Nutritional Health

Why I Am Anti-Rice Cereal

First off, let me say that I have always been anti-blog. One of my mottos in life (I have a handful) is, “Live life. Don’t blog about it.”

But I also never thought I would wear capris. . . or leggings. Alas, here I am, wearing capri-length leggings and writing my first official blog post.

Let me start with my thoughts on babies and solid food introduction. Earlier this week, a patient asked me what I thought of a news story about the presence of arsenic in rice cereal. My response: I am not really a proponent of starting babies on rice cereal to begin with. So now I have yet another reason to be anti rice cereal.

Most pediatricians recommend starting babies on solids around 4-6 months. Now, the timing of solid food introduction is another day’s subject, but in general, this is the time that babies begin to run out of the iron stores they received during their third trimester of gestation. Rice cereal seems like the perfect starting food: It contains iron, it is relatively hypoallergenic and it instantaneously dissolves in anything. That last part seems like an obvious red flag to me.

My take on infant rice cereal? Or brown rice cereal or oatmeal cereal for that matter? They are stripped of all their natural proteins and fibers (yes, even the “organic” versions), leaving you with a starch that is spray painted with iron. Don’t just take my word for it—read the label. Compare real brown rice, real oatmeal or even real white rice labels to the infant cereal labels. These cereals, though convenient for occasional use, should not be the staple of our babies’ diets.

Instead, I look to other cultures. In India, parents often start with daal, or lentils. In Latin America, beans are a common first food. The benefits, you ask?

  • They are naturally occurring iron rich foods.
  • They are filled with fiber (is that why constipation is such a common problem with American infants?).
  • They are rich in protein.
  • Theoretical prevention of future obesity—why are we giving a processed starch to our babies?

Avocado is another great first food. Though not a high-iron food, it is filled with healthy fats that are good for a developing baby’s brain and nervous system. It is also easy—you can mash it into a puree and if your child does not take to solid the first few attempts, you can make some guacamole.

In general, I recommend avocado and lentils or beans as first foods. Lentils and beans can be given regularly as a source of iron, obviating the need to blend infant cereals into your baby’s every meal. Meats and dark leafy greens are also rich in iron.

Soon, I will post some recipes and you can see what my daughter has been eating since she started solids. Some of you may be surprised—she has been eating lentils cooked with onions, ginger, garlic, assorted veggies and all sorts of healthy spices since age six months!

 

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Comments

  1. Love it! I’m honestly 10/10 excited to read this blog. Love the articulate, scientific explanation on the merits of daal. What does the research say on the + health effects of gobi ka paratha on 30-40 year old males? 🙂

  2. Hi, I’m Nina’s sister, Lisa. She recommended your blog to me. I had no idea IRON was the reason peds rec rice cereal as a first food. I thought it was b/c it’s “easy” to digest. Gosh, if I woulda known, then I would done more research and fed my (now 2yr son) food higher in iron. Nevertheless, he was on formula (don’t hate me) so I think he was getting plenty of iron. Anywho, tks for the thoughts on rice cereal. Next baby, I’m giving him/her lentils or beans as you suggest!

  3. Love ur global perspective on getting back to REAL food! Only in the US do we think lypholyzed grains are a great idea! My 3 yr old loves daal and guacamole!

  4. Hi Angel, I could not agree with you more. Lentils are the best first solid baby food. Sesame seeds (Til in some Indian Languages) are great source of Iron. In many cultures in India, dishes that include sesame seeds as an ingredient are given to babies among their first solid foods. Good initiative. Keep it going.

  5. Wow Dr.Angel.. I am glad to have googled and found your blog. My daughter akshara is your patient at rtcpeds (ring a bell). I couldnt have agreed more on this post. I personally hated feeding rice cereal to my baby. I broke the norms and made vegetable purees with dals, homemade brown rice cereal with baked banans/apples which are super yummy for adults too. My grandmother who has been a great source of inspiration for me has suggested amazing foods for growing kids. One of her greatest recipe that is packed with nutrition is the ground red rice and ragi (finger millet) powder which can be made into a delicious pudding with some ghee and palm sugar. The same powder can also be made into pancakes with shredded veggies.