MH dishes out what the best foods for your babies are and why.
WORDS ANGEL DREWGUS
The best foods for babies are foods made from natural ingredients with as little additives such salt and sugar. Provide your baby with food from different foods groups when they are ready. Ensure the food is of right consistency for their age group and watch out for food allergies.
Remember, though, breast milk is best. Breastfeed for at least six months, advises Bibi Chia, principal dietitian, Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre.
All natural foods are good when taken in moderation and with balance. We’ve listed down some of the best foods for your bub but there are definitely other healthy food items for a child.
Start with rice cereal as it is easy to digest and prepare and most importantly less likely to trigger an allergic reaction. Remember to always start with single ingredients. This prevents any unknown allergy reactions, explains Chia. Choose a rice cereal that is iron fortified and try making rice cereal with breast milk.
Whole grains: Oats, Barley, Amaranth and Millet
When the child is ready for foods with a grainy texture, try whole grains. As compared to rice it is higher in fibre, vitamin Bs and protein, advices Chia. Remember to start each grain individually to ensure your child is not allergic to any of these grains. You can consider mixing some of these grains up after. Cook them to the right consistency for your child. Blend if needed. Add breast milk to these cooked grains to increase its nutrient content.
Carrots are high in Vitamin A and Lutein. Lutein is needed for good vision and emerging science demonstrates that lutein helps protect important cells in the eye. Carrots are also really easy to prepare – just steam them and mash. The best part is, it tastes sweet which is acceptable to most children.
Whether they’re mashed, boiled or baked, potatoes are easy to prepare. They’re rich in carbohydrates and potassium too. Earning their place on this list, sweet potatoes are a good source of potassium, vitamin C, and fibre and an excellent source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that helps prevent certain types of cancer and mops up free radicals, explains Dr Ratna Sridjaja, paediatrician, Gleneagles Hospital Singapore. They have a naturally sweet flavour and creamy texture making these vegetables appealing to babies and toddlers.
Green leafy vegetables
Dark green leafy vegetables, especially those with coloured pigments are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the body and the brain against oxidative stress and free radical damage. They contain large amounts of vitamins C, and K as well as calcium. Vitamin K and calcium are great bone-builders, explains Dr Sridjaja.
Antioxidant losses are greatest when vegetables are cooked in water. It has been shown that it is better to microwave, bake or grill vegetables as to boiling them. Stir-frying, which uses little water and oil and is done over high heat for a short period of time, should have low losses of nutrients.
When your baby is eight to 10 months old, they might be ready for some vegetables with a higher fibre content such as broccoli, explains Chia.
You can choose to finely chop them before cooking with rice porridge or steam them till soft and finely chop them.
Broccoli also contains Choline, which is an essential nutrient for your body.
Apples are rich in both soluble and insoluble fibre, which aids bowel movements. They can be steamed till soft for younger babies. And cut in thin slices for older babies from one year onwards.
Bananas are easy to mash and makes for a sweet tasty treat for babies. They are rich in carbohydrates, fibre, potassium and prebiotics.
Papayas are soft and sweet. They’re easy to mash or scrape them with a spoon for your little ones. The bright orange colour of papaya shows it is high in Vitamin A. It is also high in fibre and vitamin C.
Egg yolks are an important source of choline, which is a key component of cell membranes, thus, choline accounts for a high percentage of brain mass, explains Dr Han Wee Meng, head and senior principal dietitian, Nutrition and Dietetics Department, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. It also forms acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that carries messages to and from nerves. Therefore, choline is important for brain and memory function.
Choline is sensitive to water and may be destroyed by cooking and food processing. However, having raw eggs is likely to compromise food safety, so it is not recommended to have raw or undercooked eggs. No definitive information is available on the effects of cooking on choline content in foods. Therefore, it is preferable to avoid overcooking eggs, so as to preserve the choline. Other foods that are high in choline include broccoli, beans, peanuts, and bananas. Start egg white only after one year of age. You can start with the egg yolk as a single ingredient at six to nine months.
Lean meats are rich in minerals like zinc and iron. Zinc forms an integral part of the structure that regulates communication between nerve channels, explains Dr Han. Thus, a low zinc level has been shown to lead to faulty memory. Iron aids in supplying oxygen to the brain. Iron deficiency is associated with cognitive and attention deficit.
Milk, cheese and yoghurt are rich sources of calcium. Besides its role in bone health, it forms an important part of the electrical signals within the brain. Calcium is generally unaffected by cooking.
Salmon is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA), which is essential for brain growth and function, since DHA is the predominant structural fatty acid in the central nervous system. Thus, the availability of DHA is crucial for brain development, advises Dr Han.
Omega-3 fatty acids are relatively stable in whole foods. However, deep-frying the fish may destroy the Omega-3 fats significantly. Baking, broiling and steaming causes minimal Omega-3 fats losses. Besides the cooking method, other factors such as the type of fish, freshness of the fish and overcooking the fish may influence the fat content as well.
• For example 1oz of fatty fish (such as salmon has 700mg of omega 3) can provide enough Omega 3 for a child up to three years
• Omega 3 has possible benefits for neurological development
• Fish is like other meats/poultry are high in protein and has all essential amino acids.
As parents, it is important to start on the right path when it comes to feeding your baby. This is your opportunity to feed your little ones with as many vegetables and fruits their bellies will hold because this is the only time your angels are willing to try anything!