December 21 2015

Dear Mark: Meat and Yogurt for Babies

By Mark Sisson
35 Comments

Funny toddler girl eating tasty grilled meat outdoorsFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering one question. It comes from Kristen, a new mother to a nine month-old who’s grown so passionate about baby nutrition that she’s decided to start a fresh food business for infants and toddlers. She’s a recent reader of the blog, though, and as such needs a little help understanding the role animal foods like meat and yogurt can play in infant feeding. For many years, the importance of meat in an infant’s diet was downplayed, denied, or ignored in pediatric nutritional guidelines. We now know that’s wrong and kids can really benefit when their first solids include animal products. Today, I explore exactly why it matters so much.

Let’s go:

Hi!

I am a mother to a nine month old, and have been developing a passion for baby nutrition. I am in the beginning phases of starting a fresh, organic baby food company that is made to order and locally sourced. My husband recently turned me on to your blog and the primal lifestyle. I am learning a lot, and I find all of your articles to be extremely fascinating.

My goal is to make the best possible food for babies and toddlers, with the same ease and convenience of store bought food.

I was wondering if I could get Mark’s guidance and opinion on meat and whole yogurt in a baby’s diet. Are there resources that you trust when developing a meal plan for babies and toddlers?

Thank you for your time.

Kristen

Excellent question (and excellent business idea, if you can do it right). Meat is very important for babies entering the weaning phase. Most parents seem to focus on cramming their kids full of rice puffs and various gruels. Even well-meaning “real food” parents tend to ignore the importance of meat to focus on sweet potatoes, avocados, kale, and the like. Those are good foods. Those are important foods. They just can’t replace meat. The studies are pretty clear on this.

In a recent study in rural Chinese infants, subjects were given one of two complementary foods starting at 6 months of age: cereal or meat. Those who ate meat as a complementary food experienced better linear growth than the cereal group.

Last year, a study found that a high protein intake from meat as a complementary food increased growth but not adiposity in breastfed infants living in Denver. And complementary feeding of red meat in particular can improve markers of blood hemoglobin and hematocrit in infants.

Another study found that kids who ate meat as a first food obtained more than twice as much zinc as kids who ate cereal. Zinc is crucial for brain growth and, indeed, zinc intake tracked quite closely with head growth. Even when grains appear to be high in zinc, the zinc from animal foods is more easily absorbed. As one team of Italian researchers put it, “Zinc requirements for older breastfed-only infants are unlikely to be met without the regular consumption of either meats or zinc-fortified foods.” Since zinc-fortified foods are a recent creation, meat was the likeliest—and only—choice for most of human history.

A 2003 review by a (vegetarian-friendly) anthropologist examining the critical role meat-eating served in human evolution makes a powerful case for including meat in infants’ diets. Animal foods provided the relevant micronutrient- and calorie-density required for optimal growth and survival. They’re easy to digest. There’s very little “wasted” matter in a piece of meat or a slice of liver or a hunk of animal fat. It’s all consumed, digested, and metabolized into useable energy. Wild plant foods, while nutrient-dense and important, contain too much fiber and too few calories to be the primary food source for a growing human child.

We all accept that meat is extremely beneficial to large humans. Why not tiny ones? Meat, and animal foods in general like egg yolks, contain crucial nutrients for human growth, health, and happiness like iron, zinc, protein, fats, and vitamin A. Get them to eat liver every once in awhile and you’re giving that kid the best multivitamin around.

Yogurt is another good food. Earlier this year, a randomized controlled trial found that giving kids aged 12-48 months yogurt with inulin (a prebiotic fiber) reduced instances of fever and improved both social and school functioning. However, the synbiotic (yogurt and prebiotic) group also had more days with watery stool. When it’s introduced in the first year of life, yogurt seems to protect against the development of atopic dermatitis later in life. Yogurt is a safe and effective treatment for acute diarrhea in children aged 6-24 months.

Yogurt isn’t as crucial as meat. Most research has focused on yogurt as a therapeutic rather than complementary food in young children, but this indicates that yogurt is certainly safe for babies. From my reading of the literature, it’s probably good for them too.

Even though you didn’t mention it, fish has a place in an infant’s diet. It’s best to focus on smaller oily fish, which are lower on the food chain and therefore accumulate fewer heavy metals, are less expensive than larger fish, and provide a nice variety of important nutrients like calcium (if bone in), iron, zinc, iodine, and omega-3s. And if you can get a kid to dig bone-in sardines, you can probably get him to eat anything.

Introducing fish around the nine month mark (so get on it if you haven’t already!) may protect against eczema and other allergic diseases. According to another study, the window of opportunity for protection from asthma lies between the sixth and twelfth months.

The best resource for determining the best meal plan for a baby or toddler is the baby or toddler himself. Baby-led weaning is a big thing—and the best way to “train” kids to eat real food. You can leverage this for your business. Get a wide variety of kids together and feed them a variety of foods. If your peers have kids around the same age, bring them around and feed them. See what the kids prefer. Try your best to make a winning liver dish. Do that and you’ll have gold on your hands. Do this every week or every other week and take good notes; this is the best focus group around. They won’t lie. They won’t hold back. They won’t tell you what they think you want to hear. They are the perfect expression of id—pure instinct.

Beyond that, checking the scientific literature is important. That’s precisely what I did (and regularly do) for this answer. Despite the considerable evidence for including it in a baby’s complementary diet, few “official” and popular sources of infant nutrition information emphasize meat. You’ll have to look for it (it’s there).

Good luck with the business. Let me know how it goes!

Thanks for reading, everyone. If you’ve got any input on baby food, baby meat (that didn’t come out right), or giving babies yogurt or other complementary foods, leave it down below. Take care!

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35 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Meat and Yogurt for Babies”

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  1. I’m infinitely curious about this too! There are so many things I wish I had done differently in terms of eating and taking care of myself while I was pregnant and when my son was an infant.

  2. Great post! I didn’t go heavy on the cereal when my kids were babies,but I didn’t really push the meat either. I got both my kids eating salmon before the age of one. It’s a mild taste and was easy for them to eat. I just wish everyone would stop pushing rice cereal and Cheerios!

    1. Elizabeth, can you please tell me in which form you gave salmon to your babies and how it was cooked? I started giving salmon eggs when my son was around 7,5 months old and he seemed to enjoy them, but I never gave salmon in any other form except steemed first, then puréed with steemed zucchini or another vegetable… And that was closer to his 1st birthday (that is to say not before he was 10/11 months).

      1. I am not Elizabeth, but I started giving pan-fried wild salmon steaks (that we’d cook and eat ourselves) to our baby first blended with veggies and some broth at 6 months, then in small bite-sized chunks as soon as she was able to chew them. I just made sure the chunks were free of bones. She loved it!

  3. 53 years ago, when pablum , plus mashed bananas, was the staple food for infants, my firstborn was gumming her way through cooked ground liver, thanks to Jack Lalanne. None of my kids ever ate a lot of cereals as kids until they grew old enough to demand whatever was being pushed on tv. All were breastfed for varying lengths of time, and none ever became vegetarian when it became a fad. Maybe that’s why my meat bills were so high as they grew up?????

  4. My son is 2 and started eating salmon at about 8 months. It’s probably his favorite food. We eat it once a week or so. He’s also obsessed with carne asada. I think we didn’t eat that until he was over a year though. Cooking meat in the slow cooker is great for babies — try a brisket! He liked chopped liver as a baby (maybe 9 or 10 months) but has lost the taste for it now. We didn’t do baby led weaning – he definitely had his share of sweet potato and carrot purées, but I slowly started introducing finger foods at 7-8 months. Some were more successful than others. At 8-9 months he seemed to really get the hang of it. He is not primal (neither is my husband) but I think we do a decent job or introducing him to a wide variety of foods.

  5. Interesting stuff! I like that I’m seeing more omega-3 infused baby foods out there. And in general, I’d much rather have my child (and see other people’s children) chowing down on some small oily fish something or other rather than a bag full of honey nut cheerios!

  6. Good post. It seems pretty intuitive–there’s more nutritional AND caloric bang for your buck when it comes to certain meats. Also, the studies about the reduced risk of eczema and asthma after introducing fish is fascinating.

  7. I just have to say that the connection between probiotics and a wide variety of immune and, especially, behavioral functioning is really amazing stuff. Change your baby’s gut microbiome, change their social skills? That’s just neat. Yogurt (or other safe fermented foods) for babies everywhere. 🙂

  8. Babies have been given bland beige homogenous foods with heavy cereal and starch content for the last 40 – 50 years.

    Good intelligent decent people are being crippled and DYING because they can’t stop over-eating bland beige homogenous foods with heavy cereal and starch content for the last 20 – 30 years.

    Before that? Mums chewed a bit of what they ate, and gave it to the baby, probably transferring oral microbiome and stuff.

    Rusks and milk – a mouthfeel of crunchy, to creamy – tell me this isn’t what’s killing people every single day?

  9. Our dog was very sick and had to be hand fed. They told me to buy pureed chicken baby food. It was hard to find. Most baby food in the stores now is fruit or fruit mixed with some veggie. So we are teaching babies that everything that goes in their mouths has to be sweet. A very bad trend!

    I was careful to give my kids vegetables first (pureed carrots) and then meat. Since they both preferred self feeding, we never got into the cereal mush thing–I fed them very soft cubes of vegetable and hard boiled egg they could pick up themselves and tried to spoon in the pureed meat. Iwasn’t paleo then but I’m glad now! They both eat a good variety of foods, meat and vegetables and turn up their noses at something served too sweet during the main meal.

    I found a little booklet from when I was a baby in 1959. The doctor wrote a prescribed diet for me (including exactly what time of day to feed me) beginning at 4 weeks of age (!). The first food was lightly cooked egg yolk.

    1. Well, breastmilk is sweet. Babies are naturally going to love sweet even if you start with vegetables.

      1. Yes! I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve read somewhere that breastmilk is sweeter than bananas.

        1. When my dog was sick I read the same advice, but instead I chewed chicken for him and gave it him with the work already done, he recovered and it was cheaper than baby food. And dogs don’t think things like that are gross! 🙂

        2. All milk has lactose, a sugar made of glucose and galactose, in it. It is the sugar that feeds bacteria to make yogurt and kefir.

          Bananas have sucrose, the sugar made of sucrose and fructose, and stand alone fructose in it.

          All sugars provide quick, easy to digest energy. Whether evolution put them in milk to make it more appealing to the infant, who knows?

        3. To OnTheBayou, I think breastmilk has sugars because the main danger to human babies for most of our species’ life span has been starvation, or failure to thrive caused by missing feeds and becoming too sluggish to request food, and therefore dying.

          And a combination of sugars and fats seems to be the best way to gain body fat, more than either one on its own.

        4. PS to that last, I read (I think it was on the Hyperlipid blog) that babies spend the last trimester at least in a state of ketosis, which famously dulls appetite – not so good for a baby.

          So getting some sugars in there, and getting the hunger > sugar > hunger cycle set up is probably another life-saving evolutionary tactic.

  10. Liver is easy; just make a good pate. My two year old scarfs down chicken liver pate as though it were pure butter.

    1. I use this one by tupperware :
      http://www.tupperware.fr/produits/8/D26TurboTup
      but i don’t know if it’s available in the U.S.

      It’s a bit expensive, but it works really well. You can take it anywhere, and once the knives taken out, use it as a bowl for your child.
      I also use it to chop herbs, onions or garlic when I cook.

      1. Ophelie, thanks for the tip! I wish I knew about this Tupperware device when my now 2 year old was younger and I was just starting him on “adult food”… We also travelled a lot at the time and such a device would have been of great use for me. I used / am using Béaba by babycook (steamer+blender in one). Love it, but it’s not portable and is not useful for little quantities of food that just need to be quickly blended.

  11. I forget where, but I once saw a picture of a quite gleeful little girl with a “teething steak” clutched in her little fist with a corner of it happily being gnawed at.

    When I was growing up my parents occasionally gave me a cookie (singular), nowadays I see kids, even inside the grocery store, clutching and munching at bags of cookies with a “3 pound family bag!” already half gone. And occasionally observed mom stuffing the well mangled bag into some hiding place before going to check out.

  12. A naturopath and DO I spoke with told me no meat for almost the first two years as a baby’s pancreas is not fully developed until then and the digestive enzymes needed to metabolize the meat are not present until 2-3 years old. I tried to research pancreatic enzyme physiology and development and couldn’t find anything to support or deny this claim. Ever heard anything like this before?

    1. History and a little common sense should reveal the error in what your naturopath told you. Pre-masticated, blenderized, or minced meat has been fed to children under the age of two or three for thousands of years. Back in the 50’s and 60’s, and probably still today, milliions of American babies have eaten pulverized lamb, chicken, and beef from a Gerber’s jar, with no adverse effect. It isn’t meat that’s the problem; it’s the junk food that children are being given at an ever-earlier age.

  13. @ Kristen: I’m going to be a party pooper. Nothing to do with runny stools. Reality.

    Making foods for sale is not an easy endeavor. Worse, it sounds like you aren’t even knowledgeable about the nutritional nuts and bolts (a good source of iron? lol,) you “just” have a passion. Not a good business plan.

    You will need a city or county licensed kitchen, meet state standards for food production, refrigeration, storage, sanitation. You will need liability insurance – you are messing with some serious possible blow back – packaging, marketing, distribution, etc., etc.

    I know very experienced business people who failed with a great food product, a salsa, after investing many tens of thousands of dollars. And they had everything that I mentioned here going for them, repeat the experience.

    I’m not sure what “custom” would mean in a baby food. What the mother thinks her baby needs? Versus what we pretty much know what baby needs? Would you prepare a vegan baby food because Mom wants it? The disasters of vegan baby foods and breastfeeding are all over the internet.

    There are many people who have developed good businesses from passion. Certainly Mark is one of them. But he spent decades getting to the point where he started marketing supplements, then later, Primal products and books.

    Did you know that “passion” comes from the Latin Passios? Which means “pain?” The Passion of Christ. We love something with such passion it hurts, right? There may be an etymological warning in there!

    I do wish you best of luck and success if you decide to pursue your passion. I just think you should do so informed.

  14. My 8 month old loves sardines. It is something he can clutch onto and chew on easily enough. I would encourage anyone feeding their baby whole sardines to first invest in a big smock… It can get messy!

    We also do salmon in largish chunks, avocado, egg yolk, various veggies, strips of med rare steak (frozen first for a few weeks to kill off the nasties), some fruit, and sweet potatoes. He had to try the avocado and egg yolk a few times before warming up to it. And come to think of it, the salmon needed to be introduced a few times too.

    We had to travel unexpectedly and bought organic, prepackaged baby mushes. Kiddo ended up boycotting solid foods for a week. I don’t think we realized it had a name when we started (baby led weaning) but I super highly recommend it to anyone. Just get zen about the mess.

  15. My firstborn son is 16 months old, and we’ve been doing baby-led weaning the whole time. I like it because it’s almost “lazy” feeding – we just give him some of whatever we’re eating. We’ve never pureed his food, he’s never had rusks or cereal, and he absolutely loves every food there is. We have animal products every meal – scrambled eggs for breakfast, some kind of meat/veg combo for other meals – so he’s definitely a Primal baby.
    Also, he’s never had so much as a cold. He only grizzles when a tooth is coming through, and he’s waaaay advanced on every milestone.
    And most people say we’re just lucky or have good genes. It’s our lifestyle!

    Oh yeah, it’s messy. Especially when he feeds himself yoghurt.

  16. We have a 2-year old, and introducing solids to her was never daunting. We make everything we eat for the most part – and that’s what she ate. Scrambled eggs for breakfast? Sure. Whole-fat Greek yogurt (Fage) – loved it (still does). Mash some fresh fruit and mix it in for variety (whatever is in season). Puréed meat (or chicken, or fish) and veggies, thinned with homemade bone broth or chicken broth and frozen in an ice cube trays made for everyday lunch that our nanny would thaw and give to her. Or throw whatever you’re eating yourself in a blender (we pretty much eat Paleo 95% of the time), and you’ve got instant baby food. We never bought any baby food for her, except baby oatmeal. Our pediatrician specifically asked if she was eating meat and whole-fat yogurt, so it was important.

  17. Here is a photo of my 9 month old daughter having pulled beef (pasture raised). We started BLW when she was 5 months. Mostly egg yolk, avocado and fish. And wild berries from our garden. Today the little lady is soon to be 3 yrs old. She is smart and social. I still breastfeed now and then.

    1. Oh, the photo disappeared. Another try:
      forum.kostdoktorn.se/uploads/monthly_10_2013/post-813-0-64029800-1380613365.jpeg

  18. I just want to mention a fish snack kids enjoy: dried anchovies! You can find them online or in Asian markets. They’re just dried whole little fish so they’re nutrient packed and easy to eat and babies really enjoy them.

  19. what an interestning theme!!! I don’t have any kids of my own so I indulge on my best friend’s baby! she really likes to hear of my investigations in nutrition and human phisiology and the likes and so was all for trying some of my ideas like “barefoot” shoes after she started walking (traditionally you only find rock hard shoes for kids, so I have to order everythin online), or allowing the baby to rollover on dirt and dogs and watever without the slightest concern (appart from deworming). No big worries on lots of clothes, etc.
    Well, all’s been going fine. She gets a fever when a new tooth comes out, but nothin serious, and sometimes she gets viruses from the kids at school, but gets well fast enough.
    But one thing I’m not so easy about is discussing food… All baby food is cereal based! it’s scary actually. I didn’t eat much of it as mom cooked most of what we ate, but these days people buy mostly ready made stuff, so I wonder what the effects migh be? how much of today’s problems like hyperactivity and other weird stuff may be blamed on food?
    So what SHOULD the kid eat? what could I safely tip her on? We generally agree on most stuff but she gets a lot of naysaying by her mom and mother-in-law, so we always have to be fairly broad backed before facing the opposition, LOL! her husband just stays out of the fuss, so he’s no help, LOL!

  20. I used Chris Kresser’s healthy baby code for my kids, I recommend it to anyone who will listen. Check it out chriskresser.com

  21. I used Sally Fallon’s (of the Weston Price world) book on healthy eating for babies. I highly recommend her approach to feeding. My son’s first foods were egg yolk, avocado and (duck liver) pate. At 2.5 now, he has more hair than a four year old, he’s consistently been in the 90th to ‘off the charts’ percentiles and doesn’t need in-between meal snacks. He also eats the veggie tray at birthday parties (he does not like cake), though he does love french fries and ‘crackers’ (all encompassing name for crunchy grain products including crackers, chips, etc.) – both of which are his ‘treats’.