Myths and Facts About Nitrates and Homemade Baby Food
Homemade Baby Food often gets a bad rap due to nitrates. There are many misconceptions about nitrates, learn the facts here!
Commercial Baby Food is NOT nitrate free!
Commercial baby food companies say that they screen for nitrate levels – screening does not mean that nitrates are removed. Screening is not mandated by law so the baby food companies police themselves. The use of the term “screen” is often misinterpreted to mean “remove”. Nitrates cannot be removed because they occur naturally!
What are the odds that your baby will get Nitrate Poisoning/Blue Baby Syndrome from Homemade Carrots?
It is important to note that the odds of your baby getting “Blue Baby Syndrome” nitrate poisoning from Carrots or other veggies is about 0%. Yes it’s true, the odds of your baby getting nitrate poisoning from homemade baby food are 0% – zero percent.
By the time you introduce solid foods to your baby, his tummy should be developed enough to handle “normal” nitrate exposure.
Here is what the AAP really says about Nitrates and Homemade Baby Food:
The AAP recommends NOT preparing these foods <carrots et al> for a baby who is younger than 3 (three) months old.
- “Because the intake of naturally occurring nitrates from foods such as green beans, carrots, squash, spinach, and beets can be as high as or higher than that from well water, these foods should be avoided before 3 months of age, “
- ” 1. The greatest risk of nitrate poisoning (methemoglobinemia) occurs in infants fed well water contaminated with nitrates. All prenatal and well-infant visits should include questions about the home water supply. If the source is a private well, the water should be tested for nitrate. The nitrate nitrogen concentration of the water should be <10 ppm.
- ” 2. Infants fed commercially prepared infant foods generally are not at risk of nitrate poisoning. However, home-prepared infant foods from vegetables (eg, spinach, beets, green beans, squash, carrots) should be avoided until infants are 3 months or older, although there is no nutritional indication to add complementary foods to the diet of the healthy term infant before 4 to 6 months of age.” American Academy of Pediatrics – Nitrate Statement
- “Because vegetables, including green beans, carrots, squash, spinach and beets, can have nitrate levels as high or higher than that of well water, infants should not eat these foods until after age 3 months.”
AAP Well Water Statement
The Mayo Clinic also states the following regarding home prepared “nitrate veggies”;
“For babies younger than age 4 months, also avoid home-prepared spinach, beets, turnips and collard greens, which may contain high levels of potentially harmful compounds from soil (nitrates). ”
Who is Most at Risk of Nitrate Poisoning?
So who is most at risk for nitrate poisoning? People who have private wells have the highest risk for nitrate exposure. Babies under the age of 6 months old are most at risk and babies under the age of 3 months old even more so.
Babies who are over the age of 6 months old have developed the stomach acids necessary to fight the bacteria that helps nitrate conversion and subsequent nitrate poisoning. Infants who are formula fed and live on farms or in highly agricultural areas may also be at greater risk. Nitrates used in farming, and the excess not taken in by the crop itself, easily run-off and may seep into water tables, contaminating water supplies.
As mentioned earlier, nitrate poisoning is very rare and when it does occur, it is typically traced back to ground water contamination – specifically from contaminated private wells.2 If you have any doubts or fears, please speak to your pediatrician.
What Vegetables Contain Nitrates?
The highest concentration of nitrates occurs in water, root vegetables and leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and other greens.
The concentration and amount of occurring nitrates will vary depending on the type of vegetable, the temperature that it is grown at, the sunlight exposure, soil moisture levels and the level of natural nitrogen in the soil.
Foods that tend to accumulate the highest amount of nitrate include:
spinach, beets, cabbage, broccoli, carrots
Root vegetables such as carrots, beets and broccoli all contain nitrates though at a much lower level than do the leafys. Leafy vegetables include spinach, cabbage or other greens like kale.
For spinach, its nitrate levels may actually increase with improper storage,so I’m more cautious with offering it before 8-10 months of age
Nitrates and Commercial Baby Foods – Is Commercial Baby Food Nitrate Free?
Jarred commercial baby food carrots (and other jarred commercial baby food vegetables) have nitrates too. Nitrates are naturally occurring and cannot be removed! Even jarred organic carrot baby foods have nitrates.
Commercial baby food companies will tell you that they SCREEN for nitrate levels, not that they remove nitrates. They also note that they do this voluntarily – because there is no law that requires them to do screening. Commercial baby food companies may buy veggies that are grown in a part of the country where the nitrate contamination of soil is lower, where the sun shines more or where Farmer’s do not use high levels of nitrogen containing fertilizers.
Do Commercial Baby Foods Have Lower Nitrate Levels?
Due to screening, commercial baby foods may contain a lower level of nitrates than homemade as parents do not have the ability to screen veggies for nitrates. Again, nitrates are naturally occurring in the vegetable itself and even the folks at Gerber/Beechnut/Heinz et al. cannot remove nitrates.
What are Nitrates and What is Blue Baby Syndrome?
When we first hear of nitrates and carrots, “Blue Baby Syndrome” and homemade baby food, it is often with a bit of fear and trepidation that we proceed to make baby’s food. We wish to do the best for our babies and we certainly do not want to poison them. Let’s take a moment to look at the facts about nitrates, infants and making baby food.
Nitrates are naturally occurring nitrogen/oxygen salt compounds found in almost every vegetable that we eat and the soils they are grown in. Nitrates are also laboratory formulated and used in fertilizers. Nitrates are ingested either from vegetables or from drinking water. Nitrates/nitrites have been found to be responsible for “Blue Baby Syndrome.” Adults are not affected by nitrates or nitrites because their stomachs produce acids that fight the bacteria that help convert nitrates into nitrites. This conversion, and the resulting nitrite, is what allows for nitrate poisoning or “Blue Baby Syndrome.”
The name “Blue Baby Syndrome” stems from the fact that nitrites hinder proper oxygen transportation in the red blood cells. “Once in the blood, nitrite oxidizes iron in the hemoglobin of red blood cells to form methemoglobin, which lacks hemoglobin’s oxygen-carrying ability.”1 Without proper oxygen saturation in the blood, the body’s cells become oxygen deprived and the skin takes on a blue or purple hue. This oxygen deprivation may lead to the slow asphyxiation of the person poisoned.
Nitrate poisoning is very very rare and when it does occur, it is typically traced back to ground water contamination – specifically from contaminated private wells.2
What are the Symptoms of Blue Baby Syndrome?
“The most obvious symptom of nitrate poisoning is a bluish color of the skin, particularly around the eyes and mouth. This is called cyanosis. A baby with these symptoms should be taken to an emergency medical facility immediately. The doctor will take a blood sample to be sure the baby is suffering from nitrate poisoning. The blood sample of an affected baby is a chocolate brown instead of a healthy red. Nitrate poisoning can be treated, and in most cases the baby makes a full recovery.
What are the odds that my baby will get Blue Baby Syndrome?
It is important to note that the odds of your baby getting “Blue Baby Syndrome” nitrate poisoning from Carrots or other veggies is about 0%. By the time you introduce solid foods to your baby, his tummy should be developed enough to handle “normal” nitrate exposure.
“Around the age of three months, an increase in the amount of hydrochloric acid in a baby’s stomach kills most of the bacteria that convert nitrate to nitrite. By the time a baby is six months old, its digestive system is fully developed, and none of the nitrate-converting bacteria remain. In older children and adults, nitrate is absorbed and excreted, and Methemoglobinemia is no longer a concern.”
Yes, while nitrates are an important health concern, they are highly unlikely to poison your baby from the carrots that you make. Many pediatricians will tell you to not make homemade carrots while many other pediatricians will shrug off Nitrates and tell you there is no issue and no risk.
Does using Organic Vegetables eliminate or decrease nitrates?
If you prefer to make your own homemade baby foods vegetables that may contain nitrates, an alternative is to choose organic produce. Organic foods are grown without the use of commercial nitrate fertilizers and thus the risk of nitrate contamination/concentration is minimized, but not eliminated.
Freezing “nitrate veggies” does NOT increase nitrates
Studies done on spinach and nitrates in particular have shown that with improper storage and preparation, the nitrate levels may actually increase. Proper preparation and immediate use or storing via freezer method will help eliminate this risk (the increase in nitrate level) in leafy vegetables.
Will Boiling Vegetables Eliminate Nitrates?
Boiling vegetables in water will not eliminate nitrate concentration.
Nitrates may in fact seep into the water used for cooking. It is best to not use that water as the liquid to make your puree. Always use fresh water when pureeing vegetables that may contain nitrates and discard the cooking water.
Remember, always consult with your pediatrician regarding introducing solid foods to your baby and specifically discuss any foods that may pose allergy risks for your baby.