Well, while your sister is sort of right in that you do need to understand what nitrates are and how they can harm your baby, she is not correct that you can not make your own baby food because of them. Here's the skinny on what you need to know about homemade baby foods and nitrates.
What Are Nitrates?
Nitrates are a chemical that can be found in water and soil. They do occur naturally as a plant breaks down nitrogen during photosynthesis, though they are also known to be commercially made and used in the preparation of some foods. Nitrates are most commonly found in these types of food and drink:
- Green leafy vegetables.
- Root vegetables.
- Ground water from wells. Parents preparing infant formula from well water should speak with their pediatrician about safety.
- Cured meats. Cured meat products (think ham, hot dogs, bacon, etc), can be cured with naturally occuring plant-based nitrates or with chemically created nitrates.
How Can Nitrates Be Harmful to My Baby?
In simplest terms, ingesting excessive amounts of nitrates can negatively effect the blood counts of your baby. The big medical term you might read for it is methemoglobinemia. Babies suffering from methemoglobinemia will show periodic blueing of the mouth, hands, and feet. Additionally, babies may be come more tired than usual or have trouble breathing. Extreme cases can cause loss of consciousness or even death. In light of that, it is important to know safety measures when feeding your baby homemade baby food.
Who Is Most At Risk for Nitrate Poisoning?
What research has shown is that the people most at risk for nitrate poisoning are people who consume well water. Water should be tested for nitrate levels. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that doctors should discuss water supply with parents. Families who use well-water for drinking or formula preparation should test their water for nitrates. The AAP recommends that nitrate levels should be less than 10 ppm.
Additionally, babies who are under 3 months of age are particularly susceptible to methemoglobinemia. Then next at risk group is babies 3 to 6 months of age. After 6 months of age, baby's stomach acids have further developed and therefore, are less at risk for problems.
What Are the AAP Suggestions for Homemade Baby Foods?
In 2005, the Amerian Academy of Pediatric released their advisory for homemade baby food. They stated, "Infants fed commercially prepared infant foods generally are not at risk of nitrate poisoning. However, home-prepared infant foods from vegetables (eg, spinach, beets, green beans, squash, carrots) should be avoided until infants are 3 months or older, although there is no nutritional indication to add complementary foods to the diet of the healthy term infant before 4 to 6 months of age."
A tip I would offer is that if you are using fresh vegetables, prepare your baby food when the veggies are as fresh as possible. They longer they sit, the more nitrates build up. Alternatively, use fresh frozen fruits and veggies, which are often more fresh than the vegetables you buy at the store.
Does That Mean Commericially Prepared Baby Foods Are Nitrate-Free?
Do not be misled into thinking that means that commercially prepared baby foods must be nitrate free. That is not the case. Nitrates occur naturally in veggies ever, store-bought foods have likely been screened by the company to be within a certain standard. However, screening is not mandated by law, and companies police those levels independently.