Warning as store-bought baby food pouches found to be low in iron - University of Otago

A warning has been issued against store-bought baby food pouches after new research found the purees are not only sweeter than other baby food, but they're also lower in iron.

Like lots of mums, Simone Withell makes the most of whipping up pureed baby food at home, cooking in bulk and freezing it. Although her baby has a taste for broccoli, spinach, cheese and eggs, when Withell is on the go, food pouches come in handy. 

The pouches have become popular in recent years, but there has been little research regarding their nutritional quality - with no studies looking into the amount of added sugar.

Now, researchers from the University of Otago study have found baby food pouches are incredibly low in iron.

The study looked at 266 baby foods sold in supermarkets from 2019 to 2020. 

The research found the pouches were so low in iron, a baby would need to eat more than 14 pouch packets a day to meet their daily iron requirements. That's almost two kilograms of pouch food.

"It is really important babies are offered iron-rich food from six months of age, but our research found pouches across the board did not contain appreciable amounts of iron, nor were they fortified with iron," Ioanna Katiforis, who led the research as part of her Master of Science, told Newshub. 

She says other on-the-go options can help with protein intake. 

"Baby cereals and baby rice are both fortified with iron, so they're a great source of iron for infants and also some pureed meat and pureed legumes, such as hummus."

The study also found pouches were higher in natural sugar than other forms of baby food. 

"They tend to contain sweeter fruits and vegetables, so things like apples, kumara, bananas, contain more sugars naturally than other less sweet fruits and vegetables, for example broccoli," Katiforis said.

However, the good news is pouches were not more likely to have added sugar. 

Parents and caregivers Newshub spoke to on Thursday said they consider the packets as a bit of a "treat."

Researchers advise parents not to let the baby feed themselves by sucking directly from the packet, but rather squeeze the puree onto a spoon or into a bowl to control the portion size.

Researchers say a baby's diet should be all about balance, and parents should feed their child from a range of food groups to help keep them happy and healthy.