The majority of baby foods available in New Zealand stores do not contain added sugars, and fully adhere to the regulatory requirements of the Food Standards Code. That’s FGC’s response to claims that commercial baby food is full of sugar and empty ‘fillers’ and should be avoided.
The claims were made by Dr Julia Bhosale, a child nutrition writer. She said she analysed 1500 baby food products in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom in February this year. She found that 15 per cent of them had added sugar and half contained fruit when vegetables are the recommended first food for babies.
She said ‘empty fillers’ such as rice were used to bulk out many baby foods and salt was a problem too, and that caregivers are told commercial baby food is as good for their babies as homemade food when that is not the case.
Stuff.co.nz asked FGC to comment on her claim that commercial baby food is not as good as homemade, and should be avoided.
FGC’s full response to Stuff is as follows:
Most baby foods available in New Zealand stores are made to strict company nutrition guidelines, and fully adhere to the regulatory requirements of the Food Standards Code.
The majority of baby foods do not contain any added sugars. Those that do are usually custards, and the level of sugar in store-bought custards is generally less than the level in a homemade custard (using NZ Food Composition data for comparative values).
There is a wide variety of foods available, including a significant number of savoury and vegetable foods. Formal recommendations for first foods for babies in New Zealand include fruits and vegetables.
Describing rice as a filler is inaccurate. The purpose of rice in meals is usually to thicken baby foods, which is an important step in ensuring a safe product. A food that contains lumps (e.g. small diced carrot or peas) in a thin fluid is actually a choking hazard for baby. Rice is used to thicken the foods just as we use flour in casseroles and sauces. (Rice is commonly used because it’s considered a lower allergen risk).
The statement ‘salt is a problem too’ is vague and doesn’t articulate the concern. It’s certainly not common practice for manufacturers add salt to baby foods. I wonder if the researcher has mistakenly captured foods for toddlers as part of her analysis. Foods for toddlers may contain a small amount of salt, but usually this is less than would be present in a normal family meal, which toddlers are often served also.
The quality of baby foods available in New Zealand is high and provide a useful option for parents and caregivers as part of baby’s diet.
If we turn Dr Bhosale’s findings around, they actually read quite positively – 85% of foods do not contain any added sugar. Also, half of the foods available are not fruits, which is also good.
See also FGC information on sugar on labelling in our Healthier NZers section