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.

For plant-based mums, be aware that though you would expect infant cereal to be vegan or vegetarian, that may not be the case. In fact, both the Nestle Gerber’s® baby oat infant cereal and Heinz’s baby oat cereal contain dry skim milk as part of the ingredients! 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: 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. )


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.)


Arsenic & Rice (Part 1): Why this Affects You & Your Family


In these few upcoming posts, I would like to focus on a hot topic in the US consumer realm, and one close to our hearts: rice. This is an issue all too important to ignore, especially for families that frequently eat rice-based meals, and one that impacts both children and adults. Today’s post will provide the background and some key details a consumer should know.  My goal is to assimilate some of the latest reports and recommendations from various respected national and international bodies to provide you – parents – the information you need to make the best food decisions for yourself and your family.

 So what’s the Deal on Arsenic & Rice?

Arsenic is a chemical element present in water, soil, air and food through human and natural means. Examples include mining, the use of arsenic based fertilizers in agricultural production, arsenic containing animal feed, volcanic eruptions and the erosion of arsenic-containing rocks.  Besides rice, other foods found to contain arsenic include fruits, vegetables and fruit juices.  Although arsenic has also been detected in fish, it is in the organic chemical form, which is generally of less concern than the inorganic chemical form, which is considered more toxic. Arsenic is an issue because there has been an association between long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic and an increased incidence rate of skin, heart disease, as well as bladder and lung cancer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, arsenic has been classified as a human carcinogen.

In the United States, food (as opposed to water) tends to be the main source of arsenic exposure, with rice being one of the greatest contributors. This is due to the common agricultural production method of rice used and the nature of rice plants which make them susceptible to taking up more arsenic from the soil, causing arsenic to accumulate in the rice grains. Hence, the issue of arsenic in rice not only touches pure rice consumers, it also affects those who consume rice based products which include many gluten-free products and other commercially processed foods that contain rice or a rice derivative as an ingredient.

In the last few years, a consumer watchdog organization in the United States called Consumer Reports tested over 400 rice and non-rice grain samples and found varying but concerning levels of arsenic in the products they tested. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also released a report in September 2013 of their findings from testing over 1300 rice products samples in the United States. Similar findings were found in that the levels of inorganic arsenic are higher per serving of brown rice compared to white rice. The FDA concluded that the levels of inorganic arsenic found in the samples were too low to cause immediate or short-term health damage. However, FDA is in the midst of conducting a risk assessment to better analyze the long-term risks of consumption of rice and rice products containing arsenic. The results of this risk assessment were anticipated to be released in 2014, but have not come out yet.

Regardless, here are a few key facts about arsenic to note:

  • Organic arsenic can be converted to inorganic forms in the soil
  • When comparing the same type, brown rice will always have a higher level of inorganic arsenic than white rice (because less of the outer layers of the rice grain are removed during the processing of brown rice). According to the 2014 November Consumer Reports article, brown rice has on average about 80% more arsenic than white rice for a particular type.
  • Actual arsenic concentration in rice is influenced by a variety of factors such as: the brands of fertilizer used, seasonal variability, agricultural practices (especially water use practices), and soil concentration.

Though the results of the risk assessment are still pending from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are many things that you, the consumer, can do now. See my next upcoming post for practical tips that can be implemented relatively easily to protect the health of you and your household.


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 9, 2015.

Report: Analysis of Arsenic in Rice and Other Grains: Executive Summary. Food Safety and Sustainability Center, ConsumerReports. http://www.greenerchoices.org/pdf/CR_FSASC_Arsenic_Analysis_Nov2014.pdf. November 2 014. Accessed June 9, 2015.)

Baby Food Transition: Intro to Complementary Feeding Stages

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the UK government both encourage exclusive breastfeeding till baby is around 6 months of age (26 weeks), which follows World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. However, after 6 months of age, solids need to be introduced to provide adequate nutrition for the growing baby. So while breast milk or formula remains an important part of a baby’s diet for the first year of life, providing solids alongside continued breastfeeding or formula will give your baby the best nutrition whilst baby learns new feeding skills.

Hence the main goals of complementary feeding are to optimize baby’s nutrition and to gradually introduce a variety of tastes and textures into a baby’s diet to help baby learn new skills such as self-feeding, chewing and eating solids. This helps to build the stepping stones towards baby eventually eating family meals.

Complementary feeding can be grouped into the three stages:
1. Smooth purees and mashed foods
2. Mashed foods with soft lumps and soft finger foods
3. Harder finger foods and minced family foods

It should be noted that while most babies will tend to follow this pattern of progression in solids/textures, not all babies do! So being flexible and aware of this as a mom is important. Babies progress as different rates and stages in their feeding skills, and some may take longer to go through one stage than another. For example, my eldest child took a long time to go through the pureed stage and was only at 13 months beginning to move onto minced family foods. Part of this could be because her top two teeth have finally come in, allowing her to be able to chew better and handle tougher textures. My second daughter seemed more ready for lumpy foods and textures at about 8 months of age. So don’t worry if your baby does not exactly follow the stages of transition of complementary feeding described in the upcoming posts!