When can babies eat spinach? Don’t feed it to them too early

If you’re hoping your baby will be “strong to the finish,” just like Popeye – by eating spinach regularly – then you may be wondering when a suitable time would be to begin serving that iron-rich food to your little one. It’s because of the immense, power-punching, and mineral-rich superfood’s ability to pack on the nutrients, in just a little green leaf, that makes it such a great possibility for parents.

Adding a small amount of spinach to your baby’s regular diet can help add much-needed iron to their bodies. Iron is a critical nutrient in the preliminary stages of a baby’s development. It’s needed to produce red and white blood cells as well as for their overall lung and brain development. But when can babies eat spinach safely? More importantly, when that time comes, how can you make spinach baby food that your child will love? Whether or not they like it can make the difference between a lifelong love of the veggie or a world without it.

The caution surrounding spinach

While this may seem like a straightforward answer, unfortunately, it can become a little muddled for parents when broken down. Strictly speaking, spinach is an excellent source of iron for humans, and is used heavily and often in baby foods to help enrich their diets. Where the problem occurs when the spinach is processed, and nitrates begin to build up. This can cause damage to your baby’s red blood cells – more specifically, the hemoglobin protein within them. Nitrates can convert hemoglobin into methemoglobin, creating a lack of oxygen being shared from the red blood cells to the tissues.

When can babies eat spinach?

Luckily, babies are born with enzymes in their bloodstream to help flip methemoglobin back to hemoglobin without any lasting damage. However, the number of enzymes needed to combat a nitrate overload is not found in infants less than 3-6 months old. Because of the risks involved with using possibly contaminated veggies –either grown at home or bought at the store – it is not recommended for children less than 8 months old at minimum to be served spinach in any form, though most receive it as a puree.

Nitrates aren’t only found in spinach however, and as the American Academy of Pediatrics explains to parents, it’s important to keep in mind:

“Nitrates aren’t the only cause of methemoglobinemia. Certain antibiotics and the numbing agent found in teething gels can also convert hemoglobin to methemoglobin. And baby food isn’t the only dietary source of nitrates. Drinking water (especially well water) can contain high levels of nitrates from fertilizer run-off. In fact, the most common cause of methemoglobinemia in babies (including those older than 6 months of age) is the ingestion of infant formula made with nitrate-containing well water!”

What can be done?

The main thing to keep in mind is, all homemade baby foods that are prepared with ground-growing veggies have the possibility to be contaminated with nitrate-rich fertilizers. This can happen from contaminated veggies themselves, soil, or even groundwater. Keeping your baby on a steady diet free from these types of freshly-prepared veggies from home until after the age of 6 months – or 8 in the case of spinach – is the main area of focus. Vegetables that have been found to hold higher levels of nitrates are:

  • Spinach and other greens
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Squash
  • Beans

Keep in mind that baby food companies run testing for nitrate levels prior to bottling to prevent injury to infants. It’s important for parents to understand avoiding spinach only applies to parents who prepare their own baby foods at home. Due to the lack of sufficient home testing, pediatricians recommend parents wait no less than 8 months to prep and feed freshly made spinach purees to their infants.

We understand the importance of infants getting the best quality ingredients, even at home. This piece is not meant to discourage you from wanting to prepare your own meals at home for your growing baby, only that you do so in a safe and healthy manner. If you wish to prepare your infant’s meals, we encourage you to sit down with your child’s doctor or nutritionist to plan and prepare foods that will not only give them a healthy and balanced diet but will also hit all those important health marks such and organic and sustainably grown.

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