While it’s commonly known that babies are born with immature digestive systems, lesser known is WHAT babies can easily digest.
Babies have limited enzyme production. Enzymes are necessary for food digestion. In fact, it takes up to 28 months, just around the time when molar teeth are fully developed, for the big-gun carbohydrate enzymes (namely amylase) to fully kick into gear. Without these big-gun carbohydrate enzymes, babies can’t easily digest the most commonly recommended first food – cereal.
Babies do produce functional enzymes (pepsin and proteolytic enzymes) and digestive juices (hydrochloric acid in the stomach) that work on proteins and fats. This makes perfect sense since the milk from a healthy mother has 50-60 percent of its energy as fat, which is critical for growth, energy and development. In addition, the cholesterol in human milk supplies an infant with close to six times the amount most adults consume from food. In some cultures, a new mother is encouraged to eat six to ten eggs a day and almost ten ounces of chicken and pork for at least a month after birth. This fat-rich diet ensures her breast milk will contain adequate healthy fats.
A recent Swedish study suggests that when infants are given substantial amounts of cereal, they may suffer from low concentrations of zinc and reduced calcium absorption.
Grains, nuts, and seeds tend to have the most potential for causing allergic reactions or digestive problems in babies, so stay away from those as first foods.
Babies do not produce the needed enzymes to handle cereals, especially gluten-containing grains like wheat, before the age of one year. Even then, it is a common traditional practice to soak grains in water and a little yogurt or buttermilk for up to 24 hours. This process jump-starts the enzymatic activity in the food and begins breaking down some of the harder-to-digest components.1 The easiest grains to digest are those without gluten like brown rice. When grains are introduced, they should be soaked for at least 24 hours and cooked with plenty of water for a long time. This will make a slightly sour, very thin porridge that can be mixed with other foods.
Instead, go with what you know they can digest easily – proteins and fats – and what you know they need – iron, zinc, and protein.
Puréed meats can be given at six months (or even earlier if baby is very mature). Meats will help ensure adequate intake of iron, zinc, and protein with the decrease in breast milk and formula.
Egg yolks, rich in choline, cholesterol and other brain-nourishing substances, can be added to your baby’s diet as early as four months, as long as baby takes it easily. (If baby reacts poorly to egg yolk at that age, discontinue and try again one month later.) Cholesterol is vital for the insulation of the nerves in the brain and the entire central nervous system. It helps with fat digestion by increasing the formation of bile acids and is necessary for the production of many hormones. Since the brain is so dependent on cholesterol, it is especially vital during this time when brain growth is in hyper-speed.
At about six to eight months, vegetables may be introduced, one at a time so that any adverse reactions may be observed. Carrots, sweet potatoes and beets are excellent first choices. All vegetables should be cooked (steamed preferably), mashed and mixed with a liberal amount of fat, such as butter or coconut oil, to provide nutrients to aid in digestion.
Choose a variety of foods so your child gets a range of fats, but emphasize stable saturated fats, found in butter, meat and coconut oil, and monounsaturated fats, found in avocados and olive oil.
Don’t have time to make your own baby food? Choose organic, pre-made options. Babies’ still-developing bodies are more vulnerable to pesticides than adults. Organic foods place a smaller chemical burden on baby’s body, thereby letting their little bodies focus more on growth and development rather than fighting off the toxic effects of pesticides.
What about fruits?
A little fruit goes a long way for babies because of the high sugar content. Besides, if you can get babies used to the not-so-sweet stuff in the beginning, everything they try later on will taste even better!
Here’s a video from Mama Natural, who includes bananas and pears in her first foods list.