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New review on optimal first foods for babies reveals gap between research and reality

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MISSION VIEJO, Calif. – July 20, 2016 – While there were close to 8 million babies born over the past two years in America, many parents are uncertain and seeking guidance on the optimal first foods to serve this population. In fact, according to a recently published review paper, which includes more than 100 studies comprised of emerging and conclusive research, common foods that caregivers often reach for first tend to be too sweet to choose as a complementary or transitional food for infants and toddlers. The paper "The Role of Avocados in Complementary and Transitional Feeding," was published in Nutrients journal and funded by the Hass Avocado Board (HAB).

The paper's authors, Kevin B. Comerford, PhD, RD, University of California at Davis, Keith T. Ayoob, EdD, RD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Robert D. Murray, MD, The Ohio State University, and Stephanie A. Atkinson, PhD, McMaster University, suggest that there are certain characteristics that should be applied when choosing a first baby food to ensure optimal health and acceptance for nutrient-rich dietary options, these include:

  • Nutrient Density: Infants need to consume moderately energy-dense foods that are low in sugar and rich in multiple nutrients that are key for proper infant health and development.
  • Texture/Consistency: A variety of soft and smooth textures are optimal, such as creamy, lumpy, pureed or mashed to help develop the ability to chew and swallow.
  • Neutral Flavor Profile: Ideal first foods should have a low to moderate sweet and salty flavor profile to avoid early preferences for sweet foods.

"Registered dietitians and pediatricians play an important role in educating caregivers about choosing the best first foods for babies," says Dr. Robert Murray, fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "It's important that infants experience a wide variety of tastes, textures, colors and combinations. Parents looking to identify appropriate first foods for their babies will find all of these key attributes in the avocado — a smooth, nutrient-dense and flavor-neutral first food that can be enjoyed across the lifespan."

Although the timeframes for complementary and transitional feeding are not officially defined, for this review, the authors agreed that the complementary feeding period starts when babies begin to eat foods other than breast milk or formula and continues throughout the infant's first year of life (approximately six to 12 months), while the transitional feeding period covers a toddler's dietary pattern during their second year of life (13-24 months).

As the study suggests, avocados are unique among complementary and transitional foods in that they provide an ideal source of calories (mainly from "good" unsaturated fats) to meet the increasing energy and growth demands of weaning infants and toddlers, and help significantly enhance the absorption of lipid-soluble vitamins from foods eaten with them. Additionally, avocados contain less than 1 gram of sugar per serving (0.09g) — the least amount of any other fresh fruit — and are higher in key developmental nutrients per one once serving, such as folate, vitamin E, and lutein, compared to a serving of the most popular complementary and transitional fruits served in many households. They also have the recommended physical characteristics that are ideal for babies to enjoy including a neutral flavor, smooth consistency and creamy texture.

Does the science match reality? A recent survey of 338 caregivers responsible for children aged four months to two years shows that education is needed when it comes to introductory feeding practices. Findings from the survey, funded by HAB, reveal that more than half (59%) of all caregivers list the presence of healthy fats, and two-thirds (63%) of all caregivers list "low sugar" as important characteristics in a first food. Yet, these opinions are not necessarily being realized in babies' diets as survey findings show that only 34% of caregivers have ever tried serving avocados to an infant in their care.

"It's important to understand the existing gaps between caregiver knowledge and scientific findings on the optimal nutrient and physical characteristics of transitional and complementary foods," says Nikki Ford, PhD, Director of Nutrition at the Hass Avocado Board. "Caregiver education that specifically identifies types of foods to choose first for babies–like fresh avocados — is vital to ensure children have the earliest and best chances to achieve normal growth and development."

HAB is committed to helping health professionals and caregivers better understand and communicate optimal foods and diets for infants and toddlers; for example, by inspiring new and delicious ways to pair avocados with other nutritious fruits and vegetables, like this two-ingredient Sweet Potato and Avocado Mash Up.

To learn more about the goodness of avocados for tiny tummies, check out this new infographic that can serve as a helpful tool for health professionals, caregivers and new moms. Additionally, LoveOneToday.com/avocados-babies houses plenty of other infant/toddler educational resources, tips and mix-and-mashable recipes.

To view the published white paper, click here.

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About the Hass Avocado Board

The Hass Avocado Board (HAB) is an agriculture promotion group established in 2002 to promote the consumption of Hass Avocados in the United States. A 12-member board representing domestic producers and importers of Hass Avocados directs HAB's promotion, research and information programs under supervision of the United States Department of Agriculture. Funding for HAB comes from Hass avocado producers and importers in the United States.

In 2010, HAB established a nutrition research program to increase awareness and improve understanding of the unique benefits of avocados to human health.

For a comprehensive collection of published nutrition and scientific literature, authoritative reports and other articles on or related to avocados, their nutrients and eating patterns that include them, visit avocadonutritioncenter.com.

For tips and recipes, visit LoveOneToday.com or follow HAB on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube.

About the Review Paper

Title: The Role of Avocados in Complementary and Transitional Feeding

Authors: Kevin B. Comerford 1, Keith T. Ayoob2, Robert D. Murray3, Stephanie A. Atkinson4

    1. Department of Nutrition, University of California at Davis, Davis, CA 95616, USA; E-Mail: [email protected]

    2. Department of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY 10461, USA; E-Mail: [email protected]

    3. Department of Human Sciences, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA; E-Mail: [email protected]

    4. Department of Pediatrics, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON L8S 4L8, Canada; E-Mail: [email protected]

Journal: Nutrients. 2016; 8(5), 313; doi: 10.3390/nu8050313

Abstract: Infant dietary patterns tend to be insufficient sources of fruits, vegetables, and fiber, as well as excessive in salt, added sugars, and overall energy. Despite the serious long-term health risks associated with suboptimal fruit and vegetable intake, a large percentage of infants and toddlers in the U.S. do not consume any fruits or vegetables on a daily basis. Since not all fruits and vegetables are nutritionally similar, guidance on the optimal selection of fruits and vegetables should emphasize those with the greatest potential for nutrition and health benefits. A challenge is that the most popularly consumed fruits for this age group (i.e., apples, pears, bananas, grapes, strawberries) do not closely fit the current general recommendations since they tend to be overly sweet and/or high in sugar. Unsaturated oil-containing fruits such as avocados are nutritionally unique among fruits in that they are lower in sugar and higher in fiber and monounsaturated fatty acids than most other fruits, and they also have the proper consistency and texture for first foods with a neutral flavor spectrum. Taken together, avocados show promise for helping to meet the dietary needs of infants and toddlers, and should be considered for inclusion in future dietary recommendations for complementary and transitional feeding.

References:

ihttp://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/births.htm

iiComerford, K.B.; Ayoob, K.T.; Murray, R.D.; Atkinson, S.A. The Role of Avocados in Maternal Diets during the Periconceptional Period, Pregnancy, and Lactation. Nutrients 2016, 8, 313.

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