Many parents are often confused about offering their little ones meat(s). They usually wonder first about when to introduce meats to their babies and then, they worry about what type of meat to introduce first. The appropriate age to introduce meats to babies tends to be just as confusing as introducing solids as a whole!
It’s no wonder why confusion over introducing meats to babies runs rampant; pediatricians cannot seem to agree on one particular age – never mind even trying to stick to one age range! I won’t talk about dairy here but as many of you know, introducing dairy is another confusing item.
I stumbled across a very interesting review concerning the introduction of meat as a first food. This review was published in November of 2011. It highlights why meat(s) may be a better first food for baby than veggies or fruits (or even that icky pasty boxed rice “cereal”). If not the first food, meat may a great food to introduce earlier rather than later. While many studies and recommendations involving meats as first foods for babies target the breastfed baby, it stands to reason that formula fed babies will also benefit from meats as well.
Today, many pediatric authorities are recognizing that fortified boxed infant cereal doesn’t have to be the first food a baby eats. Choosing more nutrient dense foods, such as fruits and veggies and meats, as first foods makes better sense. Around the world, meat in particular is often recommended as the first food for babies. In the UK, Canada and the EU physician encourage the earlier introduction of meats than their collegues in the US. You will find that US recommendations for introducing meat to range from 6 months to 8 months or even as late as 10-12 months.
One of most interesting points that I found within the review that prompted me to blog about this is the following:
At the time the human genome developed, our ancestors were hunter gatherers. There is now evidence that meat from large mammals was consumed by the hominid species Australopithecus afarensis at least 3.4 million years ago.32 It seems likely that meat was provided by hunter gatherers as a first and frequent complementary food 33–35 following maternal premastication (Sorry Ms. Silverstone, in today’s age, pre-chewing baby’s food is not recommended)
Though this concept appears foreign to many people today, there is little doubt that ASF (animal source foods) including meats, perhaps premasticated,26 were fed to older infants and toddlers at the time the human genome developed (i.e., when the lifestyle was that of the hunter-gatherer), and the change to an agrarian lifestyle has been an important contributory factor to iron deficiency in young children today, especially in resource-poor countries.
Highlighted below are some other points** regarding the benefits of introducing meats as a first food or at the very least, as one of the first foods for babies.
With respect to nutrient composition of the diet, the value of including meat as a complementary food from the age of 6 months is indisputable. Among the micronutrients of key public health importance, this applies especially to zinc, iron and, frequently, vitamin B12. The concentrations of zinc in meats are especially favorable.
The article further notes some key points from studies and reviews done between 2004 and late 2011:
Because fetal iron and zinc stores are typically depleted by ∼ 6 months of age, good sources of bioavailable iron and zinc need to be among the first solid foods given to breastfed infants. Unfortunately, the bioavailability of the iron compounds commonly used in infant cereal is relatively low, and although some infant cereals are now fortified with zinc in addition to iron, the bioavailability of the zinc in these cereals has not been reported. Early introduction of meat has the advantage of providing a good source of iron and zinc in a highly bioavailable form, and pureed meats have been shown to be well tolerated by infants as a first complementary food. Pediatrics Vol. 122 No. Supplement 2 October 1, 2008 pp. S36 -S42 Infant Feeding and Feeding Transitions During the First Year of Life
- Introduction of meat as an early complementary food for exclusively breastfed infants is feasible and was associated with improved zinc intake and potential benefits. The high percentage of infants with biochemical evidence of marginal zinc and iron status suggests that additional investigations of optimal complementary feeding practices for breastfed infants in the United States are warranted. Results showed that those infants who consumed pureed beef had improved iron and zinc intake compared to cereal-fed infants.
Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition:February 2006 – Volume 42 – Issue 2 – pp 207-214 Meat as a First Complementary Food for Breastfed Infants: Feasibility and Impact on Zinc Intake and Status
The American Academy of Pediatrics has also indicated that meats are an appropriate early complementary food American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition. Complementary feeding. In: Kleinman RE, ed. Pediatric Nutrition Handbook. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2004:103-15.
To wrap it all up simply: Meat(s), particularly beef, are an important first food for babies that will offer better iron (and zinc) intake and bioavailability than using plant based foods as the sole source of complementary/solid foods. Our ancestors who lived millions of years ago likely pre-chewed meats to feed to their babies. It is possible that a plant based diet for infants (grains, fruits, veggies) has been a contributory factor to iron deficiency in “modern” day infants; this is due to the switch from hunter-gather to agrarian lifestyle (and grocery stores :))
Always discuss the introduction of any solid food(s) with your baby’s pediatrician!
**Evaluation of meat as a first complementary food for breastfed infants: impact on iron intake Nutrition Reviews, Special Issue: Iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia in early infancy; etiology, consequences, prevalence, and prevention Volume 69, Issue Supplement s1, pages S57–S63, November 2011 Hambidge, K. M., Sheng, X., Mazariegos, M., Jiang, T., Garces, A., Li, D., Westcott, J., Tshefu, A., Sami, N., Pasha, O., Chomba, E., Lokangaka, A., Goco, N., Manasyan, A., Wright, L. L., Koso-Thomas, M., Bose, C., Goldenberg, R. L., Carlo, W. A., McClure, E. M. and Krebs, N. F. (2011),