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Quinn Essential Column- What's New in Feeding Babies?

When I was a young nutrition professional, I would regularly critique my mom on how she cooked for us when we were kids. “You overcooked the vegetables,” I remarked to her on one occasion. To which she answered, “My, it’s a wonder you kids ever grew up to live this long!”
Generations do find new ways to feed kids. Yet some basics of proper nourishment remain year after year. And that’s what I found in the latest advice for feeding infants in the recently released Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-25. Here’s some highlights of what’s new and what stays true:
•Breast milk is still the preferred (and only) food most babies need for the first six months of life. Breastfeeding should continue through the first year, if possible. Use an iron-fortified formula if breast milk is not available.
•Babies are usually born with enough iron to last about six months. That’s why iron-rich foods should be added to baby’s diet around this six month time. Iron is a critical nutrient needed for the development of little one’s nervous system. Foods rich in iron include meats, seafood and iron-enriched cereals.
•In addition to iron, babies need more zinc-rich foods around six months of age for proper growth and strong immunity. Zinc-fortified cereals, beans, and meat are good sources of zinc.
•Around six months of age is also the best time to introduce baby to foods from all food groups. (I call them nutrient groups because each category provides a specific mix of nutrients required for optimal growth.) These groups include baby-friendly vegetables, grains, fruit, protein, yogurt, and cheese, including soy-based varieties. Experts continue to advise withholding cow’s milk until 1 year of age.
•Other foods that need to be avoided during the first year of life include honey (due to a risk for botulism) and unpasteurized foods and beverages.
•And here’s a real switch: New evidence now shows that delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods does not help to prevent food allergies. In fact, parents are now advised to introduce foods such as peanuts, eggs, cow milk products, tree nuts, wheat, shellfish, fish, and soy at the same time they introduce other foods into baby’s diet—around 4 to 6 months of age. Studies show that gradually introducing these foods along with other new foods when baby is four to six months old can actually reduce the risk for developing allergies, including peanut allergies.
•Babies are born with a taste for sweets. That’s why they latch onto breastmilk; it’s high in the natural sugar, lactose. We don’t need to feed baby’s sweet tooth with a lot of sugar, however. Look for foods and beverages for your sweet little bundle of joy that are free of added sugars.
(Barbara Intermill is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes care specialist at Box Butte General Hospital. She is the author of Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating. Email