Do I have to start my baby on baby rice? This is a common question I get asked by parents. Baby rice is often hailed as the perfect first food for many reasons. 1) It is easy to digest and 2) it is hypoallergenic, so there’s next to no chance of your baby reacting to it. Moreover, it is also gluten free. As well as being gentle on your baby’s immature digestive system, baby rice is bland in flavour, meaning your baby is unlikely to object to the taste, and is smooth and runny, making it a safe food.
So yes, baby rice is an excellent first food but are we using it a bit too much? As an internationally registered dietitian I like to see what the weaning practices are elsewhere in the world and what I have noticed is that some countries are cautious about the amount of rice they feed their babies.
This blog post will explain why that is and also list the benefits of using other grains than rice as part of your baby’s first taste of foods.
Rice and rice products have a natural occurring substance called arsenic which occurs in ground water. Arsenic levels vary from country to country and it is therefore impossible to eliminate it totally from foods. Rice tends to take up more arsenic from the environment than other cereal crops, and tends to be predominately the more toxic inorganic form, which has the potential to increase risk of illnesses including cancer.
In the UK, toddlers and young children (ages 1 to 4.5 years) should not be given rice drinks as a substitute for breast milk, infant formula or cows’ milk. This is because of their proportionally higher milk consumption and lower bodyweight compared to adults.
The Danish National Board of Health recommends the same however; they elaborate their guidelines by suggesting that children don’t have a rice based cereal meal every day. Use alternative cereals based on maize, millet and buckwheat. The guidelines are strict about not introducing gluten before 6 months of age.
Goodness of Millet
Millet is rich in B vitamins, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, and is even considered a good protein source. it is also naturally gluten free. Millet is very easy to prepare, and can be made in several different ways as your baby gets older. You can start off by grinding up the grains of millet to make a cereal out of it by using breastmilk or formula milk.
Buckwheat is not related to wheat though the name may suggest so. Buckwheat is actually gluten free and is a great choice for homemade baby cereal. Because it’s a seed, it’s naturally high in iron, B vitamins and contains all the essential amino acids.
A great way to include buckwheat into your child’s diet is to make a smooth baby porridge out of buckwheat flakes. Buckwheat has nourished man since the eight millennium BC.
It’s time to bring this ancient grain back into our children’s diet.
Cornmeal is naturally gluten free and a great source of energy for a growing baby. In Denmark, cornmeal is used as a first food (so it’s also fortified with nutrients such as iron), however, in the UK the guidelines are strict about not introducing it before the age of 12 months as it’s a common allergen. I have worked with 1000’s of children with food allergies and I have only come across one person with an allergy to corn.
If you decide to use cornmeal I would choose an organic version since corn tends to be genetically modified.
Though a baby’s first taste of solid food should be a single ingredient it does not HAVE TO BE rice cereal. In this blog post I have suggested a few other grains which make a great first weaning food. Other wonderful foods include avocados, bananas and sweet potatoes. These healthy and nutritious foods make really great first foods for a baby because they are easy to digest, full of vitamins & minerals, fats and other nutrients for your growing baby.
So my advice to you is: Mix it up a bit, show your child the world of foods, and be bold and brave. Try something different today. The more they are exposed to, the healthier it is for their development, both nutritionally and psychologically.
Please note that this information neither is medical advice, nor is it meant to replace the advice of your doctor or dietitian and I assume no liability for the use or misuse of this information.