Family Matters

WhiteOut: Even Babies Can Embrace the Whole-Grains Movement

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When it comes to nutrition, the emphasis nowadays is on whole grain this and whole grain that.

So it’s hard to believe it’s taken this long for someone to zero in on infants as deserving of more than a “depleted starch,” which is what one pediatrician is calling white rice cereal, baby’s ubiquitous first food. Although parents who shop at natural-foods markets have been able to buy brown-rice cereal for years, most babies are fed processed white rice cereal as their first “solid” food. Now Alan Greene of Stanford University’s Lucile Packard Children Hospital and the creator of popular pediatric site,, is calling for a “WhiteOut” — out with white rice cereal, in with its brown-rice cousin. (More on Study: Kids Eat Less Sugar If They’re Allowed to Sweeten their Own Cereal)

We can turn the corner on the childhood obesity epidemic in one year,” he predicts in a video. “Let every child’s first grain be a whole grain. Let’s get white rice baby food cereal off the shelves and out of baby’s mouths within a year.”

Whole grains, which haven’t been processed and stripped of their bran and germ, are full of fiber and protein. Once they’ve been refined — whole wheat rice turned into white rice, for example  — the end product doesn’t have as many nutrients as its whole-grain brethren.

Greene worries that introducing babies to refined food as their first foray into the world of solid food will anchor their taste buds in the processed-food camp, dooming them to a life of unhealthy — or not-as-healthy — choices. (More on Is My Baby Too Fat? Parents Put Infants on Diets)

Rice cereal is introduced as a first food because it’s easy on the tummy. But it won’t win any awards in the taste department. White or brown, rice cereal is blander than bland; all my kids spit it out. Still, Greene’s quest makes a lot of sense. At an age when babies can’t talk back and demand cookies instead of cauliflower — they’re essentially culinary prisoners in their high chairs — why not offer them food with more nutritional value?

Children’s taste preferences are formed in early childhood, Greene says, pointing out that the top source of carbohydrates and the largest source of calories in a baby’s first year is processed white rice baby cereal. (More on Baby Getting Heavy? The Culprit May Be in the Bottle)

With that in mind, is in any wonder we’re in the midst of a snowballing childhood obesity epidemic?

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