Infant Feeding and Lifelong Health
Obesity is, no doubt is the evil of modern times. Due to obesity and its consequences, the first time in history, a coming generation has a lower life expectancy than the previous one. More research is published everyday, showing how food is related to health. In this age of fast pace and on-the-go everything, it sure does matter what and how we eat. Like a lot of other things eating habits have their roots in infancy. We learn more everyday on the influences of infant feeding, and actually a lot more research is needed. Eating is a very complex task, and infant feeding also is not as simple as some may think!
We learn more everyday on the effects of this wonder hormone “insulin” on obesity and consequently many other health problems (namely; high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, etc). Insulin regulates sugar levels and also fat deposition and etc. Insulin balance is very important for the body and factors such as direct sugars affect it negatively. We know today that breast-feeding babies have lower insulin levels and this is a finding supporting the protective effect of breast milk against obesity. Also introduction of direct sugars in infancy as well as carbohydrate amount might have a negative impact on insulin balance as well.
Breast milk or liquid gold protects against obesity, heart disease, cancer and many other health disturbances due to its content, but also there is something very special to how infants breast feed. That is on demand feeding, mom being able to naturally read infants' cues. Every infant is borne with feelings of hunger and satiety. We know today that ,supporting an infants natural hunger and satiety cues is of vital importance. If we do not support it, or indeed destroy it (with force feeding or scheduled feeding), it is very difficult to teach it later. Wild animals do not get obesity, do not get anorrhexia, but we humans do! Amazingly pets do as well! And supporting the natural drives of hunger and satiety has a lot to do with this!
If breast milk is not enough, or not produced for some reason; formula feeding is a safe alternative. Formula feeding moms can establish healthy eating habits as well. Feeding on demand and following infants cues are the key!
We recommend breast or formula feeding exclusively for 6 months and after 6 months, solid foods are introduced. Introduction of solid food reveals some cultural and even geographical difference. Most common initial foods are vegetables, fruits and rice cereals. Diets do get richer as time goes by, and consistency increases as well..
After a generation of gerber babies, there is now a question being raised in the US and other industrialized countries;” Are infant food products too bland?” Now we are starting to realize that infant food do not need to be “so sterile and bland”. Infant food cannot be containing salt, as it would overload the little kidneys. But adding fermented food early on (of course after 6 mo) seems to activate the immune system in a positive way. Also the current consensus now, is that infant food can contain some spices as well as herbs. Development of taste is a vital part of eating habits. Eating should be pleasant and fun. And this can start right in infancy. Giving home made food not only makes it easier to give them tasty food but also, fruits and vegetables keep their freshness and nutritional value.
One should be careful however because vegetables can contain pesticides and organics might not always mean “totally safe”. It is a good idea to soak veggies and fruits in vinegar and use a food brush. Also veggies like carrots, beets, spinach should be consumed within hours of cooking, as they may accumulate nitrates, which can be harmful for the baby.
Talking about taste development; we know today that infants get familiarized to certain tastes even in the womb. Research shows when an infant is exposed to curry or garlic or any other distinctive flavor, there is a lot more chance that she will like that taste later. The same goes for breast-feeding mothers of course. These are not the only ways infants eating habits are related to that of the family’s. A lot of times infants seem to like what the caregivers like to eat. This has a lot to do with the way we present food and of course if we present it at all. So, if you want your kids to eat cauliflower and cabbage, you should eat them too.( And ideally like them!)
Is sugar less dangerous than cigarette smoke? Not really. Synthetic sugars have a high glycemic index (meaning they increase the insulin levels) and, not only do they create a background for obesity directly but are addictive as well. It is worthwhile to spend conscious effort so that the infant does not develop a sweet addiction, or preference.
Of course breast milk and formula are very sweet, but while introducing solid food; giving the neutral tasting ones before sweet ones usually helps. For the first two years of life trying to avoid synthetic sugars is a very worthy cause, but not always so easy! Especially in Turkey a lot of infant food contain hidden sugars and many people use regular granulated sugar for baby recipes. It is a great idea to try to avoid these.
Infant feeding is lot of fun, but definitely no easy task! Paying attention to what, how and why they eat in order to make eating both a pleasant and a natural experience is a very good investment for life long health.
So “bon apetit” for all the little ones!
Beril Bayrak Bulucu, MD. FAAP
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