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Cereal Isn’t The Crunchy Thing To Do

By Heather Dexter, ND

Why “sacred” foods—high in nutrition and good for brain development—are a better choice.

First foods for babies are so controversial these days. If you were a child born in the ’80s, your mom probably fed you cereal before anything else. Her mom, in the ’50s, probably fed her off her dinner plate or cereal. And her mother, in the ’30s or before, probably fed her sacred foods…or cereal.

Cereal: It’s what you do when you don’t know better.

What are sacred foods?

So-called “sacred” foods are foods known to be exceptional for nutritional quality, brain development and gut health that are passed down from generation to generation. Most moms do what their moms did.

What was your baby’s first food? How old was your wee one when she had it?

Go ahead, ask your mom: What was your first food as a babe? How old were you? And if she’s still with us, ask your grandmother what your mother’s first food was, and how old was she?

In the past 100 years or so, moms have been led to believe that cereal for baby is good stuff. Lots of moms today yearn for the facts, seeking the truth and researching for themselves.

No matter how many times I hear it, my stomach still does flips when a client tells me their pediatrician encouraged them to add cereal to their baby’s bottle to get them to sleep through the night. I literally get sick to my stomach, wondering if doctors simply perpetuate what they were told in med school or residency, or if they actually stop to think things through, logistically speaking. Doctors are smart people, and going to school for 8 to 12 years is hard work. Yet how many of them think through the process of nature, as compared to what the pharmaceutical industry has trained them to believe?

Here are two of the most common pieces of “advice” my clients say their doctor shared with them as it relates to baby’s first foods: 1. Only feed on a schedule. You don’t want to spoil your baby. 2. At two weeks to four months, if your baby isn’t sleeping through the night, all you need to do is start adding baby cereal to her bottle and she will.

Did your pediatrician say one or both of these things to you? Or maybe it was your mother-in-law. Just because she did it and “her kids turned out just fine” doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for your child’s health and development.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these thoughts:

“Only feed on a schedule. You don’t want to spoil your baby.”

A baby’s stomach is the size of a pea when it is born. Baby’s first food, colostrum, is measured in drops. The stomach needs to slowly stretch out over time to be able to accept a larger portion of mama’s milk, which is measured in ounces. Because mama’s milk, in most cases, is so high in nutrients, it absorbs very quickly across the intestinal mucosa, leaving baby soon hungry for more. Your baby should want to nurse around the clock every 30 minutes to two hours. This is normal. Feed on demand.

“At two weeks to four months, if your baby isn’t sleeping through the night, all you need to do is start adding baby cereal to her bottle and she will.”

First, you should not expect your baby to sleep through the night for six to eight hours. Babies will wake up to eat due to the quick absorption of their last meal. As for adding cereal to the babe’s bottle for extended sleep, it’s true. If you do this, it will work. But do you know why it works?

Babies do not have the enzymes needed to properly digest grains until between 7 and 10 months of age, or after they get their first few teeth. Therefore, the cereal sits in the stomach and then sits in the intestines, and sits and sits, remaining undigested. Babies feel full with food still in their digestive tract, and so they sleep longer.

This is a bad thing. It creates a lot of damage to the brush border of the intestinal tract, increasing the potential for allergies and chronic digestive disorders in early life. Lots of babies receiving cereal experience colic, are constipated, develop eczema, have numerous allergies and more. It allows molecules that are too big to pass through this delicate membrane, and babies’ bodies treat these molecules like invaders.

Cereals, even the organic cereals, are nutrient-dead foods, just like soda pop or a bag of chips. They do not help babies grow healthily or naturally or normally. They can also be loaded with heavy metals, corn syrup, monosodium glutamate, synthetic minerals and additives that are not meant to be in a baby’s body, ever. This conglomeration of ingredients creates a buildup of toxins that cause harm to a baby’s sensitive membranes and microbiome in the gut tract. This is just the beginning, folks!

In addition to that, baby and mom are meant to sync brain waves. Mom is supposed to wake when baby does. This enhances their bonding, which will last a lifetime. When baby sleeps through the night, and Mom works out of the home for 8-hour days or more, there is no bonding. If baby wakes at night, then Mom and baby can share the intimate bonding needed for a healthy relationship.

The repercussions of cereal are vast. Cereal is a bad deal. Avoid it.

When it comes to first foods for your babe, here is my best advice, based on my personal research and parenting, as well as interviews with other naturopathic doctors and experienced natural-minded mothers.

First and foremost, you are the mother. You get to decide what is best for your kiddos and how to raise them. Your intuition is strong! Listen to it. Read the information and implement what feels right to you.

The Magic Age

I believe that it is most important that you try to start solids no earlier than 7 months.

Yes, 7 months. Not 6 months, not 3 months, not 2 months, and not 4 weeks, like the doctors say. At 7 months, the tongue-thrust reflex should be disappearing. Your baby should have good head control, a good fist grasp and a developing pincer grasp. Your baby should be able to sit up unassisted and maybe even crawl. These milestones are very important, as your baby will be feeding himself; he should not be propped up or reclined, because he will be eating nutrient-dense, whole foods.

Consider starting slow with 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time. Don’t be surprised if it takes several tries for your baby to be able to eat solids, as the average baby needs to be exposed to a single food seven times before accepting its taste. Try feeding, and then nurse (or bottle feed) to assure baby is satisfied.

Lastly, introduce one food at a time, to be certain that your baby is able to digest and assimilate with no negative side effects or allergic reaction. Allow five to seven days between new foods. (Note: Medical doctors say four days, I say one week. One week allows the necessary time that some babies need to see a full range of digestion, absorption, and then utilization of the minerals or chemicals in or on the food. If we present 10 new items at once and there is a reaction, we make it much harder to pinpoint the allergen at hand.) 

Here are my eight recommended foods to start with, in no particular order:

  1. Organic avocado. You won’t be able to find a fruit that is packed full of more essential nutrients than the avocado. Avocados taste pleasant and are easily digested. You can make a “baby guacamole” by mashing and adding some sea salt, cumin or garlic salt. We generally don’t put seasonings into an allergen category, but they can be. If adding, just be sure to write down the seasonings to reference later, if need be. You may also simply dice the avocado and mash it. Avocados are high in fat, potassium, phosphorous and magnesium.

  2. Sweet potatoes. Baked or steamed sweet potato is a wonderful beginner food. You can cut it into thick sticks and bake it like fries, or steam it and then mash it a bit so that it’s easy for your baby to chew and swallow. It is high in beta carotene, vitamin A and fat.

  3. Raw egg yolks. Scrambled egg yolks are a great food, as they are soft, tasty and easily manageable. Even better are raw egg yolks. Make an over-easy egg; puncture the yolk with a spoon, dip it in, and insert it into your baby’s mouth. I recommend farm-fresh eggs from free-roaming chickens only, not pasteurized. Runny egg yolks are an excellent source of numerous vitamins and minerals, including lecithin, choline, protein, cholesterol and fat to help with brain development! (Avoid egg whites, as these are a common allergen.)

  4. Red meat. Beef, veal, venison, elk and bison all can work. Be sure the animals have been grass fed. Babies grow at such a rapid rate, it is important for them to be eating foods that contain proteins and fats that can be broken down by their bodies and utilized for proper growth and development. We also want to look at sources of iron after seven months, and red meat is a great source. Simply cook ground beef or steak to medium rare. Send it through a food processor (or prechew) before giving to your baby.

  5. Liver. By the time their babies are 7 months old, moms can no longer supply them with an adequate amount of iron and meat-based amino acids, such as carnitine or ornithine. It is now time for your baby to consume these on his own. Grass-fed beef, chicken or lamb liver is extremely nutrient-dense, and should always be considered one of the top 10 first baby foods. Simply sauté the liver, leaving red in the middle, and then run it through a food processor before serving.

  6. Salmon roe. These nutrient-dense eggs are rich in vitamins A, D and K2, along with zinc, iodine and the brain-building fatty acid DHA, making them a powerful superfood for babies and adults alike. Get your eggs from wild salmon. Simply spoon feed.

  7. Anchovies and sardines. These superfoods are rich in calcium and other minerals, and vitamins A, D and B12. They also have lower levels of mercury and other contaminants compared to larger fish, because they are so low on the aquatic food chain, munching mostly on plankton. Mash or break into bite-size pieces.

  8. Bone marrow. Lab tests show that 100 grams, approximately six and a half tablespoons, of bone marrow contains 677 IU (international units) of vitamin A, 29 micrograms of vitamin K2, and high levels of nourishing fats (up to 45 percent saturated). Bone marrow from grass-fed animals is rich in sphingolipids, which are specialized fats that protect cell membranes against environmental insults and that are critical components of the brain and nervous system. Cook your bones and then scrape out the marrow and spoon-feed.

Homemade organic whole-grain cereals.

Quinoa, amaranth, kamut or millet cereal are your best choices no earlier than 15 months (or never!). Investigate the source of your brown rice, as some contain unfavorable levels of arsenic. However, your baby must be at least 10 months old before he has the necessary digestive juices to handle the complex carbohydrates in these cereals. These grains should be pre-soaked by covering with water and adding 1–2 tablespoons of whey, lemon juice or apple cider vinegar before cooking and feeding to your baby.

Why these foods? Well, let’s think about the baby and the breast. The brain of an infant is growing so rapidly that it needs an extreme amount of fat in order to be supported. The breast does its best to create milk that is loaded with fat, cholesterol and brain-supporting nutrition. The key is fat! Your baby’s brain depends on it. All of the above foods have high amounts of fat and various other nutrition, making the transition from breast to food as close to equivalent as possible. Grains and cereal are low or no fat, and essentially nutrient-dead, which ultimately starves a baby’s brain and body.

Save For Later (If at All)

While this could be an article in itself, here are my top 10 foods for baby to avoid: wheat, corn, tofu and soy, nuts, pasteurized cow milk, pasteurized honey, shellfish, dried fruits, strawberries and egg whites.

Corn and soy are greater than 90 percent genetically modified in the United States. When it comes to GMOs, I suggest avoiding them at all cost. We are not a lab experiment. These have never been proven safe. Wheat is genetically engineered by the direct manipulation of its genome using biotechnology. Nuts are not easily digested by most adults, let alone babies. Nuts should always be soaked and dehydrated in order to break down enzyme inhibitors, phytates (phytic acid), polyphenols (tannins), and goitrogens. The process of pasteurization kills all the good stuff in honey and milk. Shellfish feed off the bottom of the ocean; they eat dead stuff and poop, and are therefore pretty toxic animals. Dried fruit with sulfur is to be avoided at all cost. (Homemade dried fruit is totally OK.) Strawberries are loaded with pesticides and fertilizers. They carry too many chemicals to be considered a first food for baby. And albumin, or egg white, is one of the top three nationwide allergens today.

Many pediatric authorities, specifically in Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom, recommend meat as one of baby’s first solid foods, but not as the very first food. In the U.S., the recommendation to start meats earlier than 8 months is also becoming more common. We have a lot of things backward, infant food recommendations being one of them.

We want our babies to eat meat: nutrient-dense, grass-fed animals. In the U.S., this meat is hard to come by. We raise animals in packed warehouses, load them with hormones and antibiotics, and feed them genetically modified foods. Our meat is toxic. Consider getting your meat for your family from a local farm, not Walmart.

I am a mother of three and a naturopathic doctor. My oldest, Madilyn, who is now 6 years old, started eating sweet potato, followed by avocado at 6 months. Lucien is now 3; his first food was free-range chicken liver followed by free-range chicken egg yolk at 7 months. Emilia, my 5-month-old, probably won’t get her first food until closer to 8 months. Without question it will be egg yolk, liver, anchovies and bone marrow.

Kids can be picky eaters. I always do my best to make every bite count. Now that you know better, you can do better. I challenge you to give your babies the best.