Baby food made from root vegetables and leafy greens may contain some nitrates, but homemade baby food does not pose a risk. The American Academy of Pediatrics states: “Because natural nitrate levels from foods such as green beans, carrots, squash, spinach, and beets may be as high or higher than those found in well water, these foods should be avoided during the first three months of life. “1
What are nitrates?
Vegetables absorb nitrates from the soil in which they are grown. Synthetic fertilizers can introduce nitrates into the soil, and some nitrates are produced naturally when bacteria in the soil break down certain components. Although organic vegetables may have lower trace nitrates from synthetic fertilizers, they still contain naturally occurring nitrates from bacterial breakdown in the soil. Nitrates are also sometimes added to foods like bacon to preserve them. Nitrates are most commonly found in these types of foods and beverages:
Green leafy vegetables (especially spinach)
Groundwater from wells. Parents preparing infant formula from well water should talk to their pediatrician about safety issues.
Cured meats. Cured meat products (such as ham, hot dogs, bacon, etc.) can be cured with natural plant nitrates or chemically manufactured nitrates.
Are nitrates bad for babies?
Simply put, excessive intake of nitrates can negatively affect the blood cells of infants. The medical term for this condition is methemoglobinemia. Infants with orthohemoglobinemia may experience periodic bluish discoloration of the mouth, hands and feet. In addition, the infant may be more tired or have difficulty breathing than usual. Extreme cases may result in loss of consciousness or even death. With this in mind, it is important to know the safety measures for feeding homemade baby food.
Who is most susceptible to nitrate poisoning?
Studies have shown that people at high risk for nitrate poisoning are those who drink contaminated well water. The water should be tested for nitrate levels. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that doctors discuss water supply issues with parents. Families using well water for drinking or formula milk products should have their well water tested for nitrate levels. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that nitrate levels should be less than 10 ppm. there is no known risk of breastfeeding, even if the mother is drinking well water that contains nitrates. Breastfeeding bacteria entering the infant’s gut may have a protective effect
Infants under 3 months of age are particularly at risk for methemoglobinemia. The next at-risk group is infants 3 to 6 months of age. After six months of age, infants have further developed gastric acid and are at lower risk for problems due to excessive nitrate intake.
AAP Recommendations for Homemade Baby Food
In 2005, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued recommendations for homemade infant foods. The report states: “Infants who are fed commercially prepared foods for infants are generally not at risk for nitrate poisoning. However, homemade infant foods made from vegetables (e.g., spinach, beets, green beans, squash, carrots, etc.) should be avoided until the infant is three months old or older, but there are no nutritional indicators for the inclusion of supplemental foods in the diet of healthy full-term infants before four to six months of age. In other words, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents wait until four to six months of age before feeding solid foods to their infants
Tip: If you are using fresh vegetables, prepare your baby’s food when the vegetables are as fresh as possible. The longer they stay, the more nitrates they produce. Or, use frozen fruits and vegetables, which are usually frozen after harvest and are fresher than the vegetables you buy at the store.
Is commercially available baby food nitrate-free?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that commercially available baby food is necessarily nitrate-free. This is not the case. Vegetables contain nitrates. Store-bought foods may have been screened by the manufacturer to meet certain standards. However, screening is not mandated by law, and companies independently oversee these levels. Also, if you are going to wait until your baby is 6 months old before consuming solid foods and use the methods above to reduce nitrate intake, this should be sufficient protection.