Qn of the Month: Do Different Brands of Baby Cereal Provide the Same Nutrition?

A: No! Although there are some similarities, there appears to be more differences between different brands of baby cereal products, even between different brand products of the same type of cereal.  How so? Read on.

Generally all infant cereals are fortified in certain nutrients such as iron, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. Baby cereal products also contain (per serving) similar amounts of macronutrients such as calories, carbohydrates, fats and protein. However, major differences exist. For example, in Canada, Nestle Gerber’s® baby oat infant cereal provides in a (5 tablespoons or 28 grams) serving the following: 15% Daily Value (DV) of calcium, 60% DV of vitamin B12, 100% DV of iron and 0 grams of fiber. But a comparable (1/3 cup or 30 grams) serving of Heinz’s baby oat cereal provides more iron (110% of DV iron), 4 times the amount of calcium (60% DV of calcium), 2 grams of fiber but absolutely no vitamin B12! Not only that, Nestle Gerber’s® baby oat infant cereal contains in a serving 30% DV of biotin, 15% DV of iodide, 15 % DV of zinc and 30% DV of magnesium. However, a similar serving size of Heinz’s baby oat cereal contains no biotin or iodide, only 6% DV of zinc and halfthe quantity of magnesium (15% DV)! It appears that Heinz’sbaby oat cereal is a really good source of iron and calcium per serving, but not so much of the other nutrients.

So the next time you go shopping, make sure to check the nutrition facts panel of the infant baby cereal you are planning to buy, to see what nutrition your baby will really be getting from consuming that particular product!

Qn of the Month: What Are Key Infant & Toddler Feeding Transitions?

A: Have you ever wondered whether your baby or child is meeting or progressing well in terms of his or her oral motor development? For new mothers, it can be especially daunting knowing when to introduce a different texture or when to start teaching your baby how to drink from a cup. The following are key infant and toddler feeding transitions that are important for a child’s optimal growth and physical as well as oral motor development:

Feeding Transition Age of Occurrence
Establishing breastfeeding Birth to 1 month
Introduction of solid foods 4 – 7 months
Finger foods 6 – 8 months
Introduction to the cup 6 – 12 months
Introduction to table foods (texture) 9 – 12 months
Weaning from breast or bottle 12 – 18 months
Rotary chewing 2 -3 years

Even though it is true that every healthy baby develops differently and often at their own pace, it is still good to keep these general key infant and toddler feeding transitions in mind as you watch and help your baby progress.

[Source: Milano K. How Infant Feeding Transitions Relate to Feeding Difficulties in Young Children. PNPG Building Block for Life. Spring 2016, 39(2): 1-6]



Qn of the Month: Intakes of Baby-Led Weaning Infants & Traditional Spoon Feed Infants – Are There Nutritional Differences?

Pureed or Baby Led? - Dietitianmom.com

Pureed or Baby Led? – Dietitianmom.com

A: Yes, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. Led by Morison and colleagues, this New Zealand based study looked at the intake of 51 age-matched and sex-matched infants at 6-8 months of age. One to three day weighted food records and questionnaires were collected from those in the baby led weaning (BLW) group and those in the traditional spoon feeding (TSF) group, which were then analyzed. The result? It was found that while infants in both groups had relatively similar caloric intake, those in the BLW group may be consuming higher fat and higher saturated fat intakes, along with possibly lower iron, zinc and vitamin B12 intakes.

Although the research finding results are exciting, it is important to note the strengths and limitations of the study. Strengths include analysis done by a registered dietitian blinded to which group an infant belonged to, the use of weighted food records and detailed questionnaires, and the age and sex matching of infants. The limitations of this study however include the fact that a small sample size was used, the use of estimated breast milk volumes, and the fact that there was no standard definition or classification used in the study of what constituted a baby led weaning infant.

As mentioned in my previous post on BLW (Qn of the Month: How is Baby Led Weaning (BLW) Really Defined?), research on BLW is complicated by the fact that there is no standardized definition of baby led weaning, with research studies using different definitions. In this study, parents self-reported and classified themselves which group their infant fell into. Also, the lower iron intake levels observed in the BLW group compared to the TSF group may be due to the fact that the BLW infants consumed less iron fortified infant cereals, and were breastfed for much longer (approximately 8 more weeks) than TSF infants. Hence infants in the BLW group would have received less iron fortified infant formula.

It is unclear whether this study looked at the potential differences in nutrients contributed by use of iron fortified infant formula and breast milk intake, which could have a big impact on the final nutrient intake of infants in either group.  Also, since estimated breast milk volumes were used, this study cannot accurately determine the exact differences in caloric and iron intake levels between the BLW and the TSF groups. A future study needs to not only control for potential confounding in terms of the length of breastfeeding in both groups, but may also need to include biochemical tests to determine more accurately the iron status of infants in both groups.


  1. University of Otago. “Dietary intake differs in infants who follow baby-led weaning.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 May 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160517094206.htm. Accessed Nov 26, 2016.
  1. Morison BJ, Taylor RW, Haszard JJ, et al. How different are baby-led weaning and conventional complementary feeding? A cross-sectional study of infants aged 6–8 months. BMJ Open 2016;6:e010665. http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/5/e010665. Accessed November 26, 2016.)

Kitchen Spotlight: Beets!



Care to Try Some Beets? – Dietitianmom.com

When a friend passed me some huge home grown beets, I was excited to use them. Although I had not incorporated these into my cooking repertoire yet, I had heard that beets were a great healthy food choice and the internet is rife with praise for these red colored giant turnip-like vegetables. However, it made me curious. Just what exactly are the actual health benefits of eating them or what is the current research saying? Here is the result of my investigation:

The taproot portion of the beet plant, beets are known by many other names such as beetroot or sugar beets. It has been in use since Roman times, exists in various cultivated varieties and most people may not be aware that they are actually ingesting beets as it is used as a common food coloring agent called E162.

Nutritional value: A half cup of sliced cooked beets (about 85 grams in weight) provides a good source of fiber (1.7 grams), protein (1.43 grams) and iron (0.67 milligrams). This is equivalent to a small apple but 4 times the protein content, and more than 7 times its iron content! Beets also provide many other nutrients like potassium, zinc, magnesium, folate, vitamin A, vitamin E and B vitamins. Comparing the raw and the cooked (boiled, drained) versions, the two forms are comparable in nutritional value. The main difference between eating the raw version versus the cooked is that you get a measurable amount more folate (about 40 micrograms Dietary Folate Equivalents more per 100 gram weight).

Beets are a rich source of phytochemical compounds like nitrate, betalain pigments, ascorbic acid, carotenoids, phenolic acids and flavonoids. Research is showing that many of these compounds display strong  antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and chemo-preventive properties. Hence its consumption may be a health benefit in many areas, such as  in the prevention and treatment of certain chronic diseases like hypertension, heart disease, liver disease and cancer. Many of beets’ constituents are potent antioxidants, helping to keep our body’s cells in a state of redox balance. This means intake of these and other fruits or vegetables high in antioxidants help to fight excessive reactive oxygen and nitrogen species generated within the body from internal and external causes.  Beets may also increase the body’s existing internal antioxidant defenses, leading to a synergistic effect. In terms of inflammation, investigations so far are revealing that betalains and beet extracts may help to block pro-inflammatory signaling cascades, weakening the progression of chronic inflammation which is implicated in many chronic medical conditions. The role of beets’ compounds are also being further investigated in areas such as cognitive function and endothelial function both in the laboratory and on actual human subjects.

So the next time you see beets on offer at the store, try them! My husband and preschooler were skeptical trying these, but after cooking it a few different ways, these now make a regular appearance on our dinner table. See upcoming posts on some recipe ideas for ways to serve beets!


  1. Clifford T, Howatson G, West DJ, Stevenson EJ.  The potential benefits of red beetroot supplementation in health and disease. Nutrients. 2015 Apr 14;7(4):2801-22. doi: 10.3390/nu7042801. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425174/. Accessed September 26, 2016.
  2. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov. )


 Kitchen Spotlight: Apples

In this “Kitchen Spotlight” post, we’ll take a snapshot look at an all-time American (and likely around the world in other countries) favorite: apples. Apples are a good source of soluble and insoluble fiber and contain phytochemicals (an example would be flavonoids such as quercetin). Carbohydrates are the main macronutrient, but apples also contain quite an array of micronutrients such as vitamin C, B vitamins, vitamin A and E, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc and fatty acids – though all in very minute amounts. A general comparison of the nutrient profile of a medium apple with and without skin on shows that an apple with skin has roughly 2 grams more fiber than the alternative, and packs just a little bit more of certain nutrients such as vitamins A, E, and K.  However, choose your apples carefully. Due to high pesticide levels found in U. S. grown apples, it is best to go with New Zealand grown apples and/or organic varieties where possible. ConsumerReports has found that while washing apples well in water will help reduce some of the surface pesticide residues, peeling may not be as effective as most think in reducing pesticide load (see source citation below for more information).

As it turns out, apples shine in the kitchen too by being versatile cooking ingredients. Although we tend to think of just apple pies, apple crisps and candied apples, apples can actually be incorporated into a variety of other ‘non-dessert’ recipe food items. Here are 5 lesser known ways you can use apples in your food:

  • Combine fresh apple slices or frozen diced versions with roasted or sautéed vegetables (e.g., root vegetables, cabbage or Brussel sprouts)
  • Instead of syrups, use a chunky applesauce or make your own version of a lightly sweetened diced apple topping to use on breakfast pancakes, waffles or French toast
  • Blend unsweetened applesauce into squash or potato soups or mash unsweetened applesauce into sweet potatoes
  • Combine with meats such as apple slices on top of roasted pork loins for added flavor or mix unsweetened applesauce into a meatloaf
  • Reduce the fat content in baked recipes by substituting some of the fat from butter with applesauce or apple butter (e.g., gingerbread, quick bread, muffins, breakfast bars)

So the next time you pick up an apple, take a moment to think about where it’s from, and how you’ll use it in the kitchen!


Arsenic & Rice (Part 3): What Are Others Saying About It?

To eat or not to eat? - Dietitianmom.com

To eat or not to eat? – Dietitianmom.com

In the 3rd part of this series, we will examine the positions and recommendations from a few other sources. First, the concern of arsenic in rice drinks is not a new one. As early as 2003, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the United Kingdom has been conducting surveys regarding levels of arsenic in rice and rice products. In February 2009, they released key results in a food survey information sheet regarding arsenic in rice drinks. It was found that arsenic was detected in all samples of rice drinks at low concentrations. Hence FSA advised against using rice milk to substitute for breast milk or for cow’s milk infant formulas for toddlers and young children who are 4.5 years of age and under. This recommendation is not only for nutritional reasons as rice milk is nutritionally inadequate compared to breastmilk or infant formula, but also to reduce arsenic exposure and intake by young children.

In November 2 014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provided some advice regarding the use of infant rice cereal for infants and older children who need this due to special needs including dysphagia or gastroesophageal reflux. The AAP’s interim advice is that oatmeal can be used as a preferred thickener instead of rice cereal. This can be done through the use of infant oatmeal cereal. For older children, cornstarch or gum based thickeners can be suitable alternatives.

More recently, in January 2015, the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) released some guidelines and recommendations regarding the issue of arsenic in rice. In the report, it is stated that inorganic arsenic is considered a

“first level carcinogen because long-term exposure is associated with increased risk for various carcinomas including skin, bladder, lung, kidney, liver, and prostrate. Furthermore, exposure is also associated with alterations in gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, hematological, pulmonary, neurological, immunological and reproductive/developmental function”.

Further, infants and children may be more susceptible to toxic effects, with a “higher exposure reported to be associated with increased infant morbidity and mortality and impaired development“. The ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition caution that rice, especially rice bran, contains high levels of inorganic arsenic, and rice drinks should not be used in infants and young children. This group also encourages a wide consumption of different grains in the diet to reduce inorganic arsenic exposure from food, such as oat, barley, wheat, maize and rice.

All this serves to show that the issue of arsenic in rice is a real one, and one worth noting. There will likely be more data and guidelines out in the near future, especially from the United States Food and Drug Administration, so keep watching this topic. In the meantime, there are many action steps that you as a consumer and parent can already take for yourself and your child [see posts on Arsenic & Rice (Part 2): Action Steps You Can Take Right NOW and Qn of the Month: How Can I Reduce the Arsenic Content of Rice Through Cooking?]!


AAP Arsenic in Rice Expert Work Group. AAP group offers advice to reduce infants’ exposure to arsenic in rice. American Academy of Pediatrics. http://aapnews.aappublications.org/content/35/11/13.1.full. Accessed July 20, 2015.

Food Standards Agency. Survey of total and inorganic arsenic in rice drinks. Food Survey Information Sheet 02/09. http://tna.europarchive.org/20140306205048/http://www.food.gov.uk/science/research/surveillance/fsisbranch2009/survey0209. Accessed July 20, 2015.

Hojsak I, Braegger C, Bronsky J et al. ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition. Arsenic in rice: a cause for concern. JPGN 2015;60: 142–145. http://www.espghan.org/fileadmin/user_upload/guidelines_pdf/Hep_Nutr/arsenic_in_rice.pdf. Accessed July 20, 2015.)

Arsenic & Rice (Part 2): Action Steps You Can Take Right NOW

Having read my first post (Arsenic & Rice: Why this Affects You & Your Family), you may wonder if there are steps you can take immediately to reduce you and your child’s arsenic intake. Yes, there is! The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did issue some advice for consumers, as they continue their investigation with a risk assessment to determine the potential health risk from long-term exposure to the arsenic in rice and related food products. The FDA provides the following guidance:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet. This enables good nutrition and reduces the negative health consequences from eating too much of any one food.
  • Vary your grains. Eat a variety of different grains besides rice like wheat, barley and oats.
  • Consider alternatives for an infant’s first solid food. Parents are encouraged to offer a variety of grain cereals to infants, which can be used as a first solid food instead of only rice cereals. This is in accordance with the view of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which states that there is no medical evidence that rice cereal has any advantage over other grains as a first solid food, and infants would likely benefit from eating a variety of grain cereals.

Consumer Reports, a consumer watchdog organization in the United States, echoes these recommendations above. To help increase the variety of grains consumed, Consumer Reports encourages consumption of lower arsenic alternatives such as buckwheat, amaranth, millet, bulgur, farro, quinoa, barley, polenta or grits (note that bulgur, barley and farro contain gluten).  In addition, they provide the following specific recommendations which are helpful:

  • Choose where your rice comes from. Choose white or brown Basmati rice from India, Pakistan, or California
  • Type and processing method of rice matters.
    • Sushi rice from the U.S. was found to have low levels of total inorganic arsenic.
    • Parboiled rice tends to have relatively high inorganic arsenic levels.
    • Quick or instant cooking white rice tends to have pretty low levels of inorganic arsenic.
  • Avoid/limit overconsumption of certain rice and rice products with relatively high average levels of inorganic arsenic, such as
    • Basmati rice grown in south-central U.S. (Arkansas and/or Texas) or rice that does not have any specific origin information other than ‘United States’.
    • Hot cereals, rice pastas, rice cakes, and some ready-to-eat rice bran cereals (see 7 Points a Week Guide section below).
  • Children should rarely eat hot rice cereals or rice pastas, and should avoid rice drinks. Note that rice drinks are often referred to as “rice milks”, and are marketed as a dairy-free alternative to cow’s milk.
  • 7 Points a Week Guide. Data is used to assign a point value to types of rice and other rice containing foods. Consumer Reports recommends on average not consuming more than 7 points per week from the following table. Note that the risk analysis conducted was based on weight, so a serving of any food will give children more points than adults.CR_2014ricetable

There is one more action step you can take. Both FDA and Consumer Reports also suggest the following rice cooking method to help reduce the final arsenic content in cooked rice: Cook one cup of rice in 5-6 cups of water. In my next post, I will provide some tips on how to do this without ending up with excessively soggy rice.

FDA Explores Impact of Arsenic in Rice. US Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm352569.htm. Updated September 6, 2013. Accessed June 19, 2015.

Questions & Answers: Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products. US Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/metals/ucm319948.htm. Updated August 4, 2014. Accessed June 19, 2015.

Report: Analysis of Arsenic in Rice and Other Grains: Executive Summary. Food Safety and Sustainability Center, Consumer Reports. http://www.greenerchoices.org/pdf/CR_FSASC_Arsenic_Analysis_Nov2014.pdf. November 2 014. Accessed June 19, 2015.

How Much Arsenic is in Your Rice. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2015/01/how-much-arsenic-is-in-your-rice/index.htm. November 2014. Accessed June 19, 2015.)