January 9, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Nitrates & Baby Food

I read that I should buy jarred baby food for things like spinach since the fresh produce has nitrates, which can be really bad for babies.

Does that sound right?

-- Jane Shou
Waltham, MA

Hmmm. Seems like whatever you read was written by a confused author.

Let's do some untangling.

First, the issue of nitrates (also known as nitric acid salts.)

Since they naturally exist in water and soil, it makes sense that most vegetables naturally contain them (root vegetables and leafy green ones contain them at higher levels).

Although growing conditions affect actual levels, spinach, kale, and cabbage are typically the "worst offenders."

Nitrates can become dangerous if they body converts them to nitrites (which can cause a particular type of anemia in babies.)

Some basic human physiology, though, explains why there is truly no reason to worry.

By the sixth month of life, babies have a sufficient amount of hydrochloric acid in their stomachs to destroy bacteria that convert nitrates to nitrites.

Since solid foods should not be introduced until the sixth month anyway, babies are protected from harm by the time vegetables can be introduced in their diet.

Commercially prepared vs. made from scratch is completely irrelevant.

Since nitrates are naturally occurring, jarred baby food containing any of these vegetables will also have nitrates (this includes organic brands.)

So, vegetables that naturally contain nitrates can safely be fed to babies six months or older.

1 comment:

Kate said...

The AAP actually says that babies > 3 months can handle foods w/ nitrates, even though you're not supposed to introduce solids until 4 months at the earliest:


Someone told me that baby food companies can screen for nitrates, any truth to that?

I'm planning on feeding my daughter non-jarred food because it just tastes fresher and better. Who wants to eat meat from a jar?!