The philosophy is universal: Babies under age 2 can eat what they want, when they want. Parents shouldn't deprive them of fat and cholesterol or snacks.
Gerber Products Co. has produced "Dietary Guidelines for Infants," a free booklet based on the format of the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" and information from scientific studies and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Parents can obtain the booklet by calling (800) 443-7237.
The following is a quick synopsis of the guidelines:
BUILD TO A VARIETY OF FOODS--Breast milk, which gets more than 50% of its calories from fat, is considered the ideal food for infants. Most babies are ready to start eating other foods at four months to six months of age, usually beginning with cereal. New foods should be added gradually, one at a time, to allow the baby to get used to the flavor of the food and so you can identify the food that may not agree with the baby.
PAY ATTENTION TO BABY'S APPETITE--Scientific studies have shown that after six weeks of age babies regulate their food intake on the basis of their energy needs. Babies should be fed when they are hungry. Don't force-feed the last few spoons of cereal. And don't try to withhold food to prevent the baby from getting fat.
DON'T OVER-RESTRICT FAT AND CHOLESTEROL--The growth rate during infancy is greater than any other time in life, but babies are limited in the food they can eat because of their small stomach size. Fat is important because it contains concentrated calories that babies need to grow and develop normally. Efforts to reduce fat, such as feeding the child skim milk, can be harmful.
DON'T OVERDO HIGH-FIBER FOODS--High-fiber diets, often recommended for adults, are not recommended for babies because they are low in the calories that babies need for growth. Also, a diet containing too much fiber could interfere with absorption of trace minerals and has the potential to damage the immature digestive system.
SUGAR IS OK, BUT IN MODERATION--Sugar is an important energy source for infants. Even breast milk, the ideal food for babies, contains lactose, a form of sugar. A Food and Drug Administration study found that sugar has not been shown to cause hyperactivity, diabetes, obesity or heart disease. But tooth disease can be a problem. Do not use bottles of juice, breast milk, cow's milk or infant formula as pacifiers. The natural sugars in these liquids can pool around the teeth and gums and cause tooth decay. Artificial sweeteners are not recommended for infants.
SODIUM IS OK, BUT IN MODERATION--Infants are able to tolerate a wide range of sodium without problems. Although there is a correlation between sodium intake and high blood pressure in some adults, sodium in a baby's diet has not been shown to cause high blood pressure in later life. There is no reason to restrict or eliminate food containing sodium.
BABIES NEED MORE IRON, POUND FOR POUND, THAN ADULTS--Babies are born with an iron supply that lasts the first four to six months, but after this time the baby needs iron in the diet such as iron-fortified cereal.