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Meat and tofu for infants: Canadian dietary guidelines radically revised

Jordana Divon
Shine On
September 26, 2012

Breast is best for an infant until the six-month mark. After that, try… meat and tofu?

This is not the sort of recommendation you would expect from our Health Canada. Why? Because for decades we have been told it is best to introduce your infant to solid foods slowly, starting out with infant cereals and then moving on to fruits and vegetables.

But according to new guidelines from the Infant Feeding Joint Working Group — a collaborative effort between Health Canada, the Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada and the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada — times, they are a-changin'.

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Now, rich sources of heme iron like meat, fish, and poultry join their whole-grain counterparts for a hearty government-approved thumbs-up.

If meat isn't your family's thing, eggs, tofu, and legumes top the chart as the best meat alternatives for your rapidly growing baby.

"While meat and fish are traditional first foods for some Aboriginal groups, the common practice in North America has been to introduce infant cereal, vegetables, and fruit as first complementary foods," reads the new statement on Health Canada's website.

So what's the reason behind the guideline changes? It boils down to iron and how babies can get more of it.

As the Canadian Press notes, iron-rich foods have topped Canada's recommended first foods list since 1998, but aside from "iron-fortified cereals" the list stopped short of naming any other items.

But now nearly 15 years later, a slightly more detailed list has emerged, one that has been compiled from a selection of 14 different studies, both national and international, all conducted within the last 11 years.

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Iron stores start to diminish in infants after the six-month mark, and breast milk alone is not enough to keep them level. Back in 1998, it was thought that up to 30 per cent of Canadian infants suffered from low iron stores.

To combat that risk parents should be feeding their infants these iron-rich foods two or more times a day, writes the group.

While breastfeeding should still provide the main source of nutrition as these new foods get slowly introduced, take cues from the baby to determine how often and when to hand them their first tofu cake.

Parents, how do you ensure your infants get proper nutrition? Tell us in the comments.

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