This is an excerpt from the “Unlearn” chapter in my book Mila’s Meals: The Beginning & The Basics.
Disclaimer: As with everything concerning food there are two sides to any debate raging around every one of the topics in this chapter – both sides will be defended with scientific proof, and ‘absolute’ recommendations. I am merely presenting my beliefs formed by my research and first hand experience of both Mila’s, and my own digestive issues. I encourage you to do your own research should anything mentioned here not ‘sit well’ with you. I am not trying to convince you of anything – I simply hope to provide information, and at the very least prompt you to question what has previously or otherwise been presented as absolute fact and truth.
“I’ve got to say I was fooled by this – by the clever marketing of the food companies and by the advice of the clinic sister.
I fed her rice cereal (organic – but that really did not help the situation much). Poor thing! I stopped as quickly as I started (her tummy cramps were too awful after that first meal) and, this is why…
Food has to be broken down into its nutrient components: amino acids, fatty acids, cholesterol, simple sugars, vitamins, minerals, etc. – our bodies absorb nutrients, not food.
The body produces digestive enzymes that break down our food into nutrients. These nutrients are then absorbed and nourish the body. Digestive enzymes are produced in the pancreas, small intestine, saliva glands and stomach.
Different digestive enzymes are needed to break down different types of food. In order to digest grains, your body uses an enzyme called amylase.
Pancreatic amylase is not produced by your little one (in sufficient quantities) until they are a year old – sometimes even later.
The rule of thumb here is that it is not until your little one’s molar teeth are fully developed that they have sufficient quantities of pancreatic amylase to properly digest grains – this can be anywhere from 13 – 24 months of age.
Amylase is provided in a mother’s breast milk and is produced by your little one’s saliva – but these are not sufficient to properly digest grains. Especially processed grains, or grains that have not been prepared properly.
So what happens to this undigested rice cereal (or other grains)?
Some undigested food (from other vegetable carbohydrate sources) benefits your little one – fermentation in the colon produces short chain fatty acids, which can improve nutrient absorption, enhance gut health, and even be used as a source of energy for both the microbes and baby.
But since grains (especially) cannot be adequately digested, they start rotting. This rotting food matter feeds pathogenic bacteria and fungi (such as Candida) – and this imbalance can lead to food allergies, asthma, eczema, and other autoimmune disorders.
Over time, the pathogenic bacteria and fungi (and their toxic by-products) create holes in the gut wall (known as Leaky Gut). A leaky gut allows toxins and partially digested food to spill directly into the blood creating an unpredictable mix of physical, behavioural, emotional and neurological symptoms.
This is explained in great detail in Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s book Gut and Psychology Syndrome.
What else is wrong with commercially available rice cereal?
Rice cereal is processed – meaning it is no longer a whole food.
In order for the cereal to have a longer shelf life, the bran and the germ (the most nutritious parts) have been removed, simultaneously stripping the grain of its protein, fibre, nutrients and minerals. Artificial vitamins have to then be added back in – these are far less bio-available to your little one’s body and a poor replacement for nature’s version.
Rice cereal is an extremely high glycaemic food – that is, it spikes the blood sugar.
Rice cereal contains phytates (the salt form of phytic acid).
Phytic acid is a naturally occurring chemical in grains, nuts and seeds. Phytic acid binds to essential minerals (such as calcium, copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium) in the digestive tract, making them less available to our bodies – and actually flushing them out of our bodies. While the majority of the phytic acid (or phytates) are found in the bran of the rice (which is removed during processing), there will still be some present. So, eating processed rice cereal may actually remove iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium from your little one’s body!
Phytates also reduce the digestibility of starches, proteins, and fats.
Please note that simply grinding grains at home and cooking them will result in an even higher amount of phytates in your little one’s food. All grains, nuts and seeds must be soaked, sprouted or fermented before cooking in order to break down the phytic acid. Please see the chapter Convenience vs. Conscience: Enzymes, Nutrients and Anti-nutrients in my book for more information on this.
Commercial rice cereal fortified with iron.
But surely this is a good thing?
A baby is born with sufficient iron reserves to last them until they are 6 months old. While a mother’s breast milk is low in iron, the iron that is present is readily absorbed by her little one – as opposed to the artificial sources of iron found in fortified cereals and formula.
While your little one may need additional sources of iron at the age of 6 months, it is far better to provide this from whole foods as opposed to supplemental drops or an additive in a nutrient deficient food. Good sources of additional iron are liver (raw), other cooked meat, blackstrap molasses, avocado and… soil!
No, I am not suggesting you feed your little one soil, but the iron from soil is absorbed by the body. So a mouthful here and there while playing outside, as well as digging in the soil and walking barefoot is beneficial. Healthy soil is also a great source of probiotics! By healthy soil – I mean organic, not chemically fertilised and with no pesticide residue.
There is a school of thought that suggests that babies these days may be more prone to iron deficiency because they are not allowed to play in soil as part of an overly hygienic upbringing.
Another reason for an increase in infant anaemia may be the practice of immediately clamping the umbilical cord at birth. Waiting even two minutes before clamping the cord after birth allows up to 50% more blood volume to pulse from the placenta to the newborn and has been shown to result in higher total body iron and plasma ferritin (reflecting iron storage) at 6 months of age.
One must question why breast milk is naturally low in iron.
It is the perfect food, so perhaps there is a reason for the low amounts of iron. Breast milk actually includes chelators that bind to iron thereby minimizing free iron in the intestines – withholding it from pathogenic bacteria.
What is the reason nature designed breast milk this way?
There is new research that suggests too much iron, or supplementing with iron when your little one is NOT deficient, may actually be harmful. Too much iron can result in lowered IQ, bacterial infection, cancer and stunted growth.
“No” to cereal, now what?
Some good ideas for baby’s first foods:
- Soft-boiled egg yolk (not the egg white as this contains difficult to digest proteins),
- Raw liver from pastured animals (frozen for 2 weeks to kill off any parasites which may be present),
- Non-starchy vegetables (combined with a healthy fat like ghee or coconut oil to add mineral absorption),
- Soups with homemade bone broth,
- Mashed banana and avocado.”
For more ideas of what to feed when (instead of rice cereal), download the Mila’s Meals Food Introduction Chart.
You may also find my “What’s for breakfast” blog post useful.
So perhaps, rice cereal is NOT the best first food for baby
I’m not the only person saying this! A very similar statement is what started what has come to be known as the Nutrition Inquisition – the HPCSA’s hearing of Prof. Tim Noakes.
“Weaning a child on rice cereal is its earliest introduction to junk food, Professor Tim Noakes said on Monday.”
Caryn Zinn’s testimony in the HPCSA hearing: Parents should not feed cereals to their infants as first foods, says New Zealand-based dietitian and academic.
What was your baby’s first food? If you tried rice cereal, what was your experience like?