Jenny Asks: "My paediatrician gave me the go ahead to start introducing rice cereal to my baby. Is this a good first food option? I've heard conflicting information."
There is a lot of conflicting information out there about rice cereal and whether or not it is a good first food for babies.
We hate to be the bearer's of bad news, but the short answer is "no".
The reason rice cereal is often recommended as a first food is because it is fortified with synthetic iron and they know how important iron is for our growing babies. However, this is not the best source of iron. As a processed food product that is fortified with synthetic iron (not naturally high in iron) it is otherwise quite nutrient-poor. The iron used in rice cereal is also not as well absorbed. Only about 4% will actually get absorbed by the body. It could even cause some constipation or tummy troubles in your little one. Heme iron, which is the natural source of iron found in food such as red meat has a 20-30% absorption rate.
As a side note, there is also the issue with arsenic that may be an important factor to consider. Especially if they are consuming rice regularly.
Our suggestion is to start with whole foods that are rich in the most important nutrients babies need to thrive at this age. This includes iron-rich foods. Liver is the best source of iron (much better than cereal). We love chicken liver as it has a more mild flavour.
Also, red meat would be a great source. Stewed meat becomes very soft and easy for them to handle. If you buy and stew the shank bone cut, you have the added benefit of being able to offer them the bone marrow from inside the bone, which is extremely nutritious. If you are doing purees, you could stew meat in bone broth and puree it using a food processor or high speed blender.
The best question to ask is "what whole foods will provide the highest source of the most critical nutrients my child needs at this stage of development". If they are only eating a couple of tsp's a day in these early stages, it's important to make sure you are maximizing their nutrition with every bite. If you look at infant nutrition in this way - it will change your perspective on what foods are best for babe.
A food like rice cereal may be high in synthetic iron, but it fills the baby up with nutrient depleted processed calories. In our opinion, there are much more nutrient dense foods to offer that will ensure iron levels are met, while also helping to boost other important nutrients like zinc and vitamin A (both abundant in liver and meat).