For the First Time Ever, Experts Offer Nutrition Advice for Babies

For one thing, research suggests parents may be able to reduce their child's risk of certain food allergies through diet.

July 21, 2020
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Photo by: Emma Kim/Getty Images

Emma Kim/Getty Images

When it comes to parenting, we all want to do what's best for our children from the very start. If you were ever wondering about what you can do nutritionally to keep your child as healthy as possible, some new expert recommendations might come in handy.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are revised every five years, and 2020 marks a new revision. Prior to the release, an extensive scientific review committee is charged with evaluating research on topics new and old and making recommendations for what the guidelines will include. That review committee has just published their findings and for the first time in the history of the guidelines they have set forth recommendations for infants and children 24 months and younger.

In the section Diet and Health Relationships: Birth to Age 24 Months, experts set out to help parents and other caregivers establish healthy habits and relationships with food for the critical first 24 months of life. This portion of the report is divided into four main chapters, each highlighting specialized aspects feeding children and helping them meet their nutrient needs. Here are four major takeaways from these new guidelines.

Breastfeeding and Formula Feeding

This chapter involves exploration of breastfeeding benefits and its impact on long term health. Overall, it was determined that ever having been breastfed can benefit infants, but ideally children should receive breastmilk for the first six months of life, as the duration of breastfeeding can influence the reduced risk several chronic diseases.

Early Introduction of Certain Foods and Allergies

This section sets out to set standards for complimentary food and beverages (CFB) that accompany infant formula or breastmilk to ensure infants and children meet their nutrient needs. Some of the most remarkable mentions in this section include the early introduction of eggs and peanuts at four to six months of age. These foods not only offer important nutrients to this age group, but also potentially help prevent allergies.

Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RDN, LD, registered dietitian nutritionist in Marietta, GA and consultant to National Peanut Board says, “We know that introducing peanut foods as early as four to six months can reduce the risk of developing a peanut allergy by more than 80% in those at high risk." Even those at low risk can benefit from the protective effect of early introduction. “Reducing the risk of potentially life-long food allergies is a huge win from such a simple intervention. It is essential to normalize the feeding of potentially allergenic foods, including peanut foods, to infants since we know that it’s a safe and effective way to reduce the risk of food allergies”

Supplement Guidelines for Kids

Iron and vitamin D are nutrients both kids and adults need to pay attention to and at times supplementation may be warranted. Supplements may need to be given to children who need them, but should be recommended by a physician or RD after proper assessment. Unnecessary supplementation should be avoided.

Important Nutrients for Infants and Toddlers

A robust section delineates proper serving sizes and macronutrient distributions for ages 12 to 24 months. Nutrients highlighted include calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, vitamins E and D, choline and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Foods like dairy, tofu, meats, seafood, eggs, fruits and veggies are encouraged.

Next Steps for Parents

Until the guidelines are finalized, we won’t know the focus of the recommendations, but it’s safe to say these age groups are getting more attention than ever. Early introduction of eggs and peanuts as well as a varied diet from CFB are great starting points for these new dietary recommendations.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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