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Introducing food to babies

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

As some of you will know we have a thriving bub growing in our home. It has been of interest to me to talk to many different people about babies and what works and what doesn’t. With all new scenarios if there are others that have had success in an area then I always find it helpful to listen to what others have tried.

Perhaps the area that there is the least amount of consistency, is around food introduction. This is where we are up to in our journey and I have been formulating my thoughts around this for a little while and I wanted to share some thoughts. I will preface this conversation with I understand that every child is different and there is never going to be one rule that fits every child, I am proposing rather a framework to approach how we introduce foods.

What filter or lens am I looking through?

When I look at human health at any age and what a healthy diet constitutes of, the first filter that I apply is this a healthy diet that has had a track record of producing health communities and populations. This from my perspective has to be at least 3 generations, as any major change to the diet or environment will take about 3 generations or life cycles to present to the point where it will affect the ability of that species to reproduce. This is a concept that Rachel Carlson fleshes out in much more depth in her book, ‘Our stolen future’, that it is not the change or environment or diet takes time in order to express itself on a species.

When I think about healthy communities there are a few sources that you might look to, one of which is a book called ‘blue zones’ and the other is Western A Price Foundation. These are two groups that have looked at diets before all of the foods of modern displacement were introduced. These were communities that had thrived on the often very different diets (which reflects that there is no one diet that suits everyone). These communities all had members that would commonly live to be 100 + years and be thriving alongside their environment.

Foods of hyper- palatability (foods of modern displacement)

From an evolutionary perspective our brain is hardwired to look for foods that would have been rare in a natural environment, that are key to survival. There are 3 main triggers that the brain looks for in this situation (fat, sugar and salt). There is no need to rush the introduction of these highly processed foods and in fact it might be better to keep then out of your child’s diet for as long as possible.

#1 – Highly energy dense foods (fat)

This is commonly seen as high fat foods, the reason for this is that if you are wandering the desert, one of the things that is of concern is ‘am I going to have enough energy to survive’? This means that up until the last 200 years or so, getting enough energy density into our diet was one of the key challenges of daily living. This is not the case anymore as we live in a world where there is an abundance of food, however millions of years of relative starvation doesn’t turn around in the space of a few generations, our brain has this seeking of highly energy dense food hardwired into the biochemistry of your brain. This means that when we come across high fat foods, our brain wants to repeat that experience – note that your brain doesn’t have the ability to notice the difference between good and bad fats.

#2 Highly refined foods (sweet)

We have taste receptors that are specifically dedicated to identifying sweet foods, again sweet foods were relatively rare and only come across at certain times of the year, think foraging for berries / fruit as examples of sweet naturally occurring foods. When we come across these foods in nature our brain tells us that this is a good food source of readily available energy and that is it a food that is worth selecting for. And then food science happened!! Now food compounds can be extracted and concentrated into food products that play specifically to these taste receptors (namely fructose and other sugars). Our taste is constantly looking for food items that are sweeter as these foods were a precious commodity in times of scarcity.

#3 Salt

Depending on where in the world the community was access to salt was sometimes hard to come by, when the salt trade widened back in the 1800’s it meant that food was able to be preserved for longer periods of time. Understand that salt in its natural mineral form (Himalayan or Celtic sea salt) is brilliant at regulating fluid balance and hydration, and is key for energy production as well as hundreds of other body functions.

Putting it all together:

When we have exposure to highly palatable foods early in life it changes the relationship that we have with the food that we eat. Do you know any young children that their parents say that they just have fussy kids and then won’t eat their vegetables? This is potentially because their taste has been programmed and become accustomed to foods that are highly palatable foods from a young age.

From an early age if you exposure children to a variety of different tastes (there are 6: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, salty and astringent) they are generally more happy to eat a variety of foods as they grow. Interesting I have noted this in clinic with exposure to herbal medicine with children from a young age, I had an 8 year old that I gave a mix to that would challenge most peoples taste buds and she was more than happy to take it.

Refined carbohydrates and heavily processed foods are ones that I have my eye on when it comes to first foods to introduce. Some common examples of early foods to introduce depending on where you read are rice cereal / wheat rusks / toast / pasta (Royal childrens health). The issue is if your childs’ taste buds adjust to constant barrage of sweet then they will constantly look for things that are sweeter and sweeter in order to get the same biochemical brain high from the food they eat.

We had friend of our that have recently started their second child on foods, after having a more vegetable based approach with the first bub and when they got around to introducing fruit in the diet eldest, he loved it. The parents then thought well lets’ start with fruit with the second on as the older child liked it so much, subsequently they are now having challenges getting the second child to eat vegetables. This backs up the thought that when there is high exposure to sweet foods the taste buds become accustomed to that level of sweet. From that point on the taste buds are constantly looking for foods that have a higher level of sweetness. This means that foods that are less sweet become perceived as not being as palatable.

Think about your own diet for a moment and the average intake in Australia is 20 teaspoons of sugar a day through the food that we consume. When you dramatically cut that back for a period of time your taste buds do adjust to less sweet foods (the same happens with young children as well) and then if you do taste hyper sweet foods again, they are often off putting as they are ‘to sweet’.

If you think about foods that are highly addictive to us as adults they will commonly tick the boxes of hyperpalatable. Think out the many fast food franchisers that use this combination (fat, sweet and salt) as part of there meals. It is even relevant in most soft drinks as you might be surprised how much sodium (salt) is in some of the most popular brands, hence making them addictive.

Nutrient density:

The flip side of the coin - Are you being intentional around introducing nutrient dense foods?

There are a few ways that you can look at foods, one is all about the energy density (calories), one is to do with the nutrient density that is contained within those same foods. Lets’ look at a few examples.

Fruit juice - highly energy dense (high calories due to the amount of simple sugars) but low on nutrient density – in fact it has a net negative effect on nutritional status as it actually takes minerals to metabolise simple sugars.

Egg – this can be broken into two components, the white and the yolk.

The yolk is where the nutrient density is held, the white has other benefits from a protein perspective. For this reason, when you source great quality eggs they tick many boxes when it comes to offering many great aspects of a functional nutrient dense food.


These will vary based on the vegetable that you choose to select; vegetables are a great way to introduce some of the 6 tastes (mentioned above) to your child. It diversifies the palate and will encourage them to trial new foods as they grow up. The real benefit of vegetables is really in the plant fibres (both soluble and insoluble) as they encourage the diversity of microflora in the gut. When it comes to health over the lifetime, more evidence is suggesting that the broader the diversity of microbiome in the gut the more robust health you will experience.

Remember that the aim of all of this is to build a strong, healthy resilient baby. The best way to do this is to give them an abundance of nutrition (building blocks) that will help their body to develop and grow.

How to introduce foods to minimise or identify food-based sensitivity.

This is of interest in terms of how to introduce foods, this is the same thinking that can be applied to individuals with food intolerances at an older age.

This starts by Introducing a single food at a time, for 3 consecutive days. This means that the body has exposure to a new food and if there is going to be a food reaction it will generally happen withing 3 days. Once a food has been introduced by itself then you can combine it with foods that have already been introduced previously.

My suggestion is to introduce new foods in the middle of the day (lunch time) as this means that there is the least impact on night time sleeps if a reaction were to occur. Nothing like a restless bub at night to throw a spanner in the works!

There are many parents that will introduce multiple foods at the same time and this can just lead to confusion around if there food based reactions. It is also best to follow basic food combining principles in this situation, as this will support overall digestive function.

Sometimes this processed is rushed due to the parents – by choice or necessity needing to re-enter the workforce. This means that the whole process can be sped up much more than it needs to be. Consider the amount of time that we will be consuming food over our lifetime, does delaying this a few weeks to months make that much of a difference?

Our own story:

What we have done with our young man is not necessarily the ‘right’ thing to do but it is just one possible option. I do recognise that all children are different, Justin was exclusively breast fed to just after 6 months, and then we started some food introduction, more so as a texture and taste to start, not as a primary source of nutrition, which in our case is breastmilk.

In the first 6 weeks of food introduction:

The first handful of foods that we introduced were pumpkin (which just quietly he loves!), carrot and sweet potato. Justin is now 7 ½ months and we have followed the above food introduction method and some of the other foods that we have introduced. All of the foods that we have done have been as a puree:

Beetroot, broccoli, parsnip, egg (yolk and white separately), cod liver oil, green beans, snow peas, corn, brussel sprouts, spinach, celeriac and avocado.

Other areas to ponder on.

I have been thinking more deeply about the food plate model (previously the food pyramid) in the past few weeks. However this is the model has now been the predominant food education model through the population over the last 3 generations and we are finally starting to see some of the flow on effects on the Western world in particular.

We have the highest rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer in history. All of which can be significantly improved with basic changes of food choices. Correlations between the predominant food education model and then health effects are becoming more apparent.

Now more than ever it is a time that you can take you own health and the health of your family into your hands. Seek advise from that that have the capacity to listen to what your needs are and adjust accordingly.

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