Puréed Veggies

Big Baby Food: Hooked on Sugar, Salt, and Fat

Big Baby Food is preying on young parents and their children. That’s the gist of a story in the Washington Post this week. But we wonder how helpful this scary story is for parents who merely want to nourish their infants and toddlers. Simple guidance would be great. Marketing hype and righteous fear mongering, less so.

Clickbait for Conscientious Parents

The Post promises to tell its readers “how the baby food industry hooks toddlers on sugar, salt, and fat.” That headline is a great attention grabber. However, the emotional power here comes from a false premise – that toddlers can get hooked by baby food.

For comparison, some babies do have to deal with withdrawal – from exposure to real addictive drugs. Clearly, even something like apple juice – which is not a good idea for toddlers – is not comparable to opioids. Moral panic about what toddlers eat doesn’t help parents. Guilt is a tool that’s best for use sparingly, if at all.

In fact, when you dig into the story, the headline is a bait and switch gimmick. Though it uses the language of addiction, it offers no information or evidence about toddler food addictions. That’s because this is an evidence-free zone. Babies come into this life with a taste for these nutrients. Sugar, salt, and fat that are present in most of their food. It’s natural. Not an addiction. Breast milk – nature’s perfect food – is sweetened with 17 grams of sugar per serving. Infants like the sweetness of breast milk.

But sweetened beverages and juices are not a good replacement.

Setting the Table for Exploitive Food Marketing

The global market for baby food is close to a hundred billion dollars. Vibrant growth is coming from brands like Happy Baby organics. Convenient pouches deliver yogurt, fruits, and vegetables in a semi-liquid form that well-loved tots can suck down with pleasure and ease. Health halo claims like organic, gmo-free, and no added sugar tap into parental angst about setting their children up with healthy eating habits early.

So for example, we have a neurosurgeon selling a “veggie-first” toddler brand – Cerebelly – in Whole Foods. It boasts of nutrition from superfoods. She’s filed for a patent linking nutrients to brain development. Clearly, this is sizzling hot biotechnology. Plus, it’s 100 percent plant-based, gluten-free and dairy-free.

Keep It Simple

Neither marketing hype nor fear-mongering angst is helpful. Feeding a toddler doesn’t require a PhD in neuroscience. Milk and water are fine for most kids. Fruits, vegetables, and other simple basic foods are best. Variety is good. When in doubt, ask your pediatrician. In special circumstances, a pediatric dietitian might be helpful. But for most kids, you’ll do best if you keep it simple.

Click here for the angst-filled story from the Washington Post.

Puréed Veggies, photograph by Frédérique Voisin-Demery / Wikimedia Commons

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October 19, 2019

2 Responses to “Big Baby Food: Hooked on Sugar, Salt, and Fat”

  1. October 19, 2019 at 11:11 am, Allen Browne said:

    We have seen a lot of things based on the “evidence free zone” lately. Thanks for a very useful phrase.


  2. October 20, 2019 at 12:40 pm, Mary-Jo said:

    What’s so sad is that billions are made on the anxieties of well-meaning parents based on evidence-free zoned products. I hope this post encourages more pediatricians and pediatric dietitians to start calling out the rubbish claims of all these products. I am not a fan of these pouches that encourage sucking in foods and nutrients. While it may be helpful in some toddlers who need ez delivery of nutrients when their are reasons that prohibit eating, it can lead to excessive intake, especially of fruits. It also can overstimulate the suck reflex, while interfering with mouth, tongue, swallow, jaw, and facial muscle development that are important for speech development.