Followers of the Cheap Medicine Blog know that one of the cornerstones of vibrant health is access to and consumption of whole nutrient-dense foods. It should come as no surprise then that choosing the first foods for our baby daughter would be going against the grain – literally and figuratively.
Most Moms and Dads of the current generation probably have baby pictures of themselves eating rice cereal as their first solid food, followed closely by Cheerios or Rice Krispies as soon as teeth appear. It would seem natural then to toe the processed food industry line and follow suit with our own children. Sentiment aside, our species has not survived this long courtesy of boxed cereals and convenience foods and I doubt that it would if it were our sole source of nourishment.
Grains are the staple food of the Neolithic era and the invention of agriculture, but grains are inherently difficult for our bodies to digest. Primitive cultures, through careful observation and insight, understood that to make grains easier to digest they must first be soaked and sprouted, and sometimes fermented, prior to being made into bread or a tortilla for example. Our ancestors were also very practical by necessity, so clearly they would not go through all this work if there weren’t any benefit to be derived from this practice. Here, modern food science provides answers to how diligent grain preparation improves the digestibility of grains.
Grains are seeds and are nature’s way of storing genetic information until the conditions are right for the next generation of plants to take root. Thus, seeds remain dormant by the use of enzyme inhibitors in the seed coat. These inhibitors are denatured by soaking in warm water, tricking the seed to thinking it is in the ground and can sprout. With enzymes now active, the sprouting processes can begin. This seems irrelevant until we consider that we digest foods in part by the action of enzymes. Eating a food with these enzyme inhibitors still intact impairs our own natural enzyme activity and hence overall digestion. Do you think Post or Kellogg’s takes the time to soak and sprout their wheat kernels prior to processing into cereal?
Another benefit to carefully preparing whole grains is the partial removal of what are collectively known as anti-nutrients. Most grains have compounds that block the absorption of nutrients, particularly minerals. One example is phytic acid, found in most of the commonly consumed grains. Not only do these compounds block nutrients within the grain itself, but if eaten alongside other foods, it has the potential to block nutrient absorption from those foods as well.
Boxed cereals in particular have a whole host of other undesirable ingredients that do not qualify as food, from synthetic vitamins to high fructose corn syrup to artificial colors. Even so called healthy cereals are typically laden with lots of sugar in the form of evaporated cane juice. Probably the most concerning are the toxic byproducts engendered in the grain extrusion process. In order to make a flake or a puff, industrial machines extrude the grain with high heat and pressure in a large-scale assembly line process. This unnatural fate for the grain damages delicate proteins in a way a stone mill never would. This heat and pressure also has the strong potential to oxidize volatile oils within the grain in a process that increases the rate of rancidity. Knowing this, the food industry responds by spiking their products with preservatives.
All of these factors produce a toxic food-like product sold to the modern world as a healthy way to start the day. Instead, what you are buying is a nutritionally devoid substance; you are probably better off eating the box than its contents. In fact, one piece of unpublished research tested just that. In the study, rats fed corn flakes died sooner than the cohort of rats fed the box that the cereal came in.
Needless to say, cereal was not on the menu for our little one. Her first foods were egg yolks and beef liver. Egg yolks provide many essential fats to encourage brain development, and the liver, loads of B vitamins and iron. Incidentally, a baby’s stores of iron start to wane around six months, making liver an ideal food to supercharge the little one’s blood and immune system. For more information on starting a baby on a traditional diet, consult “The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care” by Sally Fallon Morell and Thomas S. Cowan, M.D.