Gerber rice cereal

Would you feed your baby a spoonful of sugar for her first bite of solid food? Of course you wouldn’t! But for the past 50 years, nearly 98 percent of babies first foods in the United States have been white rice cereal, and Dr. Alan Greene, a pediatrician at Stanford University’s Lucile Packard Children Hospital and author of the book Feeding Baby Green, says that to a baby’s metabolism, a teaspoon of rice cereal is like giving them a teaspoon of sugar. Dr. Greene started his “White Out” campaign to encourage parents to ditch the white rice cereal in favor of whole grains or another whole food.

The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t differentiate between white or brown rice cereals in its reccomendations for parents, but one look at the nutrition stats of white rice versus brown rice provides a compelling argument in favor of the whole grain. When rice is processed from white to brown, it is stripped of all the sugar-stabilizing fiber and essential fatty acids, as well as most of the magnesium, iron, B vitamins, phosphorus and manganese. Ironically, iron and other vitamins are added back into white rice cereal, ostensibly to make it more healthy. But how does that make any sense?

In addition, more and more studies are showing that how we feed our babies in their first months matters for the rest of their lives. No pressure! For example, one in three babies born today is predicted to develop diabetes in their lifetime. And a 2010 Harvard University study suggests that while white rice might trigger diabetes, brown rice could help prevent it. So why are we still feeding our kids foods that might make them sick?

In the middle of the last century, more mothers were entering the workforce, putting more strains on their time, and industrial food production and food science were ramping up. Food scientists and doctors alike began to operate under the assumption that scientifically created foods were somehow healthier for babies than mother’s milk or whole, natural foods that babies had been eating for millennia. White rice is gluten-free and allergy-free, and babies generally find it easy to digest. Thus, the habit of starting babies on white rice cereal was born.

But Dr. Greene is convinced that letting kids experience real, whole foods for their first taste of solids is a much better option. His White Out campaign has been gaining national traction since it launched in 2010. Yet some doctors remain unconvinced, as there have been no scientific studies definitively linking white rice—or any other single food—to an increased risk of obesity.

The bottom line: Rice cereal is the number one source of calories for most babies in the US until they are about 11 months old, yet there are plenty of other options that make wonderful alternatives for a kiddo’s first taste of solid foods. Mashed avocado, banana or sweet potato are all nutritionally superior—and totally safe—options for stage one baby food, providing natural vitamins and minerals, fiber and healthy fats. But don’t worry; if you’re still more comfortable starting your bundle of joy on a cereal, try a whole grain, such as whole oat baby cereals or brown rice cereal.

You should always discuss your options with your own pediatrician, but Dr. Green suggests that any of these choices are far better for your baby’s health and future food preferences than white rice cereal.

image: ::coco Rina::