Poison carrots?

Andrea posted, “I recently made carrot puree for my 7 month old baby. I was so proud of myself for doing something I thought was good for my baby, making food without preservatives. However, while looking for additional puree recipes online, I came across a lot of information that recommended against feeding babies homemade carrot puree. There seems to be varied opinion about these things online. I am looking for a reputable resource to sort through what is ok versus not. Can you help?”

What you were reading about refers to a baby’s risk of poisoning with nitrates, which are natural compounds that occur in all plant-based foods. Excessive nitrates can cause a potentially serious blood disorder called “methemoglobinemia” or “blue baby syndrome.” Though internet sites will scare you about the risks of homemade baby foods, these risks are phenomenally small if you take a few simple precautions.

The highest risk for nitrate poisoning in the United States has nothing to do with baby food, homemade or jarred. It’s from contaminated well water. If you are preparing a baby’s formula with well water, you should contact your county about the risks of nitrate exposure in your area, and consider having your well water tested. Or, use bottled water.

The younger your baby, the higher the risk of poisoning from nitrates. As babies get older, they’re more able to metabolize nitrates like adults do. The highest risk is under three months of age, with much lower risks extending past six months.

All plant foods contain enzymes that convert natural proteins into nitrates. These enzymes are released when you chew the food, or when you use a blender or food processor to puree the food. So there is essentially no risk from freshly-made baby food—the enzyme takes time to create the nitrates. Also, the process of nitrate production is slowed considerably by freezing. You can avoid the risk of nitrate poisoning by either using pureed homemade vegetable-based baby foods right away, or freezing them. Don’t leave veggie purees in the refrigerator for longer than 12 hours.

Jarred foods could well contain the same nitrates, but the manufacturers routinely monitor for them. I couldn’t find any reports of nitrate poisoning from jarred foods in the United States. Once the jars are sealed, nitrate production will stop. Jars of commercial baby food should be discarded 24 hours after opening.

So: Feel free to keep making your own baby food! Homemade carrot puree is fine, as long as you make it fresh or freeze it. Just don’t keep pureed vegetable foods in the fridge, whether commercial or home-made.

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