It’s an exciting time when your baby moves away from breast or bottle to eating more table food, but it’s hard to know what foods are best to achieve optimal nutrition for your child’s growing body. Making your own baby food is a budget-friendly and healthful alternative to commercially available jarred food, but sometimes there just isn’t enough time in a busy mom’s day to get that job done. If you have to reach for store-bought baby food, always check out the ingredient labels—not all food sold in stores has your baby’s best interests at heart. Here is a handy guide to ingredients you don’t want going in your baby’s tummy.
1. Gellan/Guar Gum
Gellan—or guar gum—is a synthetic stabilizer that is often added to foods as a thickener. It is produced via fermentation and often found in dairy products, non-dairy drinks, bakery product fillings, fruit sauces and spreads. Although the FDA has approved its use in foods in small amounts, it may cause abdominal bloating, excessive gas, loose stools or diarrhea. In fact, in Europe, it can only be used in infant formulas where the liquid product contains partially hydrolyzed proteins. When proteins are partially hydrolyzed, that means they are already broken down in the formula to make it easier for your baby to digest. In other words, gellan is difficult on a baby’s tummy and can cause intestinal distress. A gassy baby is usually not a happy baby, so why intentionally give your baby a stomachache?
Although pectin is naturally found in many fruits including apples, blackberries and oranges, it is sometimes derived synthetically and used as a gelling or thickening agent and stabilizer in foods like milk, juices and jams. It is only allowed in acidified formulas in Europe, such as yogurt-based or citrus-flavored drinks. Like gellan, pectin also may lead to intestinal distress. Who wants a cranky baby and extra diaper changes? Not us!
3. Gum Arabic
Gum arabic also known as acacia gum) is derived from the sap of the acacia tree. It is often used as an emulsifying agent to help hold mixtures that typically don’t blend. It is often found in dairy products, soybean products, canned foods, soft drinks, marshmallows, gumdrops and syrup. One reason that it may be of concern is that gum arabic is also used for ink in printing and in paint, glue and cosmetics.
4. Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum derives its name from the strain of bacteria used during the fermentation process. It is the same bacteria that causes black rot to form on broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables and make them slimy. It is used as a stabilizer in foods like salad dressings, puddings, frosting, yogurt and sauces. It also acts as a binding agent in breads and other baked goods. Some studies have found that it can cause migraine headaches as well as digestive issues. The FDA issued a warning for use of Xanthan gum for infants as a thickener in formula because of the possibility of necrotizing enterocolitis—a serious disease that occurs when the intestinal tissue become damaged and begins to die.
5. Tara Gum
Tara gum is derived from the endosperm of a legume. It is used as a thickening agent and stabilizer in a number of foods, including ice cream. There hasn’t been a lot of testing on Tara gum in humans, so it is probably best to just avoid it.
What Additives Are Safe?
With so many different additives in the food that we feed our babies, from formula to jarred food to yogurt, milk, juices and more, is there anything safe out there? One ingredient that acts as a stabilizer is carrageenan.
Carrageenan is a soluble fiber sourced from red seaweed. It is a common ingredient in foods such as ice cream, chocolate milk, soy milk and lowfat yogurt; is vegan, kosher and halal, and is often used as a thickener in place of petrochemical and animal-based products.
While it has received some negative press, JECFA, an international scientific expert committee that is administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), published results of an extensive expert review of studies addressing the safety of carrageenan. Overall, the committee found that carrageenan is indeed safe.
Additionally, the European Food Safety Authority has determined that carrageenan in follow-on formula (formula for infants under 12 months of age) is acceptable to use as a thickener.
While breast is best and homemade baby food is a great way to know exactly what you are feeding your child, if you become a knowledgeable shopper who can decipher food labels, you’ll ensure that your kid will receive all the nutrients that he or she needs to keep growing and remain healthy.