At some point, all babies need to be weaned off of breast milk and formula, but is baby food the route to go? Baby foods can help the transition between milk and solid foods, but if they’re loaded with sugar and no additional nutrients, then what’s the point? Many babies go safely from breast milk straight to solid foods with no trouble. A recent study supports this method and suggests that parents should try a strict milk-based diet until their little ones are ready for solid food.

Weaning should be started no earlier than six months, but typically the process is slow and can take up to several years since weaning happens from the moment a child eats anything other than milk. The weaning process is supposed to start infants on a diet that will broaden their range of tastes, textures, and flavors while providing additional nutrients. However, four major baby food companies in the UK as well as two independent suppliers have produced selections of weaning products that contain little additional nutrients and are predominately sweat foods with too much salt and sugar.

The research team collected information on the calorie density, additional salt and sugar, and the protein, carbohydrate content, iron, and calcium from the food manufactured by these companies. It was found that 462 products from the research were spoonable foods that were intended to help wean infants starting at four months. About 410 of the foods contained energy content that was similar to breast milk and the protein content was only 40% higher than formula milk. However, 65% were sweets foods and even though many of them contained fruit sugars instead of refined sugar, the type of sugar used doesn’t prevent tooth decay.

The remaining products that were savory or that contained meat had a higher concentration of iron, but no more than formula. The dry foods tested revealed a higher energy content and nutrient density, but contained far too much sugar, even more than the soft sweet foods. Also, the savory foods has a much lower density of nutrients compared to homemade meals that could just as easily be used to wean infants.

The study concluded that the foods sold by these companies were unsuitable for weaning since they provided no added nutrients compared to breast milk and formula, and in most cases, they had a high sugar content that could potentially cause tooth decay. The researchers say that while many parents may still choose these products to help wean their children, milk and formula would be just as effective until the infants are ready for homemade solid foods.

Source: BMJ-British Medical Journal (2013, September 9). Commercial baby foods don't meet infants' weaning needs. ScienceDaily.