Donald Pszczola

Donald E. Pszczola

Since I am unmarried and do not have children, I found this month’s topic, “Ingredients for baby foods,” especially difficult. Not making matters any easier, the question, “Is this your first?” was asked of me several times as I spoke with different sources of information. Apparently the way I made my inquiries convinced many people out there that I must be in the process of having my first baby. However, with all the pride of a new parent, I usually answered, “No, but it is my first baby foods ingredients section.”

Nutritional needs of babies are different from those of adults—a factor that needs to be taken into consideration in developing baby foods.Even that answer proved problematic. After all, if you’re going to write such an article, what exactly do you need to know about babies? And, even more important, what do food developers need to know before they create new products for this particular group? (In the mid 1990s, there were reportedly 3.7 million infants under the age of two in the United States. And I’m sure that number has gone up over the years.)

One very important consideration is that the nutritional needs of babies are very different from those of adults. For example, fat is essential to the baby’s diet, providing a source of energy, as well as a variety of nutrients. This is why health-conscious adults should not extend low-fat dieting to their newborn.

Furthermore, babies go through a variety of different stages, which determine what kinds of foods they eat and how those foods should be presented to them. Keep in mind also that because babies grow and develop at different rates, some may need more nutrients sooner than other babies than breast milk or formula can provide.

And, of course, babies are not in the position of purchasing, but rather their parents have the responsibility for their healthy development, and this means parents need to make educated decisions about what those individual needs are and what foods should be bought to address those needs.

To help in this area, a wide variety of products are available in today’s marketplace which have been developed to meet those specific nutritional needs of babies as they go through these different stages.

For example, Gerber Products Co., a division of Novartis Consumer Health, Fremont, Mich., has contributed more than 190 baby foods to the marketplace. Single-grain cereals fortified with iron and calcium begin the baby’s transition into solid foods. First foods, made from one pureed ingredient such as fruits or vegetables, are designed to help the child learn to eat from a spoon. Second foods help build variety into a baby’s diet through mixed ingredients. Third foods, introduced when the child begins to feed more independently, include such dishes as spaghetti, fruit salad, and vegetable stew. Graduates® are designed for toddlers with teeth and offer a variety of textures. Other products offered include Tender Harvest™, a line of foods made with organic fruits, vegetables, and grains; juices which are naturally sweet blends of fruits and vegetables; and bakery products such as biscuits and zwieback toast which are designed for the baby’s grasp and which are suitable for children who can chew solid foods in larger pieces without gagging.

Over the past 18 months, several products for babies have been introduced. Here are just a few:

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A natural organic yogurt called yo baby, developed by Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H., reportedly delivers high amounts of calcium with six live active cultures to help enhance digestion as well as boost the immune system. One of these, Lactobacillus reuteri, inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Staphylococcus, and has a therapeutic and prophylactic effect on both viral and bacterial diarrhea, the leading cause of infant hospitalization. The yogurt product, made with whole milk, was introduced in response to the nutritional need that children under two have for whole milk which supplies both calcium and fat.

A baby cereal enriched with the essential nutrients of infant formula was introduced by Mead Johnson Nutritionals, Evansville, Ind. Called Enfamil Enriched Cereal for Baby, the product makes it more convenient for parents who mix their baby’s cereal with infant formula. The cereal is available in four varieties—Rice, Rice and Bananas, Rice with Apples, Bananas and Yogurt, and Mixed Grains.

Also available from Mead Johnson is a new line of nutritional toddler foods called EnfaGrow, which is rich in essential nutrients such as calcium, iron, and zinc. The line includes Nutritional Oatmeal for Toddlers, available in Natural Maple Brown Sugar & Cinnamon Flavor and Strawberry Flavor. The oatmeal is microwavable and comes in single-serve packets which are sized for toddler stomachs. It offers 18 vitamins and minerals, and 60% of the Daily Value of calcium when served with milk.

Milk formulas are being developed which are increasingly similar to breast milk in that they have similar fatty acid profiles, easily digestible types of protein, and added free nucleotides at the level found in breast milk. Furthermore, products are being created to solve specific problems that babies may have. For example, U.S. patent 6,051,235, assigned to the Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp., St. Louis, Mo., describes a ginger-containing baby food preparation which can be used in reducing gastroesophageal reflux in infants.

Gerber recently developed an innovative cooking process that is said to significantly improve the flavor of fruits and vegetables, giving them a fresh-picked taste, as well as improved nutrition and overall quality. (Previous cooking processes presented certain disadvantages, such as contributing to a characteristic cooked flavor, faded color of the baby foods, and a loss of nutrients in the condensate drained from the cookers.) The total thermal treatment the products receive is significantly less than in the previous traditional processes, and the impact on flavor, texture, color, and nutrient retention is said to be dramatic. Consumer testing demonstrated the improvement so that the manufacturer could make preference claims in its marketing materials.

According to Gerber, the essential features of the new, patented process are size reduction of raw or nearly raw produce with simultaneous removal of stems, skin, and seed; high-temperature, short-time cooking of the puree; controlled hold to develop flavor and texture; and final finishing. Fruits are hot filled, while vegetables are retorted for commercial sterilization.

Called NatureLock™, the process was developed by a team of food scientists, nutritionists, and engineers from Gerber, and was formally introduced in early 1999 with special labels on jars of fruits and vegetables. (Products containing ingredients made with the process carry a bright green NatureLock symbol on the label.)

Approximately 40% of Gerber jarred foods and 25% of the full line of single-ingredient fruits and vegetables will be prepared with the technology, including such products as applesauce, pears, squash, carrots, peas, and sweet potatoes. Other products such as bananas, prunes, and meats need to be cooked differently to ensure the best-tasting recipes, and so cannot use the new process. Products are now available in stores across the country.

Research into the infant’s nutritional needs continue to lead to the development of new products, and ingredient suppliers are responding in a variety of ways. Let’s look at some of the ingredients that are playing a major role in the formulating of baby foods:

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• Dairy ingredients. Several whey protein fractions, separated and purified by a prototype process developed by researchers at the Wisconsin Center of Dairy Research (CDR), Madison, Wis., can enhance the nutritional value of infant formulas. 

For example, lactoferrin, when added to infant formulas, provides a formulation similar in protein composition to human milk. (Human milk reportedly has a 20-fold higher concentration of lactoferrin than infant formula.) Furthermore, the iron-binding protein helps babies absorb more iron—a mineral they need for normal growth and development—from their formula. 

Alpha-lactalbumin, a calcium-binding protein which is very similar to human lactalbumin in its structure and its amino acid chain, also can be added to infant formula to make it nutritionally closer to human milk. Ingested alpha-lactalbumin increases the concentration of tryptophan in the body, consequently increasing the brain’s serotonin levels, which may help infants to sleep better. 

In the U.S., one in 10,000 babies is reportedly born with the genetic disorder phenlyketonuria (PKU), characterized by the inability to digest a particular amino acid phenylalanine. Consequently, individuals with PKU must follow a low-protein diet to avoid the particular amino acid. Offering a possible alternative is Glycomacropetide, a whey protein fraction which is missing phenylalanine. 

Purified beta-lactoglobulin has the special ability to bind fat-soluble proteins such as vitamins A, D, E, K, and conjugated linoleic acid. In infant formulas, it may find use as a carrier for vitamin A because of its retinol-binding properties. 

These value-added dairy ingredients, because of their health benefits, offer an exciting potential for infant formula, reportedly an $8 billion global industry, and several large suppliers are reportedly looking at various formulations involving use of fractionated dairy proteins. 

According to CDR researcher, Mark Etzel, “Making infant formula more like mother’s milk is an important consumer issue and the industry is responding to that. Certain proteins in cow’s milk are very much the same as in mother’s milk, just in different concentrations. By pulling out the fractions, manufacturers can blend them together to form a more appropriate composition.” 

Not surprisingly, a number of recent patents are describing the use of such dairy ingredients in baby formula. 

Production of a substantially pure kappa-casein macropeptide (CMP) having nutraceutical properties is disclosed in U.S. patent 6,168,823, filed July 31, 1998, issued January 2, 2001, to M. Etzel, assigned to Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. Of significance to this article, also produced is an unbound whey protein fraction depleted in CMP. Infant formula based on whey protein has a great excess of CMP compared to the level of normal in an infant’s diet. Consequently, a powdered WPC depleted in CMP would be valuable in infant formula. 

Methods for the production of whey protein dispersions using a two-step heating process are described in U.S. patent 6,139,900, filed August 11, 1998, issued October 31, 2000, to E.A. Foegeding et al., assigned to North Carolina State University. The whey protein aggregates produced by the methods may be used to thicken and stabilize food products such as infant and enteral formulas. The aggregates are surface active and may be suitable for use in creating and stabilizing emulsions and foams. 

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Nutritional formula for premature infants is the subject of U.S. patent 6,162,472, filed April 1, 1999, issued December 19, 2000, to M. Griffin et al., assigned to University of Virginia Patent Foundation. The milk-based formula has a reduced lactose content, preferably less than 20%. Premature and low-birth-weight infants fed the formula demonstrated improved feeding tolerance.

• Omega 3 fatty acids. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid, may play an essential role in fetal brain and eye development and in the infants’ developing nervous systems. Developing fetuses acquire DHA from the mother’s blood, and infants from breast milk. Some studies have suggested that infants fed breast milk demonstrated an advantage in intelligence and visual acuity compared to those nourished by formula. 

Researchers are not in agreement over the results of the studies, however, and a minimum dietary amount of DHA required by infants has not been unequivocally established. (Various health organizations do recommend consuming 0.5–2.0 g of omega-3s per day.) Most current infant formulas available in the U.S. do not contain omega-3 fatty acids, and solid foods fed to babies generally have little or no DHA. Consequently, it would be desirable to increase the dietary intake of DHA in babies, and several companies are looking at ways to accomplish this. 

A technology for naturally enriching cow’s milk with DHA was developed by the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, and products made with the technology will be marketed by Pennsylvania-based BTG International, Inc. The new technology introduces DHA into cow’s milk through selective feeding. 

Baby food compositions made with egg yolks enriched in DHA are described in U.S. patent 6,149,964, filed May 21,1998, issued November 21, 2000, to R.C. Theuer et al., assigned to Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. The composition, which consists of 5–25% egg yolk solids, can provide the daily recommended amounts of DHA for infants in only one or two servings. 

Dry powders formed by microencapsulating marine oils containing omega-3 fatty acids have been developed as stable sources used to enrich infant formulas. Products are microencapsulated to ensure that infants get the correct amount of the essential nutrient as well as protect the oil from oxidation. 

• Rice-based ingredients. The February Ingredients section discussed the benefits and wide variety of applications that rice has. One important area where rice finds use is in baby foods. According to the “U.S. Rice Distribution Patterns 1998–99 Report,” compiled for the USA Rice Federation, Houston, Tex., baby foods used 0.567 million cwt in 1998-99, (double the levels used in 1995–96 and 1996–97 but a decline from the previous year). 

In fact, rice is commonly the first solid food fed to infants. Gerber, for example, recommends rice cereal, which most babies tolerate the best, as the starting point for the child’s transition into solid foods. 

There are a number of reasons why rice-based ingredients are suitable for use in baby foods. These reasons are related both to health and functionality. For instance, rice is easily digestible (studies have shown that even a one-month-old infant can digest and absorb a large amount of rice starch). Rice is gluten-free and, as such, is considered hypoallergenic. Also, rice is low in fat, is bland organoleptically, and can play a role in baby foods certified as organic. 

Furthermore, rice-based ingredients, such as rice flour, may be used as a thickening agent in baby foods.

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• Fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals that are necessary for proper functioning and health. These include vitamin C, carotenoids, folate, and vitamins B-6 and E. 

Not surprisingly, fruits and vegetables play an important part in the baby’s diet. When I was a baby, my grandmother fed me an ample supply of mashed bananas. Members of the family thought she might have overdone it a bit, but she was resolute in her belief in the nutritional value of this fruit, especially in the diet of babies. Today, bananas remain a popular ingredient in baby foods for a number of reasons. In addition to being an abundant source of potassium, they contain magnesium, easily digested carbohydrates, pectin, and vitamin A. Studies have shown that bananas are valuable in the treatment of gastrointestinal problems and may help relieve gastric ulceration and stomach problems. 

Apple concentrates have relatively low acid levels and are often used in juice and blended juice beverages. Gerber juices, for example, include combinations of apple with banana, cherry, cranberry, grape, prune, and mixed fruit. Furthermore, apple may be combined with such vegetable juices as carrot and sweet potato. According to Gerber, a single serving of a fruit and vegetable juice provides at least 60% of the daily value for vitamin A. A single serving of any juice gives 100% of the daily value for Vitamin C. 

Another popular flavor is pear. Pear concentrates typically have lower flavor profiles than apple and work well in juice beverages for infants. 

Vegetables, too, play a major part in the formulating of baby foods. Varieties available may include carrots, creamed spinach, green beans, green beans and rice, peas, peas and rice, sweet potatoes, creamed corn, mixed vegetables, and broccoli and carrots. 

In addition to their health value, fruits and vegetables allow babies to explore different flavor combinations and textures. Part of the Tender Harvest line from Gerber are products such as Apple Mango Kiwi and Butternut Squash and Corn

Also, as I noted earlier in this article, the flavor, nutrition, and overall quality of fruits and vegetables may be improved by a new cooking process, NatureLock, developed by Gerber. 

•Xylitol. A new study published in the March 2000 issue of the Journal of Dental Research indicates that children’s tooth decay can be reduced by the consumption of the sweetener xylitol by their mothers. 

Xylitol, made from sources such as birch trees and other hardwoods, is a sugar alcohol described as sweet as sugar with an enhanced cooling effect. The xylitol molecule contains five carbon atoms and five hydroxyl groups. Previous studies and clinical trials have demonstrated that xylitol has anti-caries properties whereby it reduces the amounts of and virulence of Mutans streptococci. Colonization of this bacteria is acknowledged as an indicator of future dental carries. 

The recent study, conducted in Finland, was designed to establish whether routine consumption of the sweetener by mothers of newborn children could prevent transmission of m. streptococci from mother to child (the primary route of bacterial introduction to the newborn’s oral cavity). Mothers were recruited for the study during pregnancy and were assigned to one of three study groups. The mothers in the test group received xylitol chewing gum for the duration of the study (3–5 times a day from 3 to 24 mo after the child was born). The mothers in the two control groups received either fluoride (F) or chlorhexidine (CHX) varnish applications at 6, 12, and 18 mo post delivery. Normal dietary and oral hygiene practices were maintained, and dental examinations of the children were carried out annually. 

MS colonization in the dental plaque was assessed when the children reached two years of age, and it was shown that colonization was five times higher in the F group and three times higher in the CHX group, compared to the group that used xylitol. These results demonstrate that the regular use of xylitol chewing gum by the mothers of newborn children reduces mother-child transmission of m. streptococci and could lead to a significant reduction in tooth decay. 

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Further information about this study can be gained from Danisco Corp., 430 Saw Mill River Rd., Ardsley, NY 10502 or from the Web site

Over the years, baby food manufacturers have been taking out certain ingredients, such as salt and sugar, from many of their formulations. Furthermore, many baby food products today are being marketed as organic, pure, or made without genetically engineered ingredients. For example, Earth’s Best, part of The Hain Food Group, Uniondale, N.Y., announced last year that none of their baby food products will be made with genetically engineered ingredients. This is a controversial area, and whether other manufacturers will follow suit remains to be seen. 

The ingredient developments discussed in this article offer baby food manufacturers several alternatives over traditional ingredients and processes, and the potential for improvements in such areas as functionality, nutrition, sensory properties, and overall quality. As such, these innovations are helping baby foods grow to a new level. 

Taste Development in Infants
The subject of taste development in infants has been addressed during past IFT Continuing Education Programs. One speaker Julie Mennella of the Monell Chemical Senses Center offered the following observations:

Within hours of birth, infants exhibit a strong preference for sweet tastes. This preference remains high throughout adolescence. However, in response to sour tastes, newborns will grimace their face, purse their lips, and wrinkle their nose. In response to bitter tastes, newborns will also grimace, as well as arch their lips and protrude their tongue. Very little is known about developmental changes in sour and bitter preferences.

Unlike the other tastes, the ability to detect salt does not appear to develop until four months of age. At that time, infants begin preferring salted solutions to plain water. A second developmental shift occurs when older children tend to reject salted water solutions or salt in formula and begin preferring salt in foods.

Animal model studies revealed that flavors are transmitted to amniotic fluid and mother’s milk; preferences develop for flavors experienced in amniotic fluid and milk; and experience with a variety of flavors enhances food acceptance in young animals. Flavors transmitted to human milk include garlic, ethanol, carrot, mint, vanilla, and blue cheese.

Infants prefer cereal prepared with mother’s milk. This may reflect a (1) preference for sweets and fats, (2) preference for higher caloric food, and (3) preference for familiar flavors experienced in mother’s milk or amniotic fluid.

Infants also demonstrate an interest in smells. For example, infants looked at, vocalized more when playing with, and tended to manipulate scented toys more than an unscented toy.

For more information, see the following references: Mennella, J.A. and Beauchamp, G.K. 1998 Early flavor experiences: Research update. Pediatric Basics 82: 14–24 (reprinted in Nutrition Reviews 56: 205–11) Mennella, J.A. and Beauchamp, G.K. 1997. Mother’s milk enhances the acceptance of cereal during weaning. Pediatric Research 41: 188–192.

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About the Author

Food Technology magazine Senior Editor and key member of the Food Technology editorial staff for 26 years.
Donald Pszczola