Friday, January 21, 2011

When homemade baby food is NOT safe: volume 1

Just when you thought there couldn't possibly be any more things to scare you as a parent, the talking heads have brought forth an attack against homemade baby food.  Gasp!  Unfortunately there are some reasons why homemade baby food isn't safe for all babies, and I don’t just mean babies with food allergies.  So here is a large reason homemade baby food may not be safe for some infants: NITRATES.

If you’re like me, this word brings up thoughts of processed meats, Viagra commercials, angina & explosives (my stream of consciousness is quite polluted) Strangely enough these volatile compounds are naturally-occurring  in everyday foods such as: carrots, spinach, and squash.  The naturally-high levels of nitrates increase with improper food storage of spinach.   Why are the jarred versions of these vegetables safer than the homemade kind?  The food companies remove these compounds during manufacturing so your child will not ingest them.  What does this mean for your baby?  Unless your baby is at risk for anemia or has sickle cell disease, limited exposure is just fine.  However, these vegetables are recommended more for children over 6 months of age due to their levels of nitrates.  High levels of nitrates can cause “baby blue syndrome” where nitrates keep red blood cells from properly carrying oxygen to parts of the body, creating a “cyanotic” appearance (i.e. bluish, purplish skin discoloration).  With repeated, high exposure to nitrates, the baby will literally asphyxiate slowly.  DON’T PANIC.  You would have to be force-feeding your child foods with high-levels of nitrates over & over.  Again, if your child already has a condition where red blood cells are compromised, the occurrence of this problem is higher.

Here is a short list of common baby food ingredients that are known to have high nitrate levels:
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Squash
  • Beets
  • Spinach (or other dark, leafy greens)
  • Turnips
Prevention?  Just try not to feed your baby too much nitrate-rich foods* to your baby if he/she is less than 6 months of age.  I'm not a fan of fear-mongering, but this may be a big help to babies with red blood cell disorders. 

-Elias's mommy

Chemical poisoning in children overview:

*Not sure how much is too much?  Ask your pediatrician of your child's risk factors.

Sources:, "Your Baby's First Year: Week by Week" book by Glade B. Curtis,

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