Described as an “obesity warrior” by Time Magazine, Dr. David Ludwig has fought for fundamental policy changes to restrict food advertising directed at young children, improve quality of school nutrition programs and increase insurance reimbursement for obesity prevention and treatment programs. He has appeared frequently in the national media, including New York Times, Time Magazine, National Public Radio, Pubic Broadcasting System, Dateline NBC and The Today Show. He is also the infamous doctor who sparked outrage last year by his claim that some parents should lose custody of their severely obese children.
I recently interviewed him to see what he believed were the best food choices to make when introducing solids to infants (and to my daughter).
We went over the big myths on baby food. One major myth states that introducing rice cereal to infants helps them sleep through the night. Another says that they require iron supplementation as early as 4 months old. I learned that feeding babies rice cereal is more of a cultural thing rather than a health necessity, and mothers are often cajoled into feeding their baby way too soon by family, friends, and some misinformed pediatricians.
According to Dr. Ludwig, grain products that are often given to infants as first foods are metabolically identical to sugar. The rice cereal typically bought in the baby aisle of your grocery store has been pulverized, meaning the structure of the grain has been destroyed. The baby's body digests this edible-food-like-substance into sugar very rapidly. So, giving rice cereal is one of the worst things we can do nutritionally and metabolically for our children.
Commercially available grains are a poor way to transition from breast milk, which should be exclusively given to your baby for the first six months of his or her life. Giving processed rice cereal can program the infants body in an unfortunate way that can have short and long term negative implications such as juvenile diabetes, susceptiblity to adverse metabolic input, fat tissue, and abnormal hormonal pathways in parts of the brain that regulate appetite and metabolism.
So, what are the best first foods for our children?
There are many other kinds of foods we can introduce to our babies. We should do so when an infant can sit up on his/her own and can safely ingest the food without choking.
Dr. Ludwig recommended providing our daughter with a high quality diet of vegetables and fruits and properly prepared grains and legumes. This means organic whole grains and legumes should be soaked overnight to release enzyme inhibitors, which makes them much easier to digest.
When we give food to our infants, we should do so with the knowledge that it is primarily for the sensory learning experience. Nutritionally, breast milk is still the best option for the first year of life. Exposing infants to new taste sensations and textures early on makes for a richer palette, unlike the majority of today's kids who are hooked on highly processed, highly sweetened fast foods and junk foods.
Fruits are nature's candy, but many children today find them dull and boring. As a result of the advertising and marketing of hyper-processed junk foods to children, most would rather have the junk bag of chips or sugary cereal than the apple, banana, or kiwi. We can override these insidious influences right from the start by introducing a range of diverse flavors and taste sensations.
What I feed my daughter:
She is 8 months old this Saturday! She is primarily breast fed with an occasional once-a-day snack of mashed avocado, sweet potato, or butternut squash. It really just depends on what we are having for dinner! She seems to be enjoying the experience of food, but really eats no more than a few tablespoons per day. With just a few bites, she is still as healthy as can be, has the cutest chubby legs and cheeks, and is developing beautifully!
Read more about David Ludwig's work here and check out his book, Ending the Food Fight: Guide Your Child to a Healthy Weight in a Fast Food/Fake Food World