin to erupt and the GI tract epithelium begins to mature, you can add even more variety, including:
Cooked greens, finely chopped or pureed, such as kale, chard, collards, spinach
Squashes, such as butternut, acorn and other winter squashes
Raw nut butters
Seaweeds that become soft on soaking, such as wakame or nori
From there you can expand even more, including:
Chicken, turkey or other meat (organic and pasture-raised/grass-fed preferably)
Raw milk cheese or raw milk yogurt
How to Introduce Solid Foods
Your baby will give you signs that he's ready to start eating solid foods. He should be able to sit up with support, reach for toys and mouth his hands or toys. Your baby may also begin to watch you more intently as you eat, open his mouth like you do when you eat or reach for food off your plate.
When introducing new foods, do so one at a time at intervals of two to three days. This helps your baby get used to the food and will also help you reveal any food sensitivities or allergies. Small serving sizes, even just a spoonful or two, are best to start.
As your infant gets older you can progress from pureed foods to finger foods she can feed herself, but be sure they are chopped small enough so they are not a choking hazard. Raisins, nuts, popcorn and other small foods should not be given to young infants because of the choking risk.
Be Wary of Commercial Baby Foods
I have clear memories of Gerber baby food products when my twin brother and sister (who are 11 years younger than me) were growing up. I thought that was the best food they could possibly have, and I held that impression even into medical school.
But the truth is, outside of breast milk, the best foods you can give your baby are those you prepare fresh at home. Store-bought versions just cannot compare, and often contain unhealthy ingredients your baby is far better off without.
For instance, Mead Johnson's Enfagrow, a nutritional supplement for toddlers, is little more than fortified milk with added sugar. The first three ingredients on the label are just that: whole milk, nonfat milk and sugar. Other weaning biscuits for toddlers can contain up to 29 percent sugar or even contain trans fats, both of which are simply atrocious for adults, let alone infants.
Even organic baby foods can contain excessive amounts of processed salt, or may expose your infant to toxic contaminants like BPA from plastic containers, even if the content itself is agreeable.
When you make homemade baby food, however, you have complete control over the ingredients; no unresolved questions about potential additives, preservatives, mysterious "natural flavors," and so on.
Yes, it may require a little more time -- but in the end, it's up to you to decide what the health of your family is worth to you.
Simply cooking a squash or sweet potato, mashing it up and putting it into an ice cube tray is an easy way to have ready-made multiple servings available for the rest of the week.
As your child gets older, he can eat most of the same types of foods that you do, simply pureed into a softer form or cut into very small toddler-sized pieces. As with your own diet, whole foods -- not processed "pseudo-foods" -- will give your infant the best nutritional start possible.